Music is a fundamental part of worship, and was even more so anciently than it is today. Before the printed word made the sacred word so accessible to the masses, it was passed on from generation to generation orally. But this was not just the spoken word. In order for the word to be remembered and said the same way over and over again, over decades and centuries, a mnemonic device was employed to facilitate the reciter. This device was music. The sacred word, every word, was put to music.
This can be seen in the way the Bible is written in Hebrew, one of the oldest languages in the world. In Hebrew, particularly the Hebrew Bible, there are cantillation marks that specify how the text should be sung: [Read more…]
Isaiah's Lips Anointed with Fire - Benjamin West (1738-1820)
I spoke in my ward’s sacrament meeting yesterday. Here is a copy of my talk:
I’m grateful for this opportunity to speak to you today about a subject that is very important to me, and hopefully to you. I pray that the Spirit might be with us so that we may both be edified by these things, and that we can apply what we learn (D&C 50:22).
The topic I’ve been given is twofold – first, the hymn “Who’s on the Lord’s Side?” and second, “following the prophet.” While these two topics don’t seem to relate to each other on the surface, I think the point is that those who follow the teachings of the prophets are truly on the Lord’s side.
One of our readers, RBiddulph, recently pointed me to a quote by Harold Bloom, a well-known literary and cultural critic who is currently a Sterling Professor of the Humanities at Yale University, who once said this about Joseph Smith:
I can only attribute to his genius or daemons his uncanny recovery of elements in ancient Jewish theurgy that had ceased to be available either to Judaism or to Christianity, and that had survived only in esoteric traditions unlikely to have touched Smith directly. (Harold Bloom, The American Religion, 101.)
Theurgy means the working of divine agency or intervention in human affairs.
The following hymn was written by W. W. Phelps to the memory of Joseph Smith, who was assassinated at Carthage Jail, Carthage, Illinois, on June 27, 1844:
Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah!
Jesus annointed that Prophet and Seer.
Blessed to open the last dispensation,
Kings shall extol him, and nations revere.
Praise to his memory, he died as a martyr;
Honored and blest be his ever great name!
Long shall his blood, which was shed by assassins,
Plead unto heaven while the earth lauds his fame.
Great is his glory and endless his priesthood.
Ever and ever the keys he will hold.
Faithful and true, he will enter his kingdom,
Crowned in the midst of the prophets of old.
Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven;
Earth must atone for the blood of that man.
Wake up the world for the conflict of justice.
Millions shall know “brother Joseph” again.
Hail to the Prophet, ascended to heaven!
Traitors and tyrants now fight him in vain.
Mingling with Gods, he can plan for his brethren;
Death cannot conquer the hero again.
The living prophets and apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ.
What is Truth? I hope this will help shed some light. The living prophets of this dispensation have spoken the word of the Lord.
From the “Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson” (pgs. 115-121):
Truth is a glorious thing. We sing about it. “Oh say, what is truth?/’Tis the fairest gem/That the riches of worlds can produce.” (Hymns, 1985, no. 272.) The Church and kingdom of God has no fear of the truth. ((Seattle Washington LDS Institute Dedication, 29 October 1961.))
We are engaged in the greatest work in all the world-yes, the greatest in the whole universe: the saving and exaltation of our Father’s children, our brothers and sisters. We are the custodians of the truth, the saving principles which, where applied, will build, save, and exalt men. ((God, Family, Country, p. 129.))…
Our lives, to be successful, must constitute a constant pursuit of truth-all truth. The gospel encompasses all truth; it is consistent, without conflict, eternal. I have had the privilege of traveling to most parts of this world. I have known presidents and prime ministers-dictators and kings. Nothing I have seen or experienced has changed my resolve to stand with truth. ((MIA Vanguard Program, Salt Lake City, Utah, 13 June 1960.))…
Blessed are you if you have a testimony that God has spoken from the heavens; that His priesthood is again among men; that the gospel in its purity and fulness is here to bless mankind; and that we will be judged by its principles. These truths will, if you are wise, take precedence in your lives “over all contrary theories, dogmas, hypotheses or relative-truths from whatever source or by whomsoever” advocated. [Read more…]
Most people in the Church by now are probably familiar with the hymn that Janice Kapp Perry wrote a couple of months ago to accompany a poem written by President Hinckley. President Hinckley published his poem in the May 1988 Ensign article entitled, “The Empty Tomb Bore Testimony,” but he notes that he penned the words many years previous to that at a friend’s funeral.
If you’ve received an email about the hymn you might already know the story behind it. If not, head over to Meridian Magazine which has an article posted detailing the creation of this hymn, including links to the sheet music. The circumstances surrounding the production of the hymn are certainly a “tender mercy” of the Lord, as Janice Kapp Perry describes it. She received official approval of the arranged hymn in the mail from President Hinckley the day after his death.
I think this hymn epitomizes the LDS belief and feelings surrounding mortal death. To members of the LDS Church death is nothing to fear, but a passing into and a beginning of a different stage of our existence. It is progression. Death is not the end, but a beginning of greater things! These doctrines and principles could not be taught more clearly and purely than in the Lord’s temples which dot the earth today. President Hinckley was pivotal in nearly tripling the number of these sacred edifices around the world.
This hymn was sung by the Tabernacle Choir at President Hinckley’s funeral (video link). Since then, Janice Kapp Perry has just recently produced vocal and instrumental recordings of the song with Prime Recordings, Inc. These recordings are very well done. She has made them freely available for all, so I have posted the vocal here for your listening:
What Is This Thing That Men Call Death?
Words by Gordon B. Hinckley, Music by Janice Kapp Perry
What is this thing that men call death,
This quiet passing in the night?
’Tis not the end, but genesis
Of better worlds and greater light.
O God, touch Thou my aching heart,
And calm my troubled, haunting fears.
Let hope and faith, transcendent, pure,
Give strength and peace beyond my tears.
There is no death, but only change
With recompense for victory won;
The gift of Him who loved all men,
The Son of God, the Holy One.