Bishop N.T. Wright is the Bishop of Durham in the Church of England. He is considered one of the world’s foremost theologians. Last night he was interviewed by Martin Bashir on ABC’s Nightline program about his new book “Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church,” in which he gave his perspective on death and what heaven is like. Borrowing a Niblyism, Latter-day Saints will “hear the ringing of familiar bells” in what Bishop Wright has to say. [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.
Today the LDS Newsroom has an article on life and death, following the passing of President Hinckley. I like the quote that they gave from Harold Bloom:
Regarding the undaunted way in which Latter-day Saints confront death, well-known literary scholar Harold Bloom proclaimed the following: “What is the essence of religion? … Religion rises inevitably from our apprehension of our own death. To give meaning to meaninglessness is the endless quest of all religion. … Of all religions that I know, the one that most vehemently and persuasively defies and denies the reality of death is the original Mormonism of the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator Joseph Smith.”
The entire reason for religion is man’s apprehension of death. Hugh Nibley was wont to quote a poem by A.E. Housman on this subject of man’s preoccupation with life and death:
. . . men at whiles are sober
And think by fits and starts,
And if they think, they fasten
Their hands upon their hearts. ((Qtd. in Nibley, “Prophets and Glad Tidings,” The World and the Prophets, 259-67, http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/bookschapter.php?bookid=54&chapid=515))
Man has not been able to get away from death. Man has thought about it since time began, and it preoccupies his thoughts day in and day out. It is part of the “terrible questions” as Nibley put it, that man has made since the start. Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? What is the purpose of this life? What will happen to me after I die? What will I do for eternity? It is the subject of much art, literature, and religion since the beginning. If there is one thing that man fears most, it is probably death, and the unknown that accompanies it.
But the Latter-day Saints know differently. We thank God for a latter-day prophet, Joseph Smith, who restored the truths of the physical and bodily resurrection, of the sealing of eternal families, and the principles of eternal life and exaltation, and what eternity consists of, teachings we learn about and make a promised reality in the temples of the Lord.