Dear Friends,
“Christ is the world’s true Light” (542 in The Hymnal 1982 ) is our sequence hymn at Sunday’s 10:15 service. Until recently when I chose another arrangement of it for our choir to sing on February 23, I was unfamiliar with this hymn. In my fourteen years at St. Paul’s, I don’t recall ever playing or singing it. So maybe we’ll all learn a little about it this week.

The first appearance of “Christ is the world’s true Light” was in The Hymnal 1940 , the predecessor of our current hymnal. Clearly this is a mission hymn with an ecumenical tone, appropriately placed in the section of The Hymnal 1982 called The Church’s Mission . This hymn brings to mind Jesus’ words in this week’s Gospel reading, where he tells us to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

The words of “Christ is the world’s true Light” come from George Wallace Briggs (1875-1959), an Anglican priest and a leading British hymn writer in the first half of the 20th century. Originally he intended his text to be sung during Advent. A few minor changes in wording were made for The Hymnal 1982 to make the language more inclusive.

From 1902 to 1909 George Wallace Briggs served as chaplain in the Royal Navy. In addition to writing hymns and liturgical services, he was noted for writing prayers. In August of 1941, F.D.R. and Winston Churchill met aboard H.M.S. The Prince of Wales to present the Atlantic Charter, which outlined a plan for peace once World War II ended. At an historic service aboard that ship on August 10, the following prayer of Briggs was used. I think that it applies also to our 21st century world: Stabilize our hearts, O God, and strengthen our resolve, that we fight not in enmity against men, but against the powers of darkness enslaving the souls of men; till all enmity and oppression be done away, and the peoples of the world be set free from fear, to serve one another; as children of one Father, who is above all, and through all, and in all.

Percy E. B. Coller (1895-?) composed the music for “Christ is the world’s true Light” and submitted it anonymously to be paired with this text in The Hymnal 1940 . The fanfare-like melody is a good match for Briggs’ words. Coller named the tune ST. JOAN in honor of his wife Joan, who must have been very saintly! (I am married to someone who is still waiting for me to write a hymn tune and to name it ST. VIRGINIA.)

Sunday’s communion hymn “Christ, be our light” is a good follow-up to our singing of “Christ is the world’s true Light.” The words of the refrain are just what we need to pray and sing together: “Christ, be our light! Shine in our hearts. Shine through the darkness. Christ, be our light! Shine in your church gathered today.” It sure seems like these two hymns were meant to be sung together!

Christ is the world’s true Light, its Captain of salvation,
The Daystar clear and bright of every race and nation;
New life, new hope awakes, for all who own his sway:
Freedom her bondage breaks, and night is turned to day.

In Christ all races meet, their ancient feuds forgetting,
The whole round world complete, from sunrise to its setting:
When Christ is throned as Lord all shall forsake their fear,
To ploughshare beat the sword, to pruning hook the spear.

One Lord, in one great Name unit us all who own thee;
Cast out our pride and shame that hinder to enthrone thee;
The world has waited long, has travailed long in pain;
To heal its ancient wrong, come, Prince of Peace, and reign.
Grace and Peace,

Mark Meyer
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
166 High Street
Newburyport, MA 01950