Our second reading this Sunday ends with these words: “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). This is the connection to our closing hymn “Jerusalem, my happy home” (620 in The Hymnal 1982). In fact, the rest of the second reading found in 2 Corinthians 4:13-18 sets us up to sing this wonderful old hymn.
The history of “Jerusalem, my happy home” is somewhat of a puzzle. The earliest form of the text is found in a 17th century manuscript in the British Library. Most likely it is much older. It is based on a Latin prose passage from the medieval Liber Meditationum, often mistakenly attributed to St. Augustine (354-430). The poetic form in the British Library manuscript has 26 stanzas and is headed: “A song made by F:B:P. To the tune of Diana.”
The identity of F. B. P. is unknown. One widespread speculation is that the initials stand for Francis Baker, Presbyter, a Roman Catholic priest who had been imprisoned in the Tower of London. Our hymnal version uses five of the 26 F. B. P. stanzas (1, 12, 22, 23 combined with 25, and 6).
Much of the popularity of “Jerusalem, my happy home” is owed to its melody, called LAND OF REST. It might have come from Scotland or northern England, but was first published in The Christian’s Harp, an 1836 collection of Appalachian folk tunes. You may also know the tune from the communion hymn “I come with joy to meet my Lord” (304 in The Hymnal 1982) or a setting of the Sanctus “Holy, holy, holy Lord” (858 in Wonder, Love, and Praise).
The harmony that we sing with this tune is from Annabel Morris Buchanan (1889-1983). She was born in Texas and studied piano, organ, and composition, and was a highly regarded expert on American folk music. The tune is named LAND OF REST because Annabel Morris Buchanan recalled her grandmother singing the hymn “O land of rest, for thee I sigh” to this melody.
A few years ago Virginia and I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Jerusalem during a Holy Land tour. While much of Jerusalem seemed like many other modern cities, we thought that some of the ancient sections of the city probably look much the same as they did when Jesus was walking around there. It is a place of great spiritual significance for Christians, Jews, and Muslims. At the same time, it is a place that throughout its history has been wrapped in controversy and conflict. Just look at the situation even now in 2021.
By contrast, the hymn “Jerusalem, my happy home” helps us to anticipate the “land of rest” that God has promised to us at the end of our earthly pilgrimage. The matching of this hymn text with the tune LAND OF REST conveys a sense of peace and a longing for the unsurpassed and unending joy of the new Jerusalem.
Jerusalem, my happy home, when shall I come to thee?
When shall my sorrows have an end? Thy joys when shall I see?
Thy saints are crowned with glory great; they see God face to face;
They triumph still, they still rejoice in that most happy place.
There David stands with harp in hand as master of the choir:
Ten thousand times would one be blest who might this music hear.
Our Lady sings Magnificat with tune surpassing sweet,
And blessed martyrs’ harmony doth ring in every street.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, God grant that I may see
Thine endless joy, and of the same partaker ever be!