We’ve prepared a cornucopia of worship music for Staff Conference 2011 from a wide spectrum of genres — Anthemic Rock, Contemporary Gospel, Latin, Disco, Power Ballads… and I know that they will all be fun, worshipful and I will hopefully sound pretty good too. But the genre of music I’m particularly excited about and frankly just interested in seeing how it will turn out is… HYMNS! And not just hymns done in the folk hipster genre or Gospel genre or Chris Tomlinized rock genre… all which are lovely. But what about the more “traditional” genre of hymns, with 4-part harmony and piano? Some people may think that’s corny, cheesey, old-fashioned, but that’s a genre too, right?
Well we’re going to try a hymn in that style at Staff Conference, and I don’t know about you, but I’m excited!
Full disclosure: I didn’t always enjoy hymns. I grew up in a Methodist church where, during youth group worship time, we’d first have our “real worship” (vineyard choruses, passion and eventually hillsong stuff with guitars, drums and such) and then in the middle of service our pastor would force of to sing a few Charles Wesley hymns — and suddenly the service descended into uncomfortable stuffiness or humor (what 7th grader wouldn’t have giggled after singing about asses and celestial balls?). To me, hymns represented moving backwards in worship, obligation, legalism and this weird style of music of my parents– I didn’t understand it, didn’t appreciate it, and simply had no desire to either.
But as an InterVarsity student and a regular attender of chapter camps at Cedar Campus, the camp for Great Lakes East and West in the Upper peninsula of Michigan, I grew to not just tolerate hymns, but to love them as well. There were these dusty old IVP Hymnals, “Hymns II,” that we’d sing out of a bunch of times that week. Slowly I learned about the history of hymns, the rich theology of hymns and the beauty of singing the music together in parts… and after a few years of doing this… I became hooked!
I kind of equate it to my experience with Sauerkraut, there were times I was forced to eat it as a kid and I hated it and didn’t understand it, but something happened as I got older where something clicked, I loved it and now can’t live without it. Mmmmm… Sauerkraut.
Anyways, since coming on staff, I’ve come to even more appreciate the legacy of hymns that InterVarsity has had throughout its existence. As a staff person, I am privileged to step into the legacy of psalmists and worship leaders who have not only led InterVarsity, but the church in worship of God and in service of the Gospel.
The Hymn of the week for SC11 is a hymn with particular historical significance. “Lord of the Universe, Hope of the World,” was written by E. Margaret Clarkson, a prolific hymn writer who wrote such classics like “We Come O Christ to Thee” and many others. It was the convention hymn for Urbana ’73 and a pretty darn good one at that — great melody and greater lyrics… I think we are going to have a lot of fun singing this one….
The hymn also has a really neat story, check it out:
The Story of “Lord of the Universe”
– By Joy Patterson (from “Reformed Worship”)
“Lord of the Universe, Hope of the World” encompasses in four stanzas the broad sweep of Jesus’ life, ministry, and victory over death; our response to that life; and a look forward to Christ’s coming again.
Margaret Clarkson tells us that this hymn came out of a competition she could not enter—a contest among InterVarsity student groups for a hymn on the theme of the 1973 Urbana missions conference, “Jesus Christ—Lord of the Universe, Hope of the World.” The theme spoke strongly to her, but she held herself back from writing on it since adults were not eligible. After several months of this self-containment, she received a letter from the conference director, with the words she had been trying to ignore printed in large type across the letterhead: “Jesus Christ—Lord of the Universe, Hope of the World.” This time the floodgates broke, and words came pouring out faster than she could write them down. In a span of two or three hours, the hymn was finished. She tells us:
I was shaken to the core, and utterly exhausted. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before. I write my hymns very slowly, often very painfully; many weeks, even months, pass before I achieve their final form. These words were complete, almost perfect in every way. I knew I had not acted in this matter— I had been “acted upon” by the Holy Spirit of God in a way I have never experienced before or since.
-Margaret Clarkson, A Singing Heart
Not knowing what to do with the hymn, Clarkson sent it to the conference director with a letter explaining what had happened. She offered it for whatever use might be made of it. One of the winning competition hymns was sung each night, but “Lord of the Universe” was used as the convention hymn. Clarkson states that none of her other hymns has ever received such a tremendous— and instantaneous—response. She concludes: “All I can say is that God had something he wanted said, and he impressed me into his service to say it. It was his doing, not mine.”
Sing Along with Us! (Audio + Lyrics)
Sadly, I couldn’t find any recording of the hymn, so the best thing I have is a rough (very rough) recording from our rehearsal a few weeks ago. So please excuse the quality, but it will give you a sense of the melody so you can sing along and worship with us!
Lord of the Universe (click to play!)
LORD OF THE UNIVERSE
1 Lord of the universe, hope of the world,
Lord of the limitless reaches of space,
here on this planet you put on our flesh,
vastness confined in the womb of a maid;
born in our likeness you ransomed our race:
Savior, we worship you, praise and adore;
help us to honor you more and yet more,
help us to honor you more and yet more!
2 Lord of the universe, hope of the world,
Lord of the infinite eons of time,
you came among us, you lived our brief years,
tasted our griefs, our aloneness, our fears,
conquered our death, made eternity ours: Refrain
3 Lord of the universe, hope of the world,
send out your light to the ends of the earth.
May we who know you obey your command,
go with the grace of your gospel to all,
bringing salvation and freedom and joy: Refrain
4 Lord of the universe, hope of the world,
how your creation cries out for release!
looks for you, longs for you, watches and waits,
prays for your kingdom of justice and peace!
Maker, Redeemer, triumphant One, come! Refrain