Lord, Enthroned in Heavenly Splendor

This tune, BRYN CALFARIA, is Welsh and means “Mt Calvary.”  It is related to those other Welsh tunes, such as the one associated with “Thy Strong Word” (also powerfully in the minor key) or the happily major one, “Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer” in addition to “Immortal, Invisible” or HYFRYDOL, often associated with “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.”  Composed by William Owen around 1886 for the Welsh hymn, “Gwaed y groes sy’n cody fynny,” the original text dealt with Jesus’ sacrificial love evidenced on the cross.  Anecdotal evidenced suggests that this hymn is so popular in Wales that it is used in times of both national tragedy and exultation.  The tune is strong and, whilst unfamiliar to some, has been called by hymnologist Erik Routley “a piece of real Celtic rock.”  The text we sing to the tune today, “Lord Enthroned,” was written by George Bourne which he published in his Post-Communion Hymns of 1874.

The strength of the melody conveys the majesty of the opening words, “Lord, enthroned in heav’nly splendor, first begotten from the dead.”  This language recalls the second article of the Nicene Creed when we profess that Christ is “begotten of the Father before all eternity.”  However, in this instance the thought is juxtaposed with his death on Calvary, contrasting incarnationally Christ’s eternity with the very real human death he suffered.  The stanza concludes exclaiming, “Jesus, true and living bread!”  We recall the Old Testament lesson from I Kings in which Elijah seeks shelter under a tree, eventually to be provided both food and water by an angel of the Lord.  This foreshadows Christ in the New Testament when, in the gospel this morning, Jesus declares, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”  In the words of the fourth stanza, Christ is the “Life-imparting, heav’nly manna, stricken rock with streaming side,” alluding to Moses drawing water from the side of the rock, providing sustenance for the Hebrews.  Christ’s blood is our spiritual sustenance, redeeming us from death.

The general tenor of this hymn is Christocentric.  The text focuses on what Christ has done and continues to do for us.  We do not spend any time poetically pontificating on all the manifold things we do to serve Him.  We do not even sing of our joy in Him, except perhaps in the litany of alleluias.  We certainly do not recount all the emotions we feel about such matters.  All have a place in our devotional life, but this hymn’s Christology points away from ourselves and to Christ and what He has done. This hymn points us straight to Christ from which all our service, good works, and even pious feelings (which of themselves are normally harmless) do proceed.

This objectivity of the text, coupled with the sturdiness of the tune, difficult as it might be to sing the first time, testifies not only to Christ’s incarnation and death, but to his resurrection and omnipotence.