- Singing the Faith: 738 (CD30 #14)
- Ruth Duck
- “New Heaven” by Ruth Duck arr Randall Sensmeier
Ideas for use
There is a trust implicit in Ruth Duck’s hymn writing that it is truly possible for God’s kingdom to become a reality on earth here and now. This particular hymn, like the biblical book of Revelation which inspired it, looks in hope to what will be in our eternity; at the same time, it is a hymn that envisions present day peace and justice. This gives the text a far wider range of use in worship than its position in the “Death, Judgement and Eternal Life” section of Singing the Faith might initially suggest.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” (Book of Revelation 21: 1) It is this imposing vision of John of Patmos, author of the book of Revelation, that undergirds Ruth Duck’s hymn. However, as with other of her hymns in Singing the Faith, she draws the details of St John’s vision into our present, helping us understand what God’s dream can look like today.
The hymn serves as partner to her text God, who made the stars of heaven (StF 7), with its Genesis-inspired opening, and its final lines that allude to this same chapter from Revelation: “Light of nations, fill the world, making all things new.” (cf. Revelation 21: 5) However, where that hymn looks forward in prayer to what God dreams for the world (“So may desert, coast and village sing new songs to you”), there are hints of “nowness” in “There is a new heaven”, as there are in its biblical inspiration: God’s day is to be welcomed, but God reigns already (v.1).
In v.3 of the hymn, where the Book of Revelation speaks in more general terms of nations that have been healed and where “nothing accursed will be found … any more” (Revelation 22: 2-3), Ruth’s interpretation is more specific. She identifies the homeless and hungry (in whose faces, she has written elsewhere, we may see Christ: Come, now, you blessed, StF 695). They will sing a new song (v.2). (Echoes here of Jesus’ Beatitudes?) Each individual will be gifted both leisure and employment (v.2); war shall not be known (v.3). These are recognisable human aspirations that are part of God’s hopes for us.
Ruth has spoken and written about growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, and of the impact on her of Martin Luther King’s ministry and death in that city: “I learned that justice is at the heart of faith and Christian practice”. It’s hard not to sense echoes of MLK’s preaching, in particular his “I have a dream” speech”, underlying the description of a society in which “distinctions, divisions which hurt and destroy will all disappear” (v.2).
Maybe there is one further echo also. Ruth’s hymn closes with a vision of nations “gathered to live in God’s light, united forever in joy and delight”. Just perhaps Ruth’s words contain unconscious echoes of another deceptively simple American hymn; one that also envisions God’s kingdom on earth while simultaneously looking towards eternal life:
‘Tis a gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be;
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
Learn more about Ruth Duck in God in all our experience - the hymns of Ruth Duck.