Hymns about the ministry of Jesus
How do we re-image the life of Jesus in hymns?
What we might call the ‘preparation’ for Jesus’ ministry is picked up in the StF section headed The Faithful Christ: Lent and Temptation (StF 234 – 241). Here we sing about Jesus’ period of deep self-reflection in the wilderness: Forty days and forty nights and Jesus, tempted in the desert (StF 236 and 237).
For the baptism of Jesus, we have just the one hymn, Fred Pratt Green’s When Jesus came to Jordan (StF 233). Some hymns about the work of the Holy Spirit lightly touches on the presence of Spirit on that occasion, while Sylvia Dunstan’s striking Crashing waters at creation (StF 376) is more specific:
Cleansing water once at Jordan
closed around the one foretold.
opened to reveal the glory
ever new and ever old. (v.3)
In addition, the Advent hymn On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry (StF182) speaks not only of John’s proclamations prior to Jesus’ baptism but also alludes to Jesus’ ministry – “to heal the sick stretch out your hand, / and bid the fallen sinner stand”. (v.4)
Beyond the themes of Jesus’ temptation and baptism, there are few hymns that focus on a single event or encounter.
Jesus transfigured © 2015 Thinkstock UK, a division of Getty Images
The shortest section in the hymn book, Jesus Transfigured (StF 259 – 261) offers three reflections on the mysterious mountain-top encounter with Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17: 1-10; Mark 9: 2-9; Luke 9: 28-36), all by contemporary writers: Brian Wren, Thomas Troeger and Alan Gaunt. To these we can also add Vince Gilbert's Who is this, whose face shines brighter (website only), which references, in addition, the preceding conversation on the road to Caesarea Philippi, during which Jesus asks his disciples: “Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8: 27-38).
One or two other events receive also receive special treatment. Leith Fisher’s Says Jesus, 'Come and gather round' (StF 510) expands on the occasion when Jesus encouraged his disciples to bring children forward, placing them at the centre of his teaching (Mark 10: 13-16). Anna Briggs is inspired by the miraculous feeding of a large crowd. She makes of the disciple Andrew a model of the Christian seeker – looking for ways to express God’s love even from the smallest opportunities and in the unlikeliest places: The crowd had listened to your word. Marjorie Dobson’s Jesus the carpenter (StF 275), though categorised as a hymn about Jesus’ suffering and death, uses the idea of Jesus’ trade as a way of exploring his ministry as a whole, and our response to it – especially in verse 2:
You called other workers to join in your ministry,
laying rough hands on the sick and the lame.
You taught of God’s love with such power and authority,
people who knew you believed you insane:
If few hymns celebrate particular occasions in Jesus’ ministry, what Singing the Faith does have are some thoughtful overviews of Jesus’ life, among them Thomas Wilkinson’s account from the perspective of Jesus' mother, Mary, which sees the prophetic words of Simeon (Luke 2: 25-35, esp. vv. 34-35) take shape before her eyes: Through long years of watchful waiting (StF 232). (See also Gillian Collins’ text, Remembering Mary (website only): it offers not only an overview of Mary’s life but also records all that the incarnation will mean for Jesus.)
Jesus confronts the money changers in the Temple precincts
Andrew Pratt’s powerful Love inspired the anger (StF 253) begins with Jesus overturning the shopkeepers’ stalls in the Temple precinct (in the Gospel of John this is not an event tied to Holy Week: John 2: 13-22) and then explores the nature of Jesus’ anger in other areas of his ministry. John Bell and Graham Maule take a similar idea but apply it in a more general way: Heaven shall not wait (StF 701). Without naming specific incidents, their Jesus Christ is waiting (StF 251) also unpacks different themes drawn from Jesus’ way of being: waiting – raging – healing – dancing – calling. (cf. The kingdom of God by Bryn Rees, StF 255). The same writers also offer In a byre near Bethlehem (StF 324), an account of Jesus’ life arguably in the tradition of I cannot tell… (StF 350), but with less emphasis on God’s future triumphal reign over the nations.
Also Jesus’ ministry part 1 (Things Jesus said) and part 3 (More about metaphors)