Hymns about the ministry of Jesus

Lord of the Dance? Jesus under attack in a Balinese-style dance, Ganjuran Church, Bantul 

In Events in Jesus’ life (Jesus' ministry 2), arguably one of the more obvious hymns omitted from the list of those that provide an overview of Jesus’ life and ministry is Sydney Carter’s perennial Lord of the Dance (StF 247). In verses 2 and 3, this hymn does sing of Jesus’ encounters with scribes and pharisees, of calling his disciples and or curing the lame. But what we remember from Carter’s words is the idea of the “dance” – the dance of life; a movement represented in the person of Jesus that progresses on wonderfully despite the fact of death:

They buried my body
and they thought I’d gone;
but I am the Dance
and I still go on.

And it’s the metaphor of Jesus-as-Dance that is these words’ most important contribution to the hymn book.

Many hymns about Jesus take an idea or event from his life and explore it from different angles, but some turn it more completely into a metaphor for how Jesus lived – or how we may live (though perhaps very few with as much clarity as Carter). Jesus calls us! O’er the tumult (StF 250) is another good example. The opening lines may suggest the story of Jesus walking on the water of a turbulent lake Galilee (Matthew 14: 24-27, image left) but immediately Cecil Frances Alexander applies the image to our own lives and, in subsequent verses, draws more fully upon Jesus’ words to his disciples: “Follow me”. The waters’ turbulent nature become our own “days of toil” the pull to other commitments and ambitions of daily life.

Horatius Bonar does something similar in I heard the voice of Jesus say (StF 248), in which he takes words of Jesus (as with other Things Jesus said) but understands that they need not be taken literally. They are metaphors of how Jesus draws us to him and how we can learn to live. In verse 2, for example:

I came to Jesus, and I drank
of that life-giving stream;
my thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
and now I live in him.

John Bell and Graham Maule do this too, drawing not on spoken utterances but on observations about how Jesus was with people. He healed, so we should demonstrate active care, they write in Jesus Christ is waiting (StF 251); he raged at injustice, so we should express anger “in the Kingdom’s causes”. And in verse 5 they pick up Sydney Carter’s metaphor and sing of Jesus Christ “dancing, dancing in the streets”. It’s a lively metaphor of good triumphing over evil, inviting us to dance the message too and to live “the way” that the early Church discovered to be so transformational.

Also see Jesus’ ministry part 1 (Things Jesus said) and part 2 (Events in Jesus' life)