This resurrection hymn by Keith and Kristin Getty is one of the best examples of contemporary hymnody.
|How can it be, the One who died,|
Has born our sin through sacrifice
To conquer every sting of death?
Sing, sing hallelujah.
For joy awakes as dawning light
When Christ’s disciples lift their eyes.
Alive He stands, their Friend and King;
Christ, Christ He is risen.
Christ is risen, He is risen indeed!
Oh, sing hallelujah.
Join the chorus, sing with the redeemed;
Christ is risen, He is risen indeed.
Where doubt and darkness once had been,
They saw Him and their hearts believed.
But blessed are those who have not seen,
Yet, sing hallelujah.
Once bound by fear now bold in faith,
They preached the truth and power of grace.
And pouring out their lives they gained
Life, life everlasting.
The power that raised Him from the grave
Now works in us to powerfully save.
He frees our hearts to live His grace;
Go tell of His goodness.
Isa. 53:10, Heb. 7:27
Isa. 25:8, Hos. 13:14, 1 Cor. 15:55-57
Matt. 28:1, Luke 24:1, John 20:1
Matt. 28:17, John 20:19
Matt. 28:17, Luke 24:38, John 20:24-25
John 20:29, 1 Pet. 1:8
Acts 4:13, 29
Acts 4:31, 28:31
Phil. 2:27, 2 Tim. 4:6
2 Tim. 4:7-8
1 Cor. 6:14, Eph. 1:19-20,
Eph. 2:5, Col. 2:12
1 Pet. 2:9
This hymn is composed of five verses and a “chorus,” and moves logically through each verse as it retells the story of Christ’s resurrection.
The first verse begins with an exclamatory question. The “How can it be?” does not call for an answer but for wonder – how is it that by dying Christ has undone the power of sin, that is, death? The force of this question, then, is adoration, as we see in the last line with the three commands “Sing, sing hallelujah.”
The second verse begins with “For” and so functions as a ground for the command to sing praise. And what is that ground – Christ, the Friend and King of His disciples, is alive! The first line of this verse is somewhat obscure, what exactly does “Joy awakes as dawning light” mean? Is Christ personified as joy who, early in the morning, awoke from death? Should we take the “as” temporally and see that phrase as referring to the morning of the resurrection or should we take it comparatively, introducing a simile – joy awakening is like the dawning of the sun? I think it makes most sense to see Christ personified in the awakened joy and take the “as dawning light” figuratively (though with an allusion to the morning of the resurrection) and not temporally, because the next line “When Christ’s disciples lift their eyes” gives us a temporal clause.
The third verse continues from the second and tells us the effect of this vision on the disciples – where formerly they had darkness and doubt now they have the vision of Christ and faith in him (note the correspondence between darkness – saw and doubt – believed in lines 1-2). Lines 3 and 4 paraphrase Jesus’ words to Thomas in John 20:29, “Jesus said to him, “‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”
The fourth verse nicely summarizes the whole book of Acts – Jesus disciples, who formerly deserted Him in fear and cowered in a locked room (John 20:19), now boldly preached the gospel in the face of persecution and, eventually, imprisonment. Note the powerful imagery in lines 3 and 4, it is by pouring out their lives that they gain life everlasting.
The fifth verse now turns and speaks directly to us and it’s message echoes that of Ephesians 1:19-20: the same power which raised Christ from the dead and emboldened His disciples now works in you! Therefore, go, tell of Christ’s goodness.
Each stanza is a quatrain with three 8 syllable lines and a final 6 syllable line (188.8.131.52.). The first three lines of each stanza are composed of iambs (strong – weak) which give it an upbeat, bouncy feel: da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM. The final line does not follow this pattern, but begins with two accented syllables, followed by two unaccented syllables, and a final iamb: DUM-DUM da-da DUM-da. This change emphasizes the first two words of each final line which, in verses 1, 2, and 4 is complemented by repetition.
There is no rhyme scheme to this hymn which is unfortunate, but the Getty’s do use alliteration periodically to make the poetry more memorable and forceful. Consider the alliteration on “s” in lines 1-2 of verse 1, on “d” in line 1 of verse 3, and on “p” in lines 2-3 of verse 4.
This hymn is sung to a simple melody which helps convey the content of the lyrics to those listening. The melody that accompanies the first two lines of each verse is characterized by 1/8 and 1/4 pairs of the same note. This fits nicely with the iambic (da-DUM) rhythm of the lyrics. The falling measure at the end of each verse Bb (tonic) also makes the initial three notes of the chorus ring out on A (leading tone) almost like a fanfare.
Though not perfect, this contemporary hymn has more substance than 98% of worship songs written today (note the fact that it has five verses!). The logical progression of the verses through the narrative of the resurrection all the way to its relevance for us, along with the fact that the hymn contains within itself its application (the imperatives, “Sing…go…tell”) make this one which merits consideration for the hymnals.
 Yes, these are in the imperative mood. In the Old Testament “hallelujah” is a command that means praise (“hallelu”) Yahweh (“jah”). The last five psalms (146-150) are often called the “Hallel” psalms because they all begin with the command “Hallelujah,” translated by the ESV as “Praise the LORD.”