Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands
Optional tambourine part is provided.
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One of my favorite Easter hymns is “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands.” I wish churches sang it more often, all year long! But it is sung less frequently than other Easter hymns, perhaps because it can be sung too slowly, or because its tune is in a minor key. This is unfortunate; Luther’s hymn is incredibly dramatic, powerful, and celebratory. Thus, when I began composing this setting, my hope was to inspire renewed appreciation for this great, celebrative hymn.
My first decision was to make the word “alleluia” the centerpiece of this setting, and by doing so, to portray Christians’ unbridled joy at Christ’s victorious work. In addition to the repetition of “alleluia,” I chose shifting meters and the tambourine to represent exuberance and dancing. My second desire was to juxtapose both the present joy of today’s believers with the centuries of history that are represented, not only in the Passion and Easter narratives, but also the 11th-century Victimae paschali laudes chant from which this piece’s chorale tune was derived. This led me to score the middle section in a polyphonic style and to underscore the English hymn text with an excerpt of the Victimae hymn in Latin.
I hope this setting leads worshippers to rediscover this great hymn, and through it reflect on both the eternal finality of Christ’s atonement and the imminent reality of Christians’ security, sustenance, and redemption.