“How Blessed the Day when the Lamb and the Lion…”

I know I’m not alone when I confess that my favorite hymn is “The Spirit of God like a Fire Is Burning.” The song holds a special place in Restoration history as the last entry included in Emma Smith’s original 1836 hymnal, and was sung as part of the dedication ceremony for Kirtland Temple.  I always enjoy singing it, but the most special times I remember have been in the temple itself:  (1) during a interdenominational Latter Day Saint service at a John Whitmer Historical Association conference, (2) during the dedication of the new temple visitors center, and (3) during a worship service at an Affirmation conference.

We in Community of Christ sing the song a little differently than our Utah cousins.  Some of the notes are different, especially in the chorus.  We have the “…a-ar-mies of hea-eav-en, Ho-sa-nah…” while the LDS version adds more notes “…a-ar-mies of hea-ea-ve-en, Ho-o-sa-nah…”*  Also, in the Utah tradition, the hymn tends to be sung slowly and ponderously, while it’s way more up-beat in the Community of Christ tradition.

When I first encountered the text in the 1981 maroon RLDS hymnal, Hymns of the Saints, I was surprised to discover one additional difference: only three verses of the hymn were included.  The LDS version includes four verses culminating with:

How blessed the day when the lamb and the lion
Shall lie down together without any ire.
And Ephraim be crowned with his blessings in Zion,
As Jesus descends with his chariots of fire!

The original hymn actually had six verses of which “How blessed the day…” was the last.  Apparently both churches agree that verses four and five were worth skipping.  These are “We’ll wash and be wash’d and with oil be anointed, withal not omitting the washing of feet. For he that receiveth his penny appointed, must surely be clean at the harvest of wheat,” and “Old Israel that fled from the world for his freedom, must come with the cloud and the pillar amain; a Moses, an Aaron, a Joshua lead him, and feed him on manna from heaven again.”  While it might be interesting to speculate who lyricist W.W. Phelps considered Moses, Aaron, and Joshua — Joseph Smith and Sydney Rigdon for the first two, perhaps Lyman Wight (the general of Zion’s Camp) for the latter? — I feel like we aren’t losing too much by pruning these off.

CommunityOfChristLogoBut it’s a shame to lose the lamb and the lion in Zion verse.  After all, this was the RLDS verse!  Since the late 19th century, the church seal has been a picture of the lamb, lion, and child emblazoned with the motto “Peace.” It’s a Restoration distinctive going back to Kirtland, but for some reason it was omitted from the 1981 hymnal.  (In fact, I have one of the previous gray 1956 RLDS hymnals and I see the verse was already missing back then.)  While the “Ephraim be crowned…” bit is a little weird (referring to an early Restoration notion that Latter Day Saints were somehow literally descended from the Biblical tribe of Ephraim), the offending imagery was probably Jesus in the chariot of fire — evoking a much more militant concept of the vision of the lamb and the lion than is consonant with the church’s “Peace” motto.

When I got a hold of a copy of the new Community of Christ Sings hymnal this week, I immediately looked for my favorite hymn.  (I’m excited for all the new hymns, but first thing’s first.)  I was pleasantly surprised to see what I had always thought of as the RLDS verse restored — or rather, a new and improved Community of Christ “How blessed the day…” verse has been added:

How blessed the day when the lamb and the lion
shall lie down together in peace with a child.
With one heart and mind may the Lord call us Zion:
a people of justice, by God’s love inspired.

Beautiful!  Can’t wait to sing it in the temple.

_______________

* According to the version printed in the hymnal published independently by J.C. Little and G.B. Gardner — the first Latter Day Saint hymnal that included music — the Community of Christ version is closer to the original.  However, in the Little and Gardner version there are additional notes in the first part of the chorus: “We’ll si-ing and we’ll shou-out…”  See Richard Clothier, 150 Years of Song: Hymnody in the Reorganization, 1860–2010, (Herald Publishing House: Independence, Missouri, 2010), 14–16.

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