Hymn of the week: Low in the grave he lay

I really enjoyed leading worship at Archway this morning. Eight young people confirmed during the service, a full church and a real sense of celebration.

When it comes to choosing Easter hymns I tend to stick to traditional favourites. I nearly always begin with ‘Christ the Lord is risen today‘ and end with ‘Thine be the glory’. The other hymns vary from year to year but I choose from a fairly limited repertoire. This morning we sang:

  • Christ the Lord is risen today
  • Halle, halle, halle / Lord, I lift your name on high (Admittedly not that traditional but favourites nevertheless at Archway)
  • Low in the grave he lay
  • Alleluia, alleluia, give thanks to the risen Lord (offertory hymn)
  • Thine be the glory

In addition the choir sang a song, Mary Ann’s family sang a song and we had a selection of hymns during the distribution of Holy Communion, which included ‘I know that my Redeemer lives’. We were pretty much sung out by the end of the service!

Which brings me to the hymn of the week. I must admit that I am not particularly a fan of Victorian Gospel style hymns and have never understood the appeal of Moody and Sankey.  But some have grown on me over the years, including this one. Part of its appeal is the contrast between the reflective, almost sombre, verses and the refrain with its trumpet -like ‘Up from the grave he arose!’ It makes the hymn more dynamic and, well, fun to sing. (Contrast ‘Thine be the glory’ which the congregation sings pretty much at full tilt throughout.)

The hymn was written by Robert Lowry (who also composed its tune) in 1874, while he was minister at First Baptist Church, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. The Psalter Hymnal Handbook writes of Lowry:

Although Lowry valued his preaching ministry much more than his writing of hymns, he attained a lasting name in the gospel music tradition. Educated at Bucknell University, he returned there to become a professor of rhetoric from 1869-1875. He was also a pastor at Baptist churches in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. Known nationally as the editor of numerous Sunday school song collections for publishers Biglow and Maine in New York, Lowry also collaborated with William H. Doane to produce gospel hymnals and Sunday school songbooks such as Bright Jewel (1869), Hymn Service (1871-1873), Welcome Tidings (1877), Gospel Hymn and Tune Book (1879), and Glad Refrain (1886).

The New Methodist Hymn-book Illustrated adds:

He wrote ‘Shall we gather at the river,’ in July 1864, when an epidemic was sweeping over Brooklyn.

Low in the grave he lay,
Jesus my Saviour,
Waiting the coming day,
Jesus my Lord!

Up from the grave he arose,
With a mighty triumph o’er his foes,
He arose a victor from the dark domain,
And he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah! Christ arose!

Vainly they watch his bed,
Jesus my Saviour;
Vainly they seal the dead,
Jesus my Lord!

Death cannot keep its prey,
Jesus my Saviour;
He tore the bars away,
Jesus my Lord!

Robert Lowry (1826-99)


About Holloway Rev

Paul Weary is a Methodist minister living and working in Holloway, North London.
This entry was posted in Easter, Hymns and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Hymn of the week: Low in the grave he lay

  1. Catherine Jones says:

    This morning at Nicoma Park United Methodist Church, Nicoma Park, OK, USA, we began with “Up From the Grave He Arose”, our second hymn was the great Charles Wesley Easter hymn, “Christ the Lord is Risen today” and our service ended with “Because He Lives’, a more modern hymn by Bill & Gloria Gaither. We had a wonderful service with many visitors. In the morning we leave Oklahoma City for Great Britain…my niece is being married in N. Yorkshire!

  2. Holloway Rev says:

    Catherine, thanks for replying. Hope you enjoy your time in Britain – Yorkshire is a beautiful part of the country!

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