WELS Hymnal Project

Eternal Easter Sunshine

One value in repeated use of familiar worship material is that certain phrases become embedded in one’s memory. One of my favorites: “Better than life is your love” (Morning Devotion, CW page 152; Psalm 63:3). God’s love is better than life itself because he rescues us from sin and death and promises eternal life.

Easter is God’s stamp of approval on Christ’s victory. St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

In the death and resurrection of Jesus, death for the believer dies. What a powerful image! “Holy Scripture plainly says that death is swallowed up by death; its sting is lost forever. Hallelujah!” (161:2, 720:4). A new hymn by Keith and Kristyn Getty puts it this way: “Death is dead, love has won, Christ has conquered” (See, What a Morning).

Not all familiar and memorable lines are pleasant. Martin Luther’s great Easter hymn doesn’t mince words about the cause for Jesus’ death: “Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands for our offenses given” (161, 720). But though our offenses are great, his love is greater. “He died on the accursèd tree—so strong his love—to save us” (161:3, 720:5).

Some days we revel in Easter confidence. Other days we’re tempted to minimize the serious risks in our spiritual battles. So we do well to remember: “The ancient dragon is their foe” (195:4). On our own, we’d be quickly defeated. But with God’s promise to support us, we are bold to say: “Dragon of old and jaws of death, I sneer at the fear you bring!” (from a new hymn under consideration).

A favorite line for many is from “I Know that My Redeemer Lives”: “He lives to silence all my fears; He lives to wipe away my tears” (152:5). And so we pray in a hymn not from the Easter section:

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me! (588:7)

This year Easter worship will include familiar images and memorable poetic phrases. In years to come a new hymnal will bring new expressions of Easter victory and confidence.

God bless your Easter worship with spiritual truth embedded in your heart by both new and familiar words!

So let us keep the festival
To which the Lord invites us;
Christ is himself the joy of all,
The sun that warms and lights us.
Now his grace to us imparts
Eternal sunshine to our hearts;
The night of sin is ended. Hallelujah! (161:4, 720:6)

About Bryan Gerlach

Rev. Bryan Gerlach is the Director of the WELS Commission on Worship and serves ex officio on the Executive Committee of the WELS Hymnal Project. After serving congregations in El Paso, TX, and Citrus Heights, CA, Gerlach was called in 1995 to be the Commission on Worship’s first director. He serves as an advisory member on the Commission’s subcommittees and oversees all of its activities, including managing editor responsibility for Preach the Word and Worship the Lord. Gerlach is a regular organist/pianist at two churches: Grace, Milwaukee, and Christ the Lord, Brookfield, WI, where his wife, Jackie, serves as Director of Parish Music and LES teacher. He has a Master of Church Music degree from Concordia University, River Forest, IL.


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