He comes, unknown, to be baptised

*** A simple tune, though it needs to be practised. Best sung with harmonising voices.



The Feast of the Baptism of Jesus follows  immediately after the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord to the Gentiles. They are so much bound into each other – each unfolding the meaning of the other – that they can be, and in some churches are, celebrated together in the same service.

The readings that celebrate Christ’s baptism boldly sketch the outlines of the nature and character of the one who will come to be called Christ, God’s uniquely anointed Son. In the Church’s imagination, it is as if data were needed to supply answers to the question: Who is this Lord that is said to have been manifested to the Gentiles? The hymn “He comes, unknown, to be baptised” attempts a contribution to the answer.

What is immediately clear in the hymn is that the description of Christ is given in terms, not of qualities and attributes, but of what he does and how he does it. Each stanza begins in the present tense of the verb ‘to come’, thus emphasizing from the outset that the being of Christ is characterized by decision, by action. (It is logically possible for the Anointed One to refuse to be anointed, to refuse the mission laid on Christ; but then, such a one wouldn’t be Christ Jesus as he was known and proclaimed.) The obedience of Christ is seen first of all in Jesus’ willingness to go, to wade into the waters of human existence, to become the icon of redeemed creation.

The changing two syllables “He comes”, “You come” and “We come” function like telegraph poles to carry the wires of the hymn’s charge from its source in “God’s desire” all the way through to Jesus “giving God’s all”. The first four stanzas unfold the mystery of Jesus’ coming, proclaiming the cosmic ultimacy of his mission (“He…brings to the world love’s judging fire; summons to faith till life expire.”), while the last two articulate the best response the world can offer, which is: to imitate the way of Jesus, the way of Christ.

The music for this hymn is composed with a simple melody and integral harmony. Where the singers are available, it would be worth practising the harmony parts, so as to produce a wholly balanced sound.

The third version of this music was completed on the day that my younger daughter, Hannah Mary, had her hair cut in a bob.