This night the grace of God has conquered

*** This music was composed at Lee Abbey to to be sung and danced at the end of a dramatic presentation of Jesus’ Passion to the words of ‘The day of resurrection’ by St John of Damascus (c675-c750. It has also been sung to the accompaniment of brass quintet and organ.


The lyric of this hymn was created to fit the music RAYLEIGH. The music was composed to provide a dramatic setting for the hymn ‘The day of resurrection’, written by St John of Damascus (c.675-c750) and translated by J.M.Neale (1818-1866). At the first performance of this setting, the melody was played over in the dark by a solo trumpeter, whose home was in Rayleigh, Essex. It will be seen from the outset that high drama is the context of the hymn.

Inspired by the account of Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian oppression, the hymn’s controlling theme is a sense of overwhelming triumph. But it is not directly about that story; it is about the far-reaching implications of Christ being raised from the dead. The hymn’s collective ‘we’ is the Church, understood, not as ‘ecclesia’, a community chosen out of the world, but as the first fruits of those who have died…for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ (1 Corinthians 15.20b, 22). The Church, flooded to overflowing with immeasurable joy, exults in God on behalf of humankind and all creation.

Based almost entirely on ‘The day of resurrection’; the text is largely a paraphrase of John Damascene and Neale, although there are differences in emphasis. Comparing the beginning of each first stanza makes the difference plain:

The day of resurrection!                                                   This night the grace of God has conquered!

Earth, tell it out abroad;                                                    Let all creation raise the shout.

The Passover of gladness,                                              The love that made us all has triumphed,

The Passover of God;                                                      as Christ turns hell all inside out!

“Night” is chosen rather than “day” because this hymn is written to be sung during the liturgy of the Easter Vigil; the point at which light has flooded the darkness with ‘day’ would be a most suitable time. Where the earlier hymn has the ‘Earth’ using the metaphor of ‘Passover’ (thus seeing in the Exodus story a typological prefiguring of Christ’s resurrection), the later hymn summons all creation to acknowledge “the love that moves the sun and stars”; for it is this power which, supremely articulated in Christ, subverts the claims of hell.

In the second stanza of the later hymn the Easter Vigil is the setting for Baptism:

and, listening to his accents,                                             As waters break, new creatures birthing,

may hear so calm and plain                                            and hope soars strong and free,

his own ‘All hail’, and, hearing,                                       Christ’s love bears forth the future,

may raise the victor strain.                                               and earth’s unloved reign from love’s tree.

The imagery of midwifery and birth points up the radical character of the rite of baptism. There is a passage to be gone through which is like going into and through death. But the midwife is Christ, and henceforth every unfolding possibility is enclosed in love.

“Earth’s unloved” are those who are baptised into the death of Jesus, who was unloved enough to be sentenced to death, and who, in John 12.32, said I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. Again, whilst those who are baptized have chosen the way of Christ, it may be believed that many more who (for whatever reason) are not baptized have also chosen – or are moving towards choosing – this same way. They are indestructible because the love which was in Christ is the power of their lives also.

A note about the phrase “God’s Loved One” in verse two. It is an attempt to encapsulate all that is signified by the Scriptural phrases ‘Son of Man’ and ‘Son of God’. Many Christians today, whilst accepting that these terms have to be understood in their Scriptural contexts, believe that neither of them can be used as though new-minted theology. But, to this writer at least, compared to ‘Son of Man’, ‘Son of God’ – trochee- troch… – ‘God’s Loved One’ sounds clumsy. A better phrase needs to be created!