One of the sweet traditions that has all but disappeared in the last twenty years in many of our churches is the singing of morning and evening hymns. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you probably worship in a little more contemporary church with no Sunday night service.
This is not a doctrinal issue or a matter of salvation, but it feels a little like it must have felt to give up eating food you grew in your own garden, or playing checkers with your friends at the courthouse, or watching Gunsmoke every Sunday night after church. Some traditions were just sweet.
Here are some of my favorite morning hymns:
- Early My God Without Delay I Haste To See Thy Face
- In the Hush of Early Morning
- Again the Lord of Light and Life Awakes the Kindling Ray
- Awake and Sing the Song of Moses and the Lamb
- Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, Early in the Morning Our Songs Shall Rise to Thee
Of course, these specifically morning hymns blend with the great songs of praise that were opening calls to worship, mostly for morning worship:
- O Worship the King
- Come Thou Almighty King
- Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee
- All Creatures of Our God and King
- Come Ye That Love the Lord
- All Things Praise Thee (also, For The Beauty of the Earth)
- Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow
But nothing compares to evening hymns, the ones we not only sang at church but at retreats—and summer camp. Every night at camp we would go to a different spot after dark, look up at the stars that none of us city kids could ever see, and sing one of these songs
- Abide With Me Fast Falls the Eventide
- Now the Day is Over (great tenor and bass parts)
- Softly Now the Light of Day
- Be With Me, Lord
- Savior, Breathe An Evening Blessing – my very favorite!
James Edmeston wrote this last hymn sometime around 1820. There is a story told that during the Boxer Rebellion in China between 1898 and 1901, which was an uprising to root out imperialism and Christianity and when many thousands of Chinese Christians and foreign missionaries had been massacred, this hymn was sung as missionaries huddled together at night, worshipping God, but wondering if they would be alive in the morning.
Threatened with imminent death, the last verse must have taken great courage and faith to sing:
Should swift death this night o’er take us and our couch become our tomb . . . .
Here are all the lyrics:
Savior, breathe an evening blessing
Ere repose our spirits seal;
Sin and want we come confessing:
Thou canst save, and Thou canst heal.
Though destruction walk around us,
Though the arrow past us fly,
Angel guards from Thee surround us;
We are safe if Thou art nigh.
Though the night be dark and dreary,
Darkness cannot hide from Thee;
Thou art He who, never weary,
Watchest where Thy people be.
Should swift death this night o’ertake us,
And our couch become our tomb,
May the morn in heaven awake us,
Clad in light and deathless bloom
Of course, morning and evening hymns can still be sung suggesting symbolically the beginning and ending of life, so even without Sunday night services, I hope modern writers will draw on two of God’s most beautiful metaphors.