Favorite Easter Hymns and Their Histories
The great theologian Charles Spurgeon once said, “… the singing of the pilgrims … is the most delightful part of worship and that which comes nearest to the adoration of heaven.” I couldn’t agree more, especially at Easter when we, as Christians, come together to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior through hymns and songs of faith.
My fondest Easter memories are centered around singing together as a congregation. I can remember the church being filled with Easter lilies and other girls like me decked out in our new, pastel-colored Easter dresses. But more than anything, I recall everyone’s voice being raised to God with hymns of worship, praising Him for sending His Son to die for our sins. Including my own. The stories behind the hymns we sing and the history of these Easter songs hold lessons about the songwriters’ great faith.
My favorite Easter hymn is “I Know That My Redeemer Lives,” penned by Samuel Medley (1738 – 1799).
I know that my Redeemer lives; what comfort this sweet sentence gives!
He lives, He lives, who once was dead; He lives my ever-living Head.
Medley’s grandfather taught him about Christ but, as a young man, Medley was interested in other things. It wasn’t until he faced imminent death due to an injury, that he turned back to the God his grandfather taught him about, and gave his heart to his Redeemer.
These lyrics speak to me mainly because of one word—my. Like Samuel Medley finally understood, I know that Jesus is “my” Redeemer; He came to die for me, specifically. Of course, He came to die for all of us. But isn’t it wonderful to know that each of us can profess Jesus as “my” Redeemer; He loves all of us and claims each of us as His own.
“Jesus Christ is Risen Today” is another popular Easter hymn and some may be more familiar with a slightly different version, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.”
Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!
Our triumphant holy day, Alleluia!
Who did once upon the cross, Alleluia!
Suffer to redeem our loss. Alleluia!
Dating back to the 14th century, this hymn is one of the oldest on record. In 1739, the composer Charles Wesley wrote a poem based on this hymn. Titled “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” Wesley’s poem was quickly put to music and soon became a favorite. While Wesley is credited with composing as many as 6500 hymns, this particular hymn stands out and is still used in Easter services today around the world.
Alfred Ackley, a musician and preacher, wrote “He Lives” in 1933. Many know the hymn by its first line, “I serve a risen Savior.”
I serve a risen Savior, He’s in the world today;
I know that He is living whatever men may say;
I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer,
And just the time I need Him, He’s always near.
At the time, Ackley was challenged by a young student who was confused as to why Christians worshipped someone who had died centuries earlier. In response, Ackley is quoted as saying, “He lives! I tell you, He is not dead but lives here and now! Jesus Christ is more alive today than ever before. I can prove it by my own experience, as well as the testimony of countless thousands.”
Fueled by the student’s questions, Ackley wrote these popular lyrics. His refrain is joyous, reminding us all that Jesus rose from the dead as promised and remains alive today in the heart of every believer.
He lives, He lives,
Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me
Along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives,
Salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.
We are fortunate to have so many beautiful Easter hymns to sing together, as one body. And it doesn’t matter if our voices are choir-worthy or a bit off-tune—we know that our God takes great pleasure in hearing our voices being raised to Him in worship.
As you prepare to celebrate Easter, view and share our exclusive video of Clay Crosse singing.