Sunday’s closing hymn was “Lift High the Cross,” a fitting conclusion to the final Sunday before Holy Week! It includes reminders of John 12 where Jesus sees crucifixion as the beginning of victory: “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” It also recalls for us the ancient custom of preparing to renew our baptismal vows at Easter: “Each newborn servant of the Crucified bears on their brow the seal of him who died.”
The hymn highlights a key feature of processionals: the crucifer holds the cross high, showing the meaning of the cross as a sign of victory as well as a sign of the salvation that will draw us all to Christ.
George Kitchen (1827-1912) became Dean of Winchester Cathedral in 1883 and wrote the original version of this text in 1897 for a festival service there. For the 1916 Supplement to Hymns Ancient and Modern (HAM) Michael Newbolt (1874-1956) revised the text into twelve couplets. Sydney Nicholson (1875-1947) composed the tune Crucifer to go with it. This version was later included in the 1950 edition of HAM.
Nicholson was an organist and church musician who greatly influenced English hymnody. He founded the School of English Church Music, later renamed the Royal School of Church Music, with branches throughout the English-speaking world. He also wrote a handbook on church music and a book on choirs. Nicholson was knighted in 1938 for his contributions to church worship.
Here is a grand use of the hymn arranged for congregation, choir, brass quintet, timpani, percussion, and organ by PJ Janson. It is from St. James’ Anglican Church, Vancouver, BC, for a 2017 service on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (Candlemas). Notice the use of additional stanzas not in our hymnbook.
Links to the appointed readings and prayer for today: