I swear I didn’t set this up this way, but I am so glad that I’m singing this hymn today.
It’s not my favorite melody (as much as I love Tom Benjamin and have waxed poetic about him before). But if we don’t sing a paean to the prophet souls on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, when should we? King’s words and ministry are more needed than ever right now: we need his prophetic words about racial and economic justice. We need his model of hope and resistance.
When these lyrics were written, King was just a kid; but they speak truth about him now too: “though dead, they speak today: how great the cloud of witnesses encompassing our way.” Dr. King joined that great cloud of witnesses in 1968, and he continues to point us toward truth and justice, showing us that everyone, no matter how scared, or unsure, or flawed, or struggling, can make a difference if we set our course toward freedom, justice, and compassion.
From age to age how grandly rise the prophet souls in line;
above the passing centuries like beacon lights they shine,
like beacon lights they shine.
They witness to one heritage, one spirit’s quick’ning breath,
one widening reign from age to age of freedom and of faith,
of freedom and of faith.
Their kindling power our souls confess; though dead they speak today:
how great the cloud of witnesses encompassing our way,
encompassing our way.
Through every race, in every clime, one song shall yet be heard:
move onward in thy course sublime, O everlasting Word,
O everlasting Word.
A quick postscript: Hulu has the film Selma for viewing – along with the MLK episode of Black-ish, which is both right on point and pretty hysterical. Watch them. (Along with all the other good stuff out there – Luke Cage, if you like superhero stuff; Twelve Years a Slave, in case you haven’t cried in a while; 13th, because we all need an education. And more…this is just the off-the-top-of-my-head list.)