I am such a geek.
After singing this hymn (and loving it), I looked to see who wrote the lyrics, and I wondered to myself, in the pattern of our Universalist forebear Hosea Ballou: Do I love this lyric because Mark Belletini wrote it, or did Mark Belletini happen to be the person who wrote a lyric I love?
I can say in true Universalist fashion that it is the latter, and, it’s awfully wonderful to have then seen it written by Mark, whose words I adored from afar for years and who now is a friend and frequent reader of the Hymn by Hymn series. Additionally, Mark was on the Hymnal Commission, and he often offers a perspective about the hymns they included. I hope that once the flurry of spring is past and General Assembly is under our belts, I can find some time to visit with him and get more stories and insight about the curation of Singing the Living Tradition.
But I digress.
This hymn, y’all. Set to a joyful (and somewhat familiar) Hebrew folk song, Mark’s lyrics make a strong and poetic connection between the Exodus story and the reasons we tell it today during Passover. And… when you look at the verses closely, it could have been written for 2017:
Bring out the festal bread, and sing songs of freedom.
Shout with the slaves who fled, and sing songs of freedom.
What modern pharaohs live in arrogance crownéd?
Who shall be sent to challenge folly unbounded?
Chains still there are to break; their days are not finished.
Metal or subtle-made they’re still not diminished.
Still does resentment bind each brother and sister.
Still do the plagues affect us red as the river.
Long be our journeying, yet justice is worth it;
dance, sister Miriam, and help us to birth it.
O people, lift your heads and look to the mountains;
bushes aflame still call us, rocks still gush fountains!
Now I’m sure if we asked nicely, Mark would be willing to adjust the “brother and sister” line to something like “family and neighbor” since we weren’t hip to the gender spectrum in the early 1990s, but otherwise, wow. And thanks for naming Miriam – she who gets little notice but who was a pretty wise partner in this journey when brother Aaron was, well, the worst brother in the Bible after those awful siblings in Genesis.
And while this is meant for the Passover season, I think it’s okay to sing outside of then, because we always need to sing songs of freedom and remember the systems Moses & Co. were escaping – especially since we see them played out in living color every day.
We must lift our heads out of the horror and look to the mountains, seeing the bushes aflame still calling us.
And then bring out the festal bread and sing songs of freedom.
Lord knows we need them.