As we celebrate our nation’s independence day, I find myself humming some familiar songs. America the Beautiful is the favorite in my brain at this time of year. I wonder if you have ever noticed that the text is a prayer. We will listen to it and pray that prayer together in worship on Sunday. There are, however, a few other songs that repeat in my brain that have my heart this time of year as well. They are in our hymnal and interestingly are also prayers.
The song I want to talk about today is Lift Every Voice and Sing. It’s pretty new to Presbyterian hymnals. It’s in Glory to God and was in the Presbyterian Hymnal before that. Lift Every Voice and Sing was first written as a poem. It was performed for the first time by 500 school children in celebration of President Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12, 1900 in Jacksonville, FL. The poem was written by James Weldon Johnson who was an American writer, lawyer and civil rights advocate. He was appointed under President Theodore Roosevelt as US consul in Venezuela and Nicaragua between1906 to 1913. He was self-taught in the law and was the first African-American admitted to the bar in Florida in 1897, and in 1934 he was the first African-American professor to be hired at New York University. Johnson’s poem set to music in 1905 by Johnson’s brother John Rosamond Johnson, and soon adopted by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as its official song. Today “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is one of the most cherished songs of the African American Civil Rights Movement and is often referred to as the Black National Anthem.
Here is a link so you can hear the song in its entirety. I particularly like the third verse because it reminds us of how easily we forget the God who has brought us through struggle and tears in the past. If we are to be a great nation, God’s people need to stay focused on the light of God which calls us to meet with God, to live as God’s people, and to seek God’s Kingdom for everyone.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand.
True to our God,
True to our native land.
May God bless our native land,
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