That's it. That's all I can put up there. I wanted to get the whole score on the page because if you see it, you'll understand what I'm saying. But "Jesus is Coming Again" is not all that old; it's still under copyright and thus not available without cost.
I'm no musician, but yesterday all I had to do was spot it in the hymnal and I knew we were in for a rollicking good time. Truth be told, only a calliope would do this hymn justice. But if one is hard to locate, a Wurlitzer reclaimed from that old theater downtown will do.
Hymns like this one will always remind me of roller skating--pin-prick lights bouncing from a ball of mirrors lit by a spot, all of us whizzing around in a circle beneath. "Jesus is Coming Again" is itself a show--just look at those notes. If congregational worship was an American Musical, one stanza of John W. Peterson's music and we'd all be waltzing around the sanctuary. Put a hymn like this beneath the fingers of a good pianist, someone like my mother, and not a key on the piano is safe. It'll take your breath away, literally.
To be honest, I don't believe I'd ever sung this one in a service before. Chances are, I may never sing it again. There are places in the U.S. of A., I'm sure, where a hymn of the "end times" like this is sung, well, religiously. But the fellowships I've frequented never featured this one, which is not to suggest it's heresy.
The sermon yesterday came from II Peter: "But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare." It's perfectly understandable why the pastor chose "Coming Again." To me at least, this old one was just new.
Last week we worshiped in a church where the musical fare was almost exclusively new--you know,"We'll sing the first verse and you join in when you're ready," which usually means what's coming is pretty much unsingable, something someone just wrote down just last year. Yesterday's music was almost as unsingable, just dusted off from an antique barn.
It's amazing, isn't it?--how fashions change? Maybe the Catholics were on to something centuries ago: do the entire worship in Latin and nobody's going to tinker. But then came Vatican II.
We have Christian Smith to thank for the phrase "moralistic therapeutic deism," a moniker meant to describe contemporary religiosity at least among teenagers (2005), which, when fleshed out, looks something like this:
1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.”
2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.”
3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about ones self.”
4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.”
5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.”
If Christian Smith is right, then at least one reason why I'd never before sung "Jesus is Coming Again" is that the very notion that He is returning is of negligible importance in theology today. It's just not as big a deal as John W. Peterson claims it to be:
Mountain and meadow the same,
All earth and heaven proclaim,
Jesus is coming again!
Of course, everything you're reading originates in a man who's often these days given to shaking his head like the old folks at the Home, someone struck by how different things were once upon a time.
Honestly, I'm not complaining. "Jesus is Coming Again" wasn't my favorite tune, and if the red hymnal it's in never opens to that number again, I promise I won't say that, these days, all the signs are pointing more and more toward the end of the world.
Nope. Takes all kinds to make a world, my mother-in-law used to say. Some people, I'm sure, just love that song. Tell you what--just to be fair, here's three minutes of that old gospel hymn sung by people who do.