This hymn is the story of incredible heartbreak that turns into incredible joy. The hymn was written by C. Austin Miles, a well-known hymn writer of his day. In 1912, music publisher Dr. Adam Geibel—himself a successful organist, conductor, and composer of Gospel songs—asked his friend Miles to write a new song for Easter. Dr. Geibel insisted that it be a hymn, “sympathetic in tune, breathing tenderness in every line; one that would bring hope to the hopeless, rest for the weary, and downy pillows to dying beds.”
C. Austin Miles (1868-1946) began considering various biblical texts. A pharmacist turned hymn writer and church music director, he was also an amateur photographer. One day while in his dark room waiting for film to develop, Miles was reading from John’s Gospel, the 20th chapter, when he had a profound spiritual experience in which he saw an incredible vision of Mary Magdalene visiting the empty tomb. He saw her leave the tomb and walk into a garden where she met the Master and heard Him speak her name. Miles later wrote of the experience, “As I read it that day, I seemed to be part of the scene. I became a silent witness to that dramatic moment in Mary's life, when she knelt before her Lord, and cried, "Rabboni!" Under the inspiration of this vision I wrote as quickly as the words could be formed the poem exactly as it has since appeared.” Later that evening he composed the musical score. The song was published that same year and became a theme song of the Billy Sunday evangelistic crusades. Next to The Old Rugged Cross this hymn has been one of the most popular gospel hymns ever written.
They hymn tells the story of Mary Magdalene. Just two days earlier, she had watched as Roman soldiers nailed Jesus to a cross where he died. Now, on a Sunday morning she has come to finish the embalming procedure so hastily started the day he died. But she discovers the stone rolled away and an empty tomb and assumes that the authorities have moved the body. Not only had she watched him die, but now there is the added grief compounded upon grief associated with a body snatching.
Anxiety and heartbreak hardly describes her feelings.
She goes to tell the disciples. Peter and John go running to the tomb with Mary in close pursuit. The two apostles are not there very long and leave. Mary leans her head upon her arm at the tomb and weeps. She is left there by herself to nurse her despair and disillusionment.
Suddenly, she hears a voice. She turns and discovers that Jesus is alive. In a flash her heartbreak bursts into effervescent joy. In her exuberance she falls at our Lord’s feet, clasping them and crying out, “Rabbi!” After a brief conversation she hurries to find the disciples, and with animated ardor tells the disciples, that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.
What are some of the practical truths this great hymn of the faith teaches us? I want to concentrate primarily on the chorus.
All of these things are meant to give us joy as we tarry in the presence of Jesus.