All Hail the Power
“All Hail the Power.” Many hymns, particularly in the Lutheran tradition, are meant to proclaim certain doctrines of the Christian faith. Other hymns from other traditions are meant not so much to teach as they are simply to exclaim one’s faith emotionally. Both didactic hymnody and emotional hymnody teaches us something about the Christian faith. We know that we cannot be a Christian simply by sitting under a tree admiring God’s creation and feeling exuberant about it. This God must be named and understood as the Triune God, and this involves an understanding of doctrine. Yet, the emotional exuberance of the psalms shows us that faith is not a simple intellectual exercise, as successfully completing a crossword puzzle or arithmatic problem may be. This hymn, beloved by many in Christianity, both proclaims and exclaims.
The writer of the four stanzas we sing this morning was Edward Perronet, an Englishman of Swiss Protestant descent. He was influenced by John and Charles Wesley, the founders of the Methodist Church. Not surprisingly, both the Wesleys and Perronet were interested in reforming the Church of England by rekindling a type of “heartfelt faith,” as John Wesley experienced at his “conversion” when, after reading Luther’s commentary on one of the epistles, finding that “my heart was strangely warmed.” Perronet, believing strongly in the Wesleys’ principles of the Christian faith, penned this hymn of praise.
The first stanza is one of exclamatory praise: “All hail the pow’r of Jesus’ name! Let angels prostrate fall; bring forth the royal diadem and crown Him Lord of all.” Today’s theme of “Jesus’ name” resounds in this stanza, which recalls something of a coronation. However, this stanza alone does not make for a very good hymn. Kings and queens are not crowned (usually) because of their achievements, but merely because of their bloodlines. . their family names. There is power in the name of Windsor which is not latent in our American names. A human name holds power because we ascribe worth to it whether or not its bearer has done anything deserving.
However, the subsequent stanzas tell us exactly to whom this name refers and why this name does bear power; it is not a magical formula, but rather relates to Jesus’ divine nature as God and His work to achieve our salvation. The second stanza uses an Old Testament form of Jesus’ name, “Jesse’s rod,” and the third stanza refers exactly to what Jesus has done: “O seed of Israel’s chosen race, now ransomed from the fall, Hail Him who saves you by His grace and crown Him Lord of all.” So, we now know that it is “by grace” we have been saved, and not by our works, but by this one named Jesus. The next stanza tells us that this Jesus was “The God Incarnate, man divine.” We now know that this Jesus was able to be a “mediator” between God and humanity because he was both God and man. This Person Jesus, because of His nature and His actions, bears a powerful name, unlike any other. This is perhaps one of the lessons to be found in today’s Gospel reading from Mark 9. Jesus says, “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad against me, for whoever is not against us is for us.” It is not us who have the power, neither is a name merely a magical incantation. The name of Jesus gains power because it is inseparably linked to the God/Man Jesus, whom every tongue eventually will confess is Lord.