Praise the One Who Breaks the Darkness
“Praise the One Who Breaks the Darkness” This contemporary hymn text was written by Rusty Edwards (b. 1955), an ELCA pastor and hymn writer whose works appear in 15 hymnals or hymnal supplements. He has served as churches in Illinois, Nebraska, and Georgia, but most recently accepted a grant for extended study at Oxford University. This modern text is set to the old American melody, BEACH SPRING.
This text is praise-filled, and begins by reflecting the spirit of Luke 4: 18-19 when Jesus himself is reading from the scroll of Isaiah: “’The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has annointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’” This, then, inspires the first stanza which begins, “Praise the One who breaks the darkness with a liberating light; praise the One who frees the prisoners, turning blindness into sight.” This imagery of light is strongly scriptural; we often take for granted Jesus’ words in John 8: 12 when He says that “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” This hymn requires us to “work” for a proper understanding of it in that a prior knowledge of who this “One” is required in order to understand it properly. Jesus is not mentioned by name in the first stanzas, although these metaphors are strongly present.
The second stanza alludes to Mark 10: 13, when Jesus requires the disciples not to “hinder the little children.” This is the “. . .One who bless’d the children with a strong, yet gentle, word.” The stanza goes on to praise the “One” who “. . . drove out demons. . . who brings cool water to the desert’s burning sand. . .” The scriptural imagery is strong, yet still somewhat vague.
The final stanza begins praising the “Word incarnated, Christ.” Finally, this “One” is named! Not only is He named, but the Gospel is clearly presented: “Christ, who suffered in our place; Jesus died and rose victorious that we may know God by grace.” With this “information” now in our mind, the stanza continues, we may “. . . sing for joy and gladness, seeing what our God has done; let us praise the true Redeemer, praise the One who makes us one.” The gospel is clearly presented as being the reason why we praise. We do not express praise and thanks because we feel like it (otherwise, feeling depressed would be a legitimate excuse not to praise God) and we likewise do not express praise and thanks in order for our emotions to feel a certain way. We might like to feel “uplifted” (whatever that means to you), but we do not worship our emotions. We worship the historical Christ and God and Holy Spirit whose deeds are accomplished throughout history and recorded in Scripture, and whose salvation is offered today as well. This hymn recounts many of Christ’s deeds and His character and links these to the reason for giving praise. A Christian does not worship his or her emotions—one who comes to church expecting/hoping to feel a certain way will either 1) always be disappointed or 2) will leave that church and find one that “worships” human emotions rather than God. We always express our praise with emotion and deep meaning, but we do so, as in the final stanza of this hymn, with a knowledge of Whom we worship and for what reason we worship Him.