The author of the above 18th century hymn, James Montgomery, was born in Scotland to Irish parents. His father, John Montgomery, was a Moravian pastor. From a young age, James participated in the Holy Week services of his church where he heard the scripture readings interspersed with hymns and anthems. These experiences had immense impact on him and he was inspired to write this hymn.
‘Go to Dark Gethsemane’ (UMH 290 in The United Methodist Hymnal) summarises the Passion of Christ during the last days before His crucifixion. Jesus meditates in the Garden of Gethsemane in the first stanza, He suffers on the cross in the second and He dies a sacrificial death in the third.
In the final stanza, it is revealed that Jesus resurrects from the dead. For this reason, some hymnals omit the final stanza so that this hymn can be used for Holy Week, helping worshippers to reflect on Christ’s love for us and the suffering He endured.1
Note the author’s use of four bidding verbs at the beginning of each stanza: “go”, “see”, “adore”, and “hasten”.2 These verbs call us to be engaged and remember Christ’s passion for us.
The act of remembering however takes us deeper as the author exhorts us to “learn of Jesus Christ to pray” (stanza 1), “learn of Christ to bear the cross” (stanza 2), and “learn of Jesus Christ to die” (stanza 3). Stanza 4 brings the story to a close with a petition: “Saviour, teach us so to rise.”3 This reminds us that we are people of the resurrection so we ought to seek God’s help to teach us to be such a people.
Consider using this hymn as the thread that connects Maundy or Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday services.
On Maundy or Holy Thursday, the first stanza is sung as the charge before the benediction. This allows the worshippers to set the mood and prepare their hearts for worship on Good Friday.
On Good Friday, the second and third stanzas will be sung as a response to the scripture reading. It is essential that attention be paid to the exhortations and to have them as points for reflection.
Finally, on Easter Day, begin worship with the fourth stanza in the opening of the liturgy, followed by the Call to Worship.
In anticipation of the Holy Week and Easter, we could meditate on how we gained salvation to Christ by His dying on the cross and reflect upon who we are as a result of His Love for us.
Picture by McIninch/Bigstock.com
1Raymond F. Glover, ed. The Hymnal 1982 Companion, vol. 3 (New York: The Church Hymnal Corporation, 1994), 347-348.
2Carlton Young, Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993), 361.http://www.hymnary.org/text/go_to_dark_gethsemane, accessed 28 Feb 2014.
Go to Dark Gethsemane
Go to dark Gethsemane,
ye that feel the tempter’s power;
your Redeemer’s conflict see,
watch with him one bitter hour.
Turn not from his griefs away;
learn of Jesus Christ to pray.
See him at the judgment hall,
beaten, bound, reviled, arraigned;
O the worm-wood and the gall! O
the pangs his soul sustained! Shun
not suffering, shame, or loss;
Learn of Christ to bear the cross.
Calvary’s mournful mountain climb;
there, adoring at his feet, mark
that miracle of time,
God’s own sacrifice complete.
“It is finished!” hear him cry;
Learn of Jesus Christ to die.
Early hasten to the tomb
where they laid his breathless clay;
all is solitude and gloom.
Who has taken him away?
Christ is risen! He meets our eyes;
Saviour, teach us so to rise.
Author: James Montgomery (1771-1854)
Judith Mosomos is Acting Director of Worship and Church Music at the Methodist School of Music, and a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.