“Welcome Happy Morning” is an Easter hymn familiar in several denominations and a lifelong favorite of mine for its rousing tune and joyful lyrics. It speaks to the glory of this greatest of all days for Christians:
“Welcome happy morning,” age to age shall say: Hell today is vanquished, heaven is won today!
Lo the dead is living, God for evermore!
Him their true Creator, all his works adore!
Yet my most vivid memory of singing that hymn involves a gathering darkness. It stretches back 30 years to Easter morning at a downtown Jackson church. As a full-throated congregation sang about the vanquishing of hell, a version of hell was unfolding for thousands of Jackson residents. A few blocks down from the church, water crept up Capitol Street.
By that afternoon, the magnitude of the great Easter Flood of 1979 was apparent. Muddy water from the Pearl River was up to rooftops in thousands of homes. In spite of the bright sunshine, it was a day that was awfully hard to welcome, and anything but happy.
Those whose homes, businesses and churches were destroyed in the Tupelo tornado of 1936, or who had buried friends, relatives and neighbors among the 200-plus dead, may not have felt like singing “Welcome happy morning” on Easter, a week after the terrible storm hit on Palm Sunday evening. But some probably did sing it – or other hymns of Easter triumph and joy – in spite of the circumstances.
The juxtaposition of tragedy, disaster and celebration isn’t always as unfitting as it may seem, certainly not for people of a resurrection faith. Remember those scenes from the beachfront on the Sunday after Hurricane Katrina, with people standing on the slabs where their churches had been, holding on to each other and God?
The overriding Easter message is that the absolute worst we can experience is never the last word. The hells that we sometimes must live through are surmountable. There is light and new life on the other side.
That includes the big stuff like disasters or the loss of those close to us. But it’s also just as true for the little deaths we die each day, for the times when we feel beaten down by the ordinary bumps and bruises of life. A new day will dawn, and it will be better. Our minds and our hearts will be renewed. All is never lost, even when humanity seems at its cruelest point.
Earth her joy confesses, clothing her for spring,
All fresh gifts returned with her returning King:
Bloom in every meadow; leaves on every bough,
Speak his sorrow ended, hail his triumph now.
There’s a reason that the early Christian church connected the Easter celebration with pagan rites of spring. What better testimony to the message of Christ’s resurrection than the natural world, seemingly dead for months, exploding in a bright and colorful renewal of life? Bunnies and eggs aren’t as disconnected from the “true meaning” of Easter as we sometimes think. The revival of all things living, after all, is vivid testimony to victory over the grave.
As for happy mornings, we have, in this day and age, a distorted or at least incomplete understanding of the word “happy.” To us it connotes a feeling of cheerfulness, even giddiness. It means we’re up, not down, emotionally.
But the truly happy person rarely is happy in that way all or even most of the time. He or she must struggle with life’s trials and tribulations, large and small. But a deep happiness – a sense of peace, rootedness and hope – abides. We all know people like that: They’re resurrection people. They know that death, literal and figurative, doesn’t ultimately win.
The power of resurrection lifted the people in Jackson in 1979 whose homes were under water and full of muck. It gave Tupelo in 1936 and the Mississippi Coast in 2005 the strength for recovery and renewal. All may not have credited the One who rose, or knew that they were relying on him, but he was in the midst of them still. And so it is with us, here and now.
Loose the souls long prisoned, bound with Satan’s chain;
All that now is fallen rise to life again;
Show thy face in brightness, bid the nations see;
Bring again our daylight, day returns with thee!
Welcome happy morning, age to age shall say.
Lloyd Gray is editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at 678-1579 or firstname.lastname@example.org.