“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3)
In the original harmony of Holy, Holy, Holy, the parts start close together and move to spread out over the words “Holy, Holy, Holy”—the bass goes down, the soprano goes up, and the middle parts keep it constantly moving. To know God as Holy Trinity is to move into the fullness and motion of life. God is not a static ‘being’ or ‘idea’. He is “Blessed Trinity”—dynamic as three persons; active in his mercy and might, generosity and justice. He continually breathes out life. Because of all this, we praise him - and this old hymn is a wonderful way to praise God.
Haber’s hymn, written in 1826, begins with our song towards God:
“Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty! Early in the morning, our song shall rise to thee."
We might wonder if we are alone in offering praise—but then we hear the sound of others singing. A choir of angels, saints and heavenly creatures are already singing God’s praise!
“All the saints adore thee, casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea; Cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee”
Then we listen to the world to see if they will join in. The silence is deafening. Blinded by sin, the world is unable to see and praise God for his glory:
“Though the darkness hide thee, though the eye of sinful man, thy glory may not see."
But the certain hope is that all his works shall praise his name everywhere. There will be a day when all nations will bow before the Lord, bringing glory to his name (Psalm 86:9).
“All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth, and sky, and sea.”
Holy, Holy, Holy is a great choice at pretty much any time in a church service:
- Sing it to open your church gathering (especially if it is morning!), as you come to focus your attention on who God is.
- Sing it before an acknowledgement of sin and call to repentance. God is holy, we long to be holy, and we rarely see his glory because of our sin. Meditate on that truth and then come to confess before a holy God.
- Sing it in response to seeing Christ in the Gospel, and through his revelation and the Spirit’s light seeing the fullness of God.
- Sing it as you share in Holy Communion with a holy God who invites you to draw near with faith.
- Sing it as you are sent out into the world, seeking to serve and worship God in every part of your lives, and know that as you do that you are in step with creation’s purpose and history’s end: “All Thy works shall praise Thy name”.
We pray this new arrangement serves your congregations well - in C major (rather than the original D) the hymn is nice to play in (for most instruments) and nice to sing in (for all parts)! Why not consider teaching your church the harmony lines? Encourage those who know the parts to really sing them out so others can follow them, and then have a go. God is Trinity in unity and singing in harmony helps us to experience that reality.
Questions for Reflection
- Think on the lyrics of the hymn: is there a particular phrase that stirs your imagination?
- How does the music itself serve the church here—what parts of the melody or harmony help us praise God?
- How does the future reality that “all [God’s] works shall praise [his] name” change your singing now?
Blog written by Jonno Saunders, May 2022.