Lift ev'ry voice and sing till earth and heaven ring,
ring with the harmonies of liberty.
Let our rejoicing rise high as the list'ning skies,
let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us;
sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
let us march on till victory is won.
Stony the road we trod, bitter the chast'ning rod,
felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet
come to the place for which our parents sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered;
we have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
thou who hast by thy might led us into the light,
keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee;
lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee;
shadowed beneath thy hand may we forever stand,
true to our God, true to our native land.
I can imagine Prophet Jesus singing while walking along delivering God's majestic struggle to those who carry their cross toward the juncture of hope and reconciliation. I can almost hear him singing this hymn with its author, James W. Johnson, exuding deep joy in deep time. Johnson was an early-20th century civil rights organizer for the NAACP. His community was clear about faith-and-race connections. His hymn has rightly become familiar to Lutheran worship since it alters the activity of faith through the music of justice-love.
Every day we read about people's yearning for racial reconciliation. Lutherans sing this hymn to encourage action toward a different path of living. Leaders like Johnson give us a chance to sing our way into a new way of acting. Let our voices "ring with the harmonies of liberty" at the heart of the gospel, which has power to heal our racial history as Christians and Americans.
God of justice and love, may we, the church, gather our wits and sing our way into a new way of behaving that overcomes the disgrace of racism in a country in love with freedom. Amen.