“Lead On, O King Eternal” (ELW 805)
1 Lead on, O King eternal! The day of march has come;
henceforth in fields of conquest your tents shall be our home.
Through days of preparation your grace has made us strong;
and now, O King eternal, we lift our battle song.
2 Lead on, O King eternal, till sin’s fierce war shall cease,
and holiness shall whisper the sweet amen of peace;
for not with swords loud clashing, nor roll of stirring drums,
but deeds of love and mercy the heav’nly kingdom comes.
3 Lead on, O King eternal: we follow, not with fears,
for gladness breaks like morning where’re your face appears.
Your cross is lifted o’er us; we journey in its light;
the crown awaits the conquest; lead on, O God of might!
At first glance, it hardly seems appropriate that a pastor would teach this hymn to small children. Some of the words are long and old-fashioned; the tone is militant. Yet, one summer in Vacation Bible School, my childhood pastor led us in memorizing every word of this song. And now, many decades later, I marvel at his wisdom.
In verse 1, we sing of the leadership of someone far wiser and more loving than earthly leaders. We recognize that our strength is not militia-like strength, but rather it is God’s grace which makes us strong.
In verse 2, we are reminded of what the kingdom of God is like: It is a realm of peace—not won with weapons or militant actions, but through a life marked with “deeds of love and mercy.”
Verse 3 lifts our eyes to the cross as our standard—a symbol of light, joy, and hope for final victory over sin, death, and the power of evil.
Sometimes, Loving Leader, life feels like a battle. Thank you for this hymn, reminding us that true victory comes in following you, equipped with love and mercy. Amen.