469

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

Scripture References

Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Further Reflections on Confessions and Statements of Faith References

No hope is stronger than that expressed in Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 1, Question and Answer 1: we “…belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ…because I belong to him, Christ by His Holy Spirit assures me of eternal life...”
 
The basic perspective of hope is expressed in Belgic Confession, Article 37 “…the Lord will make them (us) possess a glory such as the human heart could never imagine. So we look forward to that day (of Christ’s return) with longing in order to enjoy fully the promises of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”
 
Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 15, Question and Answer 42 clarifies what may be misunderstood when it says that even though Christ died for us, we still have to die, but “our death does not pay the debt of our sins. Rather it puts an end to our sinning and is our entrance into eternal life.” Additionally, Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 17, Question and Answer 45 explains that Christ’s resurrection “is a sure pledge to us of our blessed resurrection.”
 
Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 22, Questions and Answers 57 and 58 speak reassurances about the actual event of dying: “Not only will my soul be taken immediately after this life to Christ its head, but also my very flesh will be raised by the power of Christ, reunited with my soul, and made like Christ’s glorious body,” and “even as I already now experience in my heart the beginning of eternal joy, after this life I will have perfect blessedness such as no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no human heart has ever imagined: a blessedness in which to praise God forever” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 22, Question and Answer 58).
 

Our World Belongs to God, paragraph 56 summarizes our hope by testifying, “We long for that day when our bodies are raised, the Lord wipes away our tears, and we dwell forever in the presence of God. We will take our place in the new creation, where there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, and the Lord will be our light. Come, Lord Jesus, come.”

469

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

Tune Information

Name
SWING LOW
Key
F Major or modal
Meter
6.8.6.8 stanzas irregular
469

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

Hymn Story/Background

This is one of the best-known African American spirituals. Its source is the oral tradition of African Americans, but the concerts of the Fisk Jubilee Singers and the Hampton Singers brought "Swing Low" to the attention of white audiences. J. B. T. Marsh includes an early version of text and tune in his The Story of the Jubilee Singers, with their Songs (1876 ed.).
 
Considered by Erik Routley to be one of the "archetypal" African American spirituals, "Swing Low" welcomes death as the occasion "to carry me home" to glory. The text incorporates the imagery of “Jordan” and "chariot" from the Old Testament narratives of Elijah's ascent into heaven (2 Kings 2). In spite of the "ups" and "downs" of earthly life (st. 3), it is comforting for Christians to know with certainty that their final destination is the glory of a new heaven and earth.
 
A pentatonic melody, SWING LOW has the musical structure of "call and response" (solo and chorus) which is common in the rote practices associated with African American spirituals. Use a vocal soloist or a small group of voices for the marked unison segments and have the entire congregation sing the harmony parts. Although ideally this spiritual is sung unaccompanied, the continual changes from unison to harmony can also be emphasized with instruments. Some melodic and rhythmic liberties should be taken in singing the solo lines. This song should not be rushed.
— Bert Polman

Song Notes

On any given day, reading any newspaper or watching any daily news show, it is not hard to become despondent about the state of the world. When our friends die of disease, or our children are bullied, we cry out with the psalmist, “How long, O Lord, how long?” And yet (for the believer, there is always a “yet”), we make this cry knowing that we have a God who hears us and responds. We are able to call out the evils of this world for what they are, because we know something better is coming. We have hope in our own salvation, and in the renewal of God’s creation.
 
Thus, when we sing this great spiritual, it is important that we do so not in an escapist mentality. While we eagerly await the day we see God face to face, we must trust that until that day comes, God is fulfilling his purpose on the earth through us. We can’t sing this hymn in order to run away from the hardship and the pain. Rather, we sing this hymn as an assurance that hardship and pain is not the end. Amidst all of our trials, we know what is yet to come, both in heaven and in the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, and we wait for that day expectantly.
 
No one is quite sure how this happened, but in the early twentieth century, this African American spiritual became a drinking song sung after rugby games in England. In 1988, a group of school boys sang it during the last match of England against Ireland, and it quickly caught on until the whole English crowd was singing the song. In 1991, it became the official theme song of the English rugby team, and is sung with gusto and pride today at every match.
— Laura de Jong
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