Now the Laborer's Task is O'er
John Ellerton (1870)
I’m fond of noting the final corporal work of mercy, to bury the dead. It shows the high regard Christians have for the body, which isn’t a husk to be shucked away, but the flesh that our Savior took on and sanctified, and which will be raised again.
Christian poets have never been cowed by the prospect of death. Let’s look at one hymn for the departed, one that combines tenderness with a confident trust in the mercy of the Father. It’s John Ellerton’s Now the Laborer’s Task is O’er (1870), set to the extraordinarily peaceful melody Requiescat:
Now the laborer’s task is o’er;
Now the battle day is past;
Now upon the farther shore
Lands the voyager at last.
Father, in Thy gracious keeping
Leave we now Thy servant sleeping.
The last two lines are the refrain for each of the stanzas, with the word “sleeping” sung at the tonic note, middle C, taking up a full six beats – music and meaning in harmony. The now of the sorrowfu…
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