"NIGHT, WITH EBON PINION"
"And being in agony He prayed more earnestly: and His sweat was as is were great drops of blood…" (Lk. 22.44)
INTRO.: A hymn which reminds us of the great agony that Christ experienced in the Garden of Gethsamene for us is "Night, With Ebon Pinion" (#162 in Hymns of Worship Revised and #293 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Love H. Jameson (1811-1892). It was first published in 1854, but the circumstances of its origin are unknown. Jameson also authored the well-known hymn-text "There Is A Habitation." The tune (Sorrows or Ebon Pinion) was composed by Joseph P. Powell, who was born in 1832 in Oregon, into a well-known Oregon family. He was identified with Christian Churches, teaching vocal music after 1855 and also working with the Fillmore Brothers Music House of Cincinnati. The date and circumstances of the tune’s composition are also unknown. It may have been produced around 1871 because its first recorded publication was in the New Harp of Zion, compiled in 1872 by Augustus Damon Fillmore and his son James Henry Fillmore.
While Powell was living at Dundee, OR, in Oct., 1880, he was appointed to the Committee of Revisers selected by the General Christian Missionary Convention to revise The Christian Hymnal. This revision was the final successor to the series of hymnbooks begun by Alexander Campbell. It was published by the Christian Publishing Co. of St. Louis, MO, in 1882, with the full title The Christian Hymnal Revised: A Collection of Hymns and Tunes for Congregational and Social Worship, in Two Parts, and contains this hymn. The "Compiler’s Preface" signed by J. H. Garrison, J. H. Hardin, and George D. Smitherwood read, "The committee takes great pleasure in acknowledging the very valuable services of J. P. Powell, whose labors on our Church Hymnal have been recognized and appreciated throughout the brotherhood. Having been appointed as musical editor of the Sunday School Hymnal, he met with us in our several meetings, and gave us the benefit of his large experience and musical taste. To him we are largely indebted for the special features of the book above mentioned." Also in 1882, Jameson’s text appeared with Powell’s tune in J. H. Fillmore’s New Christian Hymn and Tune Book, published in Cincinnati, OH. The following year, Powell apparently helped to edit The Christian Sunday School Hymnal as well.
In the Christian Evangelist, Aug., 1891, Powell was described as "a very useful man to the brotherhood, humble, sweet-spirited, and true." He died in 1926. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, "Night With Ebon Pinion" appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the small paperback 1924 International Melodies (where it is called "Night with Ebon Pinions") edited by Earnest C. Love; the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 all edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; and the 1975 Supplement to the 1937 Great Songs of the Church originally edited by Jorgenson. Today it is found in the 1971 Songs of the Church and the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed. edited by Alton H. Howard (though not in his 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise, bumped, perhaps, for one of the "medleys" or to make room for a "descant" of another song); the 1983 edition of the 1978 (Church) Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat..
The hymn recounts the sufferings of christ in the Garden of Gethsemane.
I. Stanza 1 says that Christ was the Man of Sorrows
"Night, with ebon pinion, Brooded o’er the vale;
All around was silent, Save the night-wind’s wail,
When Christ, the Man of Sorrows, In tears and sweat as blood,
Prostrate in the garden, Raised His voice to God."
A. The phrase "ebon pinion" has been the subject of many questions through the years. "Ebon" means black. "Pinion" means wing feathers or wing. Thus, night is figuratively pictured as a bird with a very black wing that broods over the earth. Some newer hymnbooks give notes to explain difficult phrases in songs. One such book simply says that "ebon pinion" means "wings of darkness," while another says, "black wing, a metaphor for the deepest darkness." We can safely conclude that Jesus and His disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane late at night because the disciples are described as being very sleepy, and after the arrest of Jesus in the garden and His following appearances, it is said that morning came, implying that the events prior to this were at night: Mk. 14.40, 15.1
B. I read from someone who objected to the part of the stanza which says, "All around was silent, Save the night-wind’s wail," with the argument that since the Bible does not specifically say this, we should not sing it. However, some poetic license must be allowed. We can reasonably infer that since Jesus went late at night to a place which was quite apart from the normal avenues of human activity, undoubtedly so that He could concentrate in His prayer without distractions, it must have been fairly quiet: Mk. 14.26-32
C. The original sixth line read, "In tears and sweat and blood." This is one of the changes that Ellis J. Crum made for Sacred Selections and has been continued in Hymns for Worship that actually makes sense, because the Bible says absolutely nothing about Jesus "sweating blood" in the Garden of Gethsemane. It simply says that His "sweat became like great drops of blood." Some have pointed to the phenomenon of "bloody sweat" where, under great stress, a few of a person’s capillaries might break, allowing some blood to seep into the perspiration glands, so that one’s sweat might have a pinkish tinge. However, I do not believe that this is even likely what the passage is talking about. It is simply comparing the size of His sweatdrops rolling off Him to great drops of blood that would roll off a person who was bleeding profusely. All this emphasizes the agony and anguish of Christ, and the term "Man of Sorrows" was applied prophetically to Christ to foreshadow His sufferings for us: Isa. 53.1-3
II. Stanza 2 says that because of His sorrows, Christ wept and prayed.
"Smitten for offenses Which were not His own,
He, for our transgressions, Had to weep alone;
No friend with words to comfort, Nor hand to help was there,
When the Meek and Lowly Humbly bowed in prayer."
A. Jesus was suffering for offenses which were not His own, the just for the unjust: 1 Pet. 3.18
B. This suffering was so intense, in fact, that He was said to have been weeping as a result: Heb. 5.7
C. And what made it even worse was that He had no human friend with words to comfort or hand to help, because even His closest disciples slept: Matt. 26.36-45
III. Stanza 3 says that the prayer of Christ was that God’s will be done
"’Abba, Father, Father, If indeed it may,
Let this cup of anguish Pass from Me, I pray;
Yet, if it must be suffered by Me, Thine only Son,
Abba, Father, Father, Let Thy will be done."
A. He referred to God as "Abba." This is an Aramaic word for "father," especially used as a term of endearment by a small child: Mk. 14.36, cf. Gal. 4.6
B. It was apparently Jesus’s purpose in going to the garden to pray that He might find strength for His upcoming tribulations: Mk. 14.32-35
C. However, He knew that His death on the cross was part of God’s plan for the salvation of mankind, and, while from a human standpoint He obviously did not wish to experience the pain of death, He willingly submitted Himself to the will of the Father: Lk. 22.39-42
CONCL.: We often use this song to prepare our minds for the partaking of the Lord’s supper. In fact, one hymnbook that I checked had the words "For Communion" printed under the title. And it is a fitting song to accomplish this goal because the purpose of the supper is for us to remember Christ’s suffering and death. As we think of "Ebon pinion," we must consider that not only was there physical darkness the night of Jesus’s betrayal, but there was also spiritual darkness in that it was the sins of the world that caused the spotless Son of God to suffer and die for us. We are reminded of this whenever we sing, "Night, With Ebon Pinion."