"O COME, ANGEL BAND"
"And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom" (Lk. 16.22)
INTRO.: A song which pictures death as being carried like Lazarus by the angels into Abraham’s bosom is "O Come, Angel Band" (#350 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Jefferson Hascall (sometimes spelled Haskell), who was born on Nov. 6, 1807, at Thompson, CT. Following his graduation from Wilbraham Academy around 1829 he became a Methodist minister and eventually came to be a presiding elder in the Worcester, MA, conference. During the building of the Methodist Church in Shrewsbury, MA, in 1847 and 1848, or immediately afterwards, his discerning eye saw a field white for the harvest, so he moved to the town. It is reported that under his labors there was a great revival of religion in which over 100 persons professed conversion.
The History of Worcester County Massachusetts with Historical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men, edited in 1889 by D. Hamilton Hurd, said of Haskell, "He was a man of great ability, energy and influence, a powerful preacher of his faith and a public-spirited citizen of the town. Interested in and favoring education and all public improvements, and an earnest advocate of a vigorous prosecution of the war to suppress the slave holders’ rebellion, he was universally respected and beloved by the people of the town."
Hascall’s only known hymn, "O Come, Angel Band," was first published in the 1860 Melodeon edited by J. S. Dadmun. The tune (Latest Sun or Land of Beulah) was composed by WIlliam Batchelder Bradbury (1816-1868). It was first published in his 1862 Golden Shower. Hascall remained as minister in Shrewsbury about twenty years in all, most of the time also serving as presiding elder, and died there on Feb. 12, 1887. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1922 edition of the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) edited by E. L. Jorgenson; and 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. Today it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Sacred Selections.
The song looks forward to the coming time of death as one of being at rest and peace with the Lord.
I. Stanza 1 identifies death as the end of our earthly day
"My latest sun is sinking fast, My race is nearly run;
My strongest trials now are past, My triumph is begun."
A. Life is sometimes pictured as a day, which which the setting of the sun and the coming of night represents the time of death: Jn. 9.4
B. When that time comes for each of us, we shall have finished the race set before us: Heb. 12.1
C. Then our strongest trials will have been past and if we have overcome we shall have triumph of the crown of life: Jas. 1.12
II. Stanza 2 identifies death as the crossing of the Jordan
"I know I’m nearing holy ranks of friends and kindred dear.
I brush the dews of Jordan’s banks; The crossing must be near."
A. As usual, Ellis J. Crum could not allow us to think that possibly some of our friends and kindred dear might be awaiting us, so he changed the second line to read "saints and Angels dear;" however, Paul held out just such a hope to the Thessalonians concerning their loved ones in Christ: 1 Thess. 4.13-17
B. Brushing the dews of Jordan’s bank draws symbolism from the crossing of the Israelites over Jordan into Cannan to represent death: Josh. 3.14-17
C. While we usually do not know the exact time of our coming death, the older we get, the more we realize that it is coming and that ultimately the time of our departure will be at hand: 2 Tim. 4.6
III. Stanza 3 identifies death as gaining the heavenly home
"I’ve almost gained my heavenly home, My spirit loudly sings;
The holy ones, behold, they come! I hear the noise of wings."
A. While many of us do not believe that we actually receive our heavenly home until after the judgement, even in death our hope is centered upon that which is laid up in heaven and it is then that we begin our rest from our labors: Col. 1.3-5, Rev. 14.13
B. The term "holy ones" is used in scripture to refer to the angels who are pictured as bearing the soul of Lazarus to Abraham’s bosom: Dan. 4.17
C. Some people object to picturing angels with wings, but we do know that certain kinds of heavenly spiritual beings do have wings, so there really does not seem to be any grave danger to the faith to think of angels as having wings: Exo. 25.19-20, Isa. 6.1-2
IV. Stanza 4 identifies death as being borne to Jesus
"O bear my longing heart to Him Who bled and died for me,
Whose blood now cleanses from all sin, And gives me victory."
A. Our hope is to have our soul (our longing heart) borne to and received by Jesus Christ: Acts 7.59, Phil. 1.23
B. He is the one who bled and died for us so that we might be cleansed from all sin by His blood: 1 Cor. 15.3, Eph. 1.7
C. Then, when He comes again and raises our bodies, we shall have complete victory: 1 Cor. 15.50-57
CONCL.: The chorus asks that in death the angels will bear us to the Lord just as they did the soul of Lazarus.
"O come, angel band, Come and around me stand;
O bear me away on your snowy wings To my immortal home."
We recognize that the Bible often uses metaphorical language, and drawing from that many of our songs use various figures of speech to describe spiritual concepts. Therefore, we need to allow some poetic license. I suppose that no one can prove with absolute certainly that angels literally bear our souls away at death. But Jesus certainly presented that concept in the story of Lazarus and the rich man. Therefore, it is entirely within the realm of scriptural thinking for us at death to be asking, "O Come, Angel Band."