What a Gathering That Will Be


(photo of J. H.   Kurzenknabe)


“Gather My saints together unto Me…” (Ps. 50:5)

     INTRO.:  A song that talks about that time when the Lord will gather His saints unto Himself is “What a Gathering That Will Be” (#337 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written and the tune was composed both by John Henry Kurzenknabe, who was born at Moenchehof, near Cassel, in Curhessen, Germany, on June 18, 1840, the son of John George and Anna Kurzenknabe. Left an orphan in childhood, he attended the Industrial School at Cassel. When he was fourteen years old he bade farewell to friends and home on Sept. 15, 1854, and set out to seek his fortune in the New World, sailing from Bremerhaven for America on the following day. During the voyage of forty-nine days, being a very clever violinist, he made friends among the officers and crew and became also a general favorite with the passengers. His attention was especially attracted to an older lady who was sick during the whole voyage. Her children in America had sent money to bring over their mother. To this helpless woman he ministered as best he could.  On their arrival at New York, the children of the lady were there to meet her, and she told them the story of the boy’s kindness. In this family he found a temporary home. Arrangements were made for him to study at a seminary in Pennsylvania, where, having a talent for music he engaged in musical studies and made for himself a name as a teacher of the violin and vocal music.  Afterwards he received instruction under William B. Bradbury, then the most prominent teacher of music in the country.

Kurzenknabe then started on his own work. His first and only attempt to teach singing and a day-school together in a Maryland town was a total failure, but the very next engagement, which was teaching only music at Sag Harbor, Long Island, NY, proved a complete success. After teaching successfully in Baltimore and other Maryland towns, he visited the New England states and taught conventions in a number of important cities. He then returned to Hagerstown, MD, where he found a wife, Susan Shafer, daughter of George and Frederica Shafer, whom he married at Greencastle, PA, on  Nov. 13, 1859.  From here, he taught successfully in Baltimore, York, Harrisburg, and Philadelphia, PA, New York, and last in Camden, NJ, where his first child, a boy, was born. His next place of residence and teaching was Moorestown, NJ, and then back to Philadelphia, where a daughter was born. With the Civil War coming on, the New England States seemed safer than Pennsylvania, so Dedham, MA, became their next home, but when sickness claimed their boy, repeated invitations from Maryland induced the Kurzenknabes journey southward again. However, the battle of Antietam left the family destitute and helpless, so they went to Sunbury, PA, where floods drove them back to Mercersburg, PA, where he began to study, but the advent of twin boys made an increase of income imperative and teaching was the only resource. A house was purchased at McConnelsburg, but sold after an occupancy of two years. Mechanicsburg was home for a short time, and finally Harrisburg became the permanent residence from which he taught for twenty-seven years in many different states, sometimes hundreds of miles from home.

Kurzenknabe was the author and compiler of the following books: Sweet Silver Echoes, Music at Sight, Gospel Trio, Songs and Glees, Wreath of Gems, Song Treasury, Peerless Praise, Gates Ajar, Sowing and Reaping, which sold over 280,000 copies, Theory of Music, Fair as the Morning, and Kindly Light.  All of these books were published by his well-known house of J. H. Kurzenknabe and Sons, of Harrisburg, PA.  Hymnary.org credits him with 194 hymn texts.  I do not have a date for “What a Gathering That Will Be,” but it was listed among “Familiar Hymns” in the 1886 On Joyful Wing: a Book of Praise and Song, compiled in 1886 by John J. Hood.  I was able to find several other tidbits about Kurzeknabe’s later life.  He and his wife had a total of fourteen children, of which three died early and the other eleven all became musicians.  In 1894 he was the president of the Pennsylvania State Music Teachers’ Association.  In 1901, accompanied by one of his daughters, he paid a visit to the home of his childhood, and remained for three months.  In 1906 he suffered a stroke of paralysis, ascribed by his attending physician as due to overwork, but he fully recovered.  And the Kurzenknabes celebrated their golden wedding anniversary on Nov. 13, 1909.  However, I have been unsuccessful in locating any information about his date and place of death.  Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, “What a Gathering That Will Be” may currently be found in Sacred Selections and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.

The song looks forward with joy to that time when Christ will return to gather His people unto Him.

I. Stanza 1 mentions the sounding of the trumpet

“At the sounding of the trumpet, when the saints are gathered home,

We will greet each other by the crystal sea;

With the friends and all the loved ones there awaiting us to come,

What a gathering of the faithful that will be.”

  1. The Bible teaches that when Jesus returns, there will be the sound of a trumpet: 1 Cor. 15:52
  2. This trumpet will signal the time when we can greet each other by the crystal sea before the throne of God in heaven: Rev. 4:1-6
  3. Then we shall meet with the friends and all the loved ones awaiting us to come, as the Lord will bring with Him those who are asleep, the dead in Christ shall rise first, the living righteous shall be changed, and all shall be caught up together in the clouds: 1 Thess. 4:14-17 (both Crum in Sacred Selections and Jeffcoat in Sacred Songs change the third line to read, “With the saints and all the saved ones”)

II. Stanza 2 mentions the angel of the Lord

“When the angel of the Lord proclaims that time shall be no more,

We shall gather and the saved and ransomed see;

Then to meet again together on the bright celestial shore,

What a gathering of the faithful that will be.”

  1. The Bible also teaches that when Jesus returns, His holy angels will be with Him: 2 Thess. 1:7
  2. This will signal that time shall be no more because then comes the end: 1 Cor. 15:23-24 (both Sacred Selections and Sacred Songs have a change to this line, “Proclaims earth-time shall be no more,” but why I do not know; many premillennial books would make changes like this because their editors believed that there would be “time” after the Lord’s coming during His millennial reign on earth, but it would not be the same kind of “earth-time” that we experience now)
  3. Then, the redeemed shall gather, to see the ransomed and meet together on the bright celestial shore by the river of life: Rev. 22:1-2

III. Stanza 3 mentions the great and final judgment

“At the great and final judgment when the hidden comes to light

When the Lord in all His glory we shall see

At the bidding of our Savior, ‘Come, ye blessed, to my right,’

What a gathering of the faithful that will be.”

  1. Jesus promised that there will be a judgment at the last great day: Jn. 12:48
  2. Then the Lord in all His glory we shall see Him as He is: 1 Jn. 3:1-3
  3. And the righteous will hear Him say, “Come, ye blessed”: Matt. 25:31-34

IV. Stanza 4 mentions the song of Moses and the Lamb

“When the golden harps are sounding, and the angel bands proclaim,

In triumphant strains, the glorious jubilee,

Then to meet and join to sing the song of Moses and the Lamb,

What a gathering of the faithful that will be!”

  1. As usual, Crum changes the first line to “golden cords,” while Jeffcoat changes it to “golden tones” and “angel hosts” (does he interpret “bands” to mean orchestras?). The book of Revelation definitely pictures individuals as having and playing on harps: Rev. 5:8, 14:1-2; yes, we realize that this is figurative language, but if we can read it in Revelation and understand it as figurative, why can we not sing it in hymns and understand it as figurative as well?
  2. The year of jubilee in the Old Testament, when all slaves were allowed to return to their original homes, is used to symbolize the final jubilee when the righteous of all ages will be gathered to their eternal home: Lev. 25:8-13
  3. Then they will sing the song of Moses and the Lamb forever and ever: Rev. 15:1-2 (Jeffcoat changes this line to read, “Then we’ll join the saints to sing the song…”; again, I do not know why, unless it is simply to make the wording easier to sing)

CONCL.:  The chorus continues to express the great joy of being gathered with the redeemed of all ages.

“What a gathering, gathering

At the sounding of the glorious jubilee!

What a gathering, gathering

What a gathering of the faithful that will be.”

When the congregation where my family attended when I was growing up changed from Christian Hymns No. 2 to Sacred Selections, and I first learned this song, I found it to be a joyfully exuberant proclamation of that for which we as Christians look.  It is not an easy song to sing.  If sung at even a reasonable tempo, it can leave the singers, especially the alto, tenor, and bass in the chorus, somewhat breathless, but if sung any slower it tends to drag unmercifully and become rather boring.  But when sung to the best of a congregation’s ability, it is a wonderful reminder concerning the reunion of the righteous of all ages at the coming of Christ that “What a Gathering That Will Be.”

what a gathering

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