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Hymn of the week: “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say”

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Halfway through Lent, a medieval melody pushes us toward week 4.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Behold, I freely give
the living water; thirsty one,
stoop down, and drink, and live!”

It’s the Third Sunday of Lent and that means we’re just about a third of the way through our fasts! One of our absolute favorite hymns for this Sunday is “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say,” which presents in each verse another of Jesus’ personal invitations to mankind and the promises attached to them.

The text was written in the mid-19th century by Rev. Horatius Bonar, an Scottish clergyman who was concerned that children were not learning the metrical Psalms well enough. “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” is one of over 600 hymns Bonar wrote to fill the needs of the churches he served.

After hearing an ancient melody in Kingsfold, Sussex, British composer Ralph Vaughn Williams chose the tune to set Bonar’s lyrics to. The text of “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” was first published with the melody in 1906. “Kingsfold,” as the tune has come to be known, is believed to have originated during the Middle Ages, although it is debated whether it comes from Ireland or England.

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