‘How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear!
It soothes our sorrows, heals our wounds, and drives away our fear.’
On 2nd April, 2020, I stood with six other members of my family, a pastor, two funeral directors, and four grave-diggers at the burial of my grandad, Derek Prime. Other members of our family watched on Zoom, from Edinburgh to London and Milan, as an iPhone relayed the short service.
In normal circumstances, my grandad’s thanksgiving service would have been large and long. But the smallness and shortness of this burial service during lockdown was simultaneously brutal and beautiful.
- On the one hand, the brutal realities of Ecclesiastes: no gathering or glory, just the fleeting nature of dust-to-dust.
- But on the other hand, the beautiful and pure realities of the gospel: privately planting a seed that in Christ will bear the fruit of His resurrection.
And so we simply read Psalm 34, grandad’s favourite. And then we sang his favourite hymn, How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds.
A Treasured Hymn
The first two lines of the hymn are inscribed on the headstone, now shared by him and my granny, that we were standing around. Our family know and love the hymn well. But on that day, I barely managed to mutter the words. For those that know me, you know that’s unusual. I’m always singing. Our wee church will testify that although I may not always sing in tune, I always sing loud. And on that day, I wanted to sing. And sing loud. But I couldn’t.
Some of that was grief. Some of it was exasperation—even annoyance—that in the lockdown restrictions my sister, my cousins, even my wife couldn’t be there.
Some of it was numbness. In lockdown, I wasn’t seeing any of my family, so not seeing grandad because of death didn’t feel any different from not seeing them because of social-distancing. It still didn’t feel real.
And so I barely sang.
It’s taken time, specifically time in the lyrics of that Psalm, for me to gradually be able to open up the pipes again and belt out that hymn.
I will extol the Lord at all times;(Ps. 34:1–3, 8, 18)
his praise will always be on my lips.
I will glory in the LORD;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the LORD with me;
let us exalt his name together.
Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
The LORD is close to the broken-hearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
A Cherished Lord
Through the Psalm, and in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, this fearful, shame-filled, poor, troubled, grieving soul again found salvation and deliverance from every enemy that crushed me. And again, He placed me in the refuge of blessing and fullness that is God’s goodness.
He hears. Always. He answers. Always. He’s good. Always. He’s near. Always. He delivers. Always.
So, we extol Him. Always. We praise Him. Always. We glory in Him. Always. We exalt Him. Always.
When grief had threatened to mute my fleeting breath, His Word has refreshed my soul in the face of death.
And so I’ve been belting out this song on repeat. It’s helped me grieve my grandad. And it’s helped me taste and see God’s goodness.
The sweetness of Jesus’ name is making whole this wounded spirit, calming this troubled breast, satisfying this hungry soul, and resting this grief-wearied believer.
A Comfort to Pass On
It was my wife, Sarah, that suggested recording it. She knows me better than anyone, and so knew that it would aid the grief-journey, provide some focus, and maybe even help with sleep. I’ve been tempted to think that if it’s of use to no-one other than myself, then it’s served its purpose. But here’s one thing I often heard my grandad testify to: God’s intent in comforting us is that we then comfort others (2 Cor. 1:3–11). So I’m praying that His abundance to me would overflow to you.
These are the isolation sessions. But we’re not alone. He’s with us as we walk through this thing together.
One more thing that must be said before I sign off: Grandad had left pretty detailed arrangements for his thanksgiving service. And let me be clear, one of them was most definitely not for me to sing his favourite hymn. He did in fact request that his other grandson, my cousin Paul, sing this hymn at the service. He is infinitely more qualified than me, currently in a training programme at Teatro alla Scala’s Academy of Lyric Opera in Milan (for those that don’t know, for an opera singer that’s the equivalent of an aspiring footballer getting a contract with Juventus).
And oh my goodness, you’ll want to hear it when Paul sings it. But in the same way that we’re putting up with ‘virtual church’ as we wait to get back to the real deal, then please put up with this version until the real deal, the one grandad wanted, goes to air.