November 21: “Come Now, O Prince of Peace”

Jesus answered [Pilate], “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” John 18:37b

“Come Now, O Prince of Peace” was written in 1988 by Korean composer Geonyong Lee for a worship service held before a conference for Korean peace and reunification. I-to Loh, editor of the Asian hymn compilation Sound the Bamboo, popularized it among global audiences. The text uses the biblical imagery of Jesus the Prince of Peace to pray earnestly for peace and reconciliation between people and among nations. The pain of the division of North and South Korea, which continues to separate family members and friends, is in the background of this prayer. Our congregations often pray in general terms for peace among “the nations.” This hymn reminds us that international strife has specific dimensions: particular countries and particular people suffer because of broken international relationships. They long for real, lasting reconciliation to transcend simple notions of world peace. 

Evangelical Lutheran Worship Hymnal Companion observes that in his musical composition of the hymn, Lee was faithful to basic principles of Korean traditional music while creating a sense of familiarity for people more accustomed to the sounds of Western hymnody. The music is not over-simplified or free of tension: inner voices cross each other and dissonances arise. The hymn ends with an open fifth rather than a harmonized chord, as if to leave space for God and God’s people to take up the work of reconciliation.

This Sunday, many congregations observe the Reign of Christ (or Christ the King). The first and second lectionary readings describe a heavenly king with power, might, and overwhelming majesty, while the gospel reveals a Prince of Peace humiliated, tortured, and bound before Pilate — a very different kind of king. The Prince of Peace calls us to do the difficult work of peacemaking: to remember the personal dimensions of broken societal relationships and to mend them with humility. His power comes from beneath, not above. It flows from the brokenness of the cross, not a glorious throne. With the deceptive simplicity of this hymn, we remember the love and longing of our Prince of Peace and his urgent calling to reconciliation.

Bulletin version: Originally written in 1988 by a South Korean composer before a conference on Korean reunification, “Come Now, O Prince of Peace” uses the biblical title Prince of Peace for Jesus. Today, on Reign of Christ Sunday, we pray for Jesus the Prince of Peace to come quickly: as the cosmic judge, as the newborn baby in the manger, as the savior on the cross. The music and words express longing for the healing and peace that only Jesus the Prince of Peace can bring us.

Resources: You can learn more about this hymn in Paul Westermeyer’s Hymnal Companion to Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Augsburg Fortress, 2010) and in C. Michael Hawn’s “History of Hymns: ‘Come Now, O Prince of Peace’ (‘O-so-so’) 

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