“Now It Is Evening”
Fred Pratt Green
The Faith We Sing, No. 2187
Now it is evening:
Lights of the city
bid us remember
Christ is our light.
Many are lonely,
who will be neighbor?
Where there is caring
Christ is our light. *
The tradition of singing evening hymns in Christianity dates back at least to the third century with the tradition of hymns for the lighting of the lamps. “Phos Hilaron” is one of the earliest Christian hymns still in use. Of the many translations available, “O gladsome Light” (UM Hymnal, No. 686) by the 19th-century British poet and translator Robert Bridges is among the best known.
Christians in the early church lived much closer to the events of nature and progression of the seasons. Sunrise from the east brought not only a new day, but also the promise of hope for the Messiah. Evening brought the mystery of the dark and any light that penetrated the darkness was a welcome sight.
We take light at night for granted, but this was not the case for early Christians. Jesus Christ is the light of the world. The Gospel of John, for example, presents the Christian understanding of light, especially in John 1 and 9. The symbol of light in worship carried a particular meaning for the Christian that extended beyond the practical needs of seeing in the dark.
British Methodist minister Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000) continued this tradition with “Now It Is Evening.”
Originally titled “At Evening,” it was written in response to a 1973 request by the Over-Sixties Club for a hymn to be sung at anniversary celebrations to the Scottish tune BUNESSAN (a tune usually sung with “Morning Has Broken”). Green noted, “Soon it was in the repertoire of an Over-Sixties Singing Group traveling in the Manchester area.”
Green’s context is the bustle of the city. The light of Christ is a sign of “caring” for those who are “lonely.” In the second stanza, the peace of Christ a symbol of “caring” for “neglected” children. In the third stanza, the life of Christ is a source of “Food on the table” for those who are “hungry.” The friendship of Christ offers “welcome” for “strangers” in the final stanza.
Throughout each stanza, Green uses two repeated phrases that act as short refrains, centering on the theme. Each stanza begins with “Now it is evening,” setting the scene. Then in the middle of each stanza, he places the rhetorical question, “Who will be neighbor?”—a reminder that the darkness hides from our sight the “lonely,” “neglected,” “hungry” and “strangers.”
This question is in the spirit of Matthew 25:31-46. Verses 35 and 36 are at the heart of the matter: “For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.” (New Living Translation)
An Englishman educated at Didsbury College in Manchester, Green was ordained in the Methodist ministry in 1928, serving circuits throughout the country between 1927 and 1969. During his ministry he wrote plays and hymns and published three collections of his poems. But it was not until his retirement that Green’s hymn writing blossomed, creating over 300 hymns.
Generally considered to be the leader of the “hymn explosion” that began in the 1960s, Green’s hymns appear more often than any other 20th-century hymn writer in English language hymnals published in North America since 1975. The UM Hymnal contains 15 original hymns and two translations by Green.
* © 1974 Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology.