5 Traditional Hymns (Public Domain) We Love to Sing For Passion Week/Easter

Our church is relatively conservative when it comes to music, opting for a blend of theologically rich traditional and modern hymns that can be sung well by the average person. We use a projector on Sunday morning and hymnals on Sunday evenings. One nice aspect of the traditional hymns is that the majority are now public domain, meaning the lyrics and music can be shared, recorded, and printed without violating any copyright laws. Since many believers around the world are stuck at home for Passion Week/Easter, here is a list of great hymns we would typically sing together, but now will have to enjoy in the privacy of our homes.


5. I Serve a Risen Savior

This is just a great gospel style hymn that congregations can really belt out. The last line of the chorus rings our “He lives within my heart!” and just feels good to sing.

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.

Music and Lyrics by Alfred Henry Ackley

4. O Christ, What Burdens Bowed Thy Head

Every verse of this hymns beats to the theological drum of substitutionary atonement. I will say that I enjoy this version of it as I think it is more appropriate for the pensive nature of the lyrics. Lyrically, my favorite verse is below.

Jehovah bade His sword awake,
O Christ, it woke ’gainst Thee!
Thy blood the flaming blade must slake;
Thy heart its sheath must be—
All for my sake, my peace to make;
Now sleeps that sword for me.

Lyrics by Ann Ross Cousin, music by Ira David Sankey

3. And Can It Be?

This hymn also celebrates the work of Christ, but musically it is joyful and triumphant, bringing to mind John’s exclamation of surprised praise in 1 John 3:1. Lyrically, the verses move the singers through the gospel, ending with its power to bring those who once were lost sinners to a place of confidence and hope so that:

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness Divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Amazing Love! How can it be?

That Thou my God shouldst die for me!

Lyrics By Charles Wesley, Music by Thomas Campbell

I have a hard time not being moved by the live recording from Together For the Gospel back in 2012.

2. When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

A hymn list lacking in a selection from Isaac Watts would be suspect, wouldn’t it? This beloved hymn is slow and contemplative by nature. The lyrics are poetic and full of contrary imagery, such as “or thorns compose so rich a crown”. This allows us to see how Christ’s poverty enriches us, and how Christ’s death quickens us. One of my favorite versions of this (by one of my favorite musicians) is here.

Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an offering far too small
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all

Lyrics by Isaac Watts, music by Lowell Mason

1. He Arose

Easter at our church would not be complete without this wonderful hymn. The impact comes from the juxtaposition of the slow, somber verses with the energetic and triumphant chorus. Since the Resurrection is the final evidence of Christ’s messianic claims and the basis of hope for believers today, there is just something fitting about Christ followers declaring in song “Hallelujah! Christ Arose!”

Vainly they watch His bed—
Jesus, my Savior!
Vainly they seal the dead—
Jesus my Lord!

Up from the grave He arose,
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And He lives forever with His saints to reign.
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah! Christ arose!

Music and Lyrics by Robert Lowry

Later in the week I’ll be posting some modern hymns/songs we like to sing during this season.

4 thoughts on “5 Traditional Hymns (Public Domain) We Love to Sing For Passion Week/Easter

  1. Hi, I also love “I Serve a Risen Savior.” You mentioned it was in the public domain. Where did you find that information? From what I’ve searched it was still under copyright. I’d appreciate some resources. Thanks!


    1. Hi Raluca, thanks for pointing this out to me. As the song was published in 1933, I assumed the copyright had expired. However, it was renewed in 1961 by Word Music LLC in 1961, which has since been bought/sold. It’s unclear to me how this affects the copyright, so better to use caution if recording this song. I think if you are using it for public worship, it’s probably not going to be an issue. Thanks for noticing!


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