Columns from Grace's biweekly newsletter, Grace Notes.
June 26, 2012
"Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing"
by Len Berghaus
“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” (LBW 499) is the entrance hymn for July 15. Robert Robinson, the author of the hymn, was born at Swaffham in Norfolk, England, on September 27, 1735. His parents had planned for him to become a clergyman in the Church of England, but his father died while he was still a boy, leaving his mother in dire straits. Her only choice, it seemed, was to indenture him to a hairdresser in London when he became 15 years old. He was released from his indentures at age 17. Robinson remained in London until 1758. During this time, he devoted himself to reading and to listening to the sermons of George Whitefield, one of the founders of Methodism. Whitefield’s preaching about the “wrath to come” drove Robert to walk in darkness and fear for the remainder of his teen years, until he found "peace in believing." His years as a Nonconformist preacher were very successful. (Nonconformists were Christians who belonged to churches other than the Church of England.) He preached first at a Calvinistic Methodist chapel, then a Congregational Chapel, and finally a Baptist chapel. He died on June 9, 1790, prematurely worn out from living an exhaustively full life and writing theological works that seldom wavered in his quest for Nonconformity.
Robinson authored only two hymns: "Brightness of Eternal Glory" and "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing." Several editors have revised this hymn, reducing the original five stanzas to four or three. One rather zealous editor(s) transposed text lines within the first verse and made significant changes within the third. The final verse from the original text is shown below. Four of five versions have omitted it from the hymn, including the hymnals used in Lutheran churches. (You can compare several versions of the text in a Wikipedia article on the hymn.)
In America this hymn is usually sung to the tune NETTLETON, sometimes ascribed to Asahel Nettleton (1783-1844), an American theologian and Reformed pastor, but he is not known to have ever composed any music. More likely the tune was composed by John Wyeth (1770-1858), a printer in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who published it in Wyeth's Repository of Sacred Music, Second Part (1813).
The original stanza 5:
O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I'll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.
June 5, 2012
"Blessed Be the Lord"
by Hans Dumpys
One of the earliest festivals of the saints to gain universal recognition was that of St. John the Baptist. In the western church his day was important as early as the time of St. Augustine. Since John was six months older than Jesus, the Nativity of St. John the Baptist is celebrated on June 24.
Very appropriately the Hymn of the Day for Sunday, June 24, is the canticle "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel," known as the Benedictus and also as the Song of Zachariah. In this canticle Zachariah utters a song of thanksgiving on the occasion of the birth of his son, John the Baptist, as recorded in Luke 1:68-79. This Gospel canticle is always sung in the service of Morning Prayer (LBW, p. 131ff.), but on June 24 it serves as the Hymn of the Day in the Sunday communion service.
The canticle falls into two parts. The first section (Luke 1:68-75) is a song of thanksgiving for the realization of the messianic hope of the Jewish nation, though here the realization points towards Christ, "a mighty Savior, born of the house of his servant David." As in the past, in the family of David there was power to defend the nation against their enemies. As the Jewish people had impatiently borne the yoke of the Romans, the House of David was to be their deliverer. The deliverance was now at hand, and was pointed to by Zechariah as the fulfillment of God's oath to Abraham. But the fulfillment is narrated not as a political/military event but as a spiritual possibility, that "we might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness all our days" (Luke 1:74).
The second part of the canticle (Luke 1:76-79) is an address by Zachariah to his son, who was to play an important part in the history of redemption. He was to be a prophet and to preach the remission of sins before the coming of the Messiah, "to go before the Lord to prepare his ways." This is an allusion to Isaiah 40:3 which John later applied to his mission: "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord', as the prophet Isaiah said" (John 1:23).
(Image: "John the Baptist" by Bartolomeo Veneto, 16th century.)
"Holy, Holy, Holy"
by Stacy Deibler
“Holy, Holy, Holy” (LBW 165), the sending hymn for Trinity Sunday, June 3, was written specifically for this festival day. Acclaimed by Alfred Lord Tennyson as “The world’s greatest hymn,” it is perhaps the best known of more than 50 hymns by the British clergyman Reginald Heber (1783-1826).
Ordained an Anglican priest in 1807, the Oxford-educated Heber was a key figure in the history of hymnology, making congregational singing a priority. Though his superiors discouraged the use of anything but metrical Psalms, Heber introduced his own hymns and those of others, dreaming of publishing a collection corresponding to the church year. The Bishop of London thought otherwise.
It wasn’t until after Heber’s death (at only 43, during his tenure as Bishop of Calcutta, India) that his widow, after finding Heber’s collection in a trunk, succeeded in publishing his “Hymns Written and Adapted to the Weekly Service of the Church Year” (1827).
Heber held strong opinions about the language of hymns, objecting vehemently to addressing God “with ditties or embraces and passion, or in language which it would be disgraceful in an earthly sovereign to endure.” The title of “Holy, Holy, Holy” refers to the Sanctus (Latin: Holy) portion of the Mass liturgy. Paraphrasing Revelation 4:8-11, the bold text extols the Trinity and proclaims that God alone is holy and worthy of our praise -- “for there is none beside thee, perfect in power, in love and purity.”
Many of Heber’s hymn texts are still in use. Other LBW examples include: “Brightest and Best of the Stars of the Morning” (84), “The Son of God Goes Forth to War” (183), “Hosanna to the Living Lord” (258) and “God, Who Made the Earth and Heaven” (281).
Since publication of the famous collection “Hymns Ancient and Modern” (1861), “Holy, Holy, Holy” has almost always been set to the tune NICAEA, composed by John Bacchus Dykes (1823-1876). A fellow Brit and Anglican clergyman, Dykes was active in the Oxford Movement to revitalize Anglican worship. He wrote some 300 hymn tunes. The title points to the First Council of Nicaea, which formalized the doctrine of the Trinity in 325.
April 3, 2012
“Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands”
The first line of the hymn "Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands," sounds very much like a Good Friday hymn, yet it is the Hymn of the Day for the Easter festival. This hymn plumbs the depths and rises to the heights of the Easter event. The resurrection is not simply an earthly makeover. It is a resurrection from the dead. Who but Luther would begin an Easter hymn with Christ wrapped by the bands of death? He does so for a very precise reason: in the traditional Lutheran theology the last step of the humiliation constitutes the first step of the exaltation.
Luther's original version had seven stanzas. (Read them in English or in German.) The fourth stanza was the center of the hymn; the other verses frame it. One can hardly appreciate the full meaning of the hymn in its wholeness unless one has the full text in mind. The LBW gives us five of these stanzas, with Luther's fourth stanza as stanza 2. Why did Luther give verse 2 such great importance? This verse exhibits a dramatic view of the atonement in which death and life clashed as if in a war. Life won the battle--death is defeated, the reign of death is ended: death is swallowed up by death. The Paschal Lamb was given to save us. The hymn writer uses the Exodus imagery (Exodus 12) of Jesus' blood marking our doors, death passes over us, and Satan cannot harm us.
Redemption having been accomplished, we are invited "to keep the festival," to celebrate the battle won, the resurrection, to which the Lord invites us. The risen Christ is our joy, the sun that lights and warms us. In the feast of the Eucharist the bread of heaven becomes our meat and drink. Easter offers to make it our own: that is sufficient to live by and die by.
The tune "Christ lag in Todesbanden" is derived from two sources: "Victimae Paschali" ( LBW137) attributed to Wipo of Burgundy in the 11th century; and "Christ ist erstanden" (LBW 136), a German hymn circa 1100. The latter appeared in Johann Walter's "Geistliche Gesangbuchlein" (1524) and may come from Walter or Luther or both. Luther was fond of this hymn and said he had a high regard for it: "Over time one grows tired of singing other hymns, but 'Christ is arisen' comes around every year and wants to go on forever--without end." J. S. Bach based his Cantata No. 4 on the seven verses of this hymn.
March 20, 2012
“Jesus, I Will Ponder Now”
by Carlos Messerli
“Jesus, I Will Ponder Now” (LBW 115) is the Sending Hymn for the Sunday of the Passion, a day unique in the church year for its sudden shift of mood from triumphal celebration of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to the contemplation of his execution. The hymn articulates the thoughts of the believer who, having heard the reading of the Passion earlier, leaves the service prepared to participate again in the Holy Week events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The text, translated from the German by August Crull (1845-1923), acknowledges the guilt we share with all humankind for our sins, which brought about the need for Jesus’ sacrifice. Finally it affirms the love and gratitude of the believer who can now look forward to singing the praises of the Savior in heaven above.
It is not often that the author of a Christian hymn receives honors in his lifetime that would be comparable to being named national poet laureate or to receiving a Grammy, Oscar, or MacArthur award. Sigismund von Birken (1626-1681), who wrote “Jesus, I Will Ponder Now,” received these kinds of recognition in his day. He was the son of a Lutheran pastor in Bohemia, whose family was forced by religious persecution to flee to Germany when Sigismund was a young child. He later studied law and theology at the University of Jena, but dropped out of both programs to become a school teacher and private tutor. By the age of nineteen his special gift for writing was recognized, and he was admitted to a prestigious poetic society, the Pegnitz Shepherd and Flower Order. Eventually he was elevated to the nobility by Emperor Ferdinand III and became a member of the Fruitbearing Society and Chief Shepherd of the Pegnitz Order. Von Birken’s output of some fifty hymns includes “Let Us Ever Walk With Jesus” (LBW 487).
The tune of “Jesus, I Will Ponder Now,” JESU KREUZ, LEIDEN UND PEIN, was composed by Melchior Vulpius (c.1570-1615), a highly respected Lutheran church musician. As the composer of about 400 hymn tunes, he is regarded by noted German musicologist Walter Blankenburg as the leading composer of hymns between Martin Luther (1483-1546) and Johannes Crüger (1598-1662). He is represented by six hymns in LBW, including “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice and Sing” (LBW 144) for Easter. He also wrote 200 motets (including a complete cycle of Gospel motets for the church year) and a musical setting of the Passion history.
March 6, 2012
“All My Hope on God Is Founded”
by Barbara Hofmaier
“All My Hope on God Is Founded” (WOV 782), the sending hymn for the Third Sunday in Lent (March 11), was written by Joachim Neander (1650-1680), who was born in Bremen, Germany. During his college years Neander’s attitude toward spiritual matters was far from serious. One Sunday, with two like-minded friends, he attended St. Martin’s Church in order to criticize and be amused by the pastor, known to be a Pietist. Instead, the pastor’s earnestness touched him, and their later conversations proved a spiritual turning point for him. In 1674 he was appointed rector of the Latin school at Düsseldorf and had responsibilities at the Reformed Church connected to the school. His employment was marked by conflict, and he found comfort in composing hymns.
Neander’s nearly 60 hymns were incorporated into the Marburg Reformed Gesang-Buch in 1722. He was regarded by some as the first important hymn writer of the German Reformed Church; his hymns were commended for their “glow and sweetness, . . . their firm faith, originality, Scripturalness, variety and mastery of rhythmical forms, and genuine lyric character” (hymnary.org). Robert Bridges (1844-1930) wrote the English paraphrase of Neander’s words.
Herbert Howells (1892-1983), composer of the hymn tune MICHAEL, displayed early musical aptitude, substituting for his father as organist at the Baptist church in Gloucestershire and at age 11 serving as choirboy and deputy organist at the local Anglican parish. He later studied organ at the Royal College of Music with Charles V. Stanford and Hubert Parry. He composed MICHAEL to accompany the hymn text by Bridges during the period following the death of his nine-year-old son from polio. Much of his later music shows the influence of this loss. Howells is known for both his orchestral and his choral music (including the Christmas carols “Here Is the Little Door “and “A Spotless Rose” and a number of settings of the Anglican liturgy). His introit “Behold O God Our Defender” was composed for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953; his motet “Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing” (1963) was commissioned for the memorial service of John F. Kennedy.
The hymn reminds us that human works, though fashioned “with care and toil,”’ will “fall to dust.” But it calls us to claim confidently the companionship of a God who will guide us “through change and chance” and who is the true foundation for our hope.
February 21, 2012
“Who Trusts in God, a Strong Abode”
by Len Berghaus
Whom have I in heaven but you? And having you, I desire nothing upon earth. Though my flesh and heart should waste away, God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73: 25-26
Joachim Magdeburg (1525-1587) first wrote the text for “Who Trusts in God, a Strong Abode” (#450 in the Lutheran Book of Worship) as a single stanza for Saturday evening worship. Stanzas two and three were published later, in Harmonium Cantionum Ecclesiasticarum (Leipzig, 1597).
A good number of chorale tunes from the 16th century originated in secular songs. The tune for “Who Trusts in God” is "Was mein Gott will," which is from a French melody (1529) first paired with a love song by Claude de Surmisy, circa 1495-1562. The tune then became associated with the text “Was mein Gott will, das g’scheh’ allzeit” (found in The Lutheran Hymnal as “The Will of God Is Always Right”). Magdeburg wrote the text of "Wer Gott vertraut, hat wohl gebaut" (Who trusts in God, a strong abode) to go with this tune. The harmonization in LBW is that of J. S. Bach.
Chosen as a distribution hymn for the first Sunday in Lent, the text of "Who Trusts in God, a Strong Abode" speaks the Christian's conviction of faith, trust, and comfort in the unfailing grace God has bestowed upon us through the merits of his Son, Jesus Christ. Trust in this God and your life is secure on earth and in heaven! When Satan's evil forces beset us, God's strength will never fail us, he will guide us. Nothing will ever separate us from the love that is in Jesus. Magdeburg concludes this hymn with this supplication:
Our God, renew with heavenly dew our body, soul and spirit,
Until we stand at your right hand, through Jesus saving merit.
Tunes other than "Was mein Gott will" have been associated with this text, however, they do not come anywhere near embracing the dearness of it. It is said that Johann Sebastian Bach had a particular liking for this melody, having used it more than any other single tune. We find it in his Passion According to St. Matthew, in the cantata composed for the third Sunday after the Epiphany ("Was mein Gott will, das g'scheh' allzeit") and in four other cantatas.
Felix Mendelssohn could not resist the tune either! Born into a prominent Jewish family, he was later baptized as a Lutheran Christian. Among his many works, he composed six sonatas for the organ. The first movement of the Sonata No. 1 in F Major employs "Was mein Gott will" in segmented fashion between the more robust, episodic expositions of the movement. (Listen here.)
February 7, 2012
“Alleluia, Song of Gladness”
by Stacy Deibler
John Mason Neale is well represented in the Lutheran Book of Worship and With One Voice – with no fewer than 22 hymns to his credit. The gifted British priest (1818-1866) is best known for his translations and adaptations of ancient and medieval Latin hymns. “Alleluia, Song of Gladness” (WOV 654), the Sending Hymn for Transfiguration Sunday, February 19, is among Neale’s most widely sung works. (Read the text here.)
Despite his short life (he died at 48), Neale left behind a prodigious collection of hymns, biblical commentary, essays on liturgy and church history, sermons, articles, and poetry. A force in the revival of the Anglican church in the mid-19th century, Neale was drawn to classic Latin hymns, which he felt were more doctrinally sound than popular hymns of his day. The text of “Alleluia, Song of Gladness” dates to the 11th century.
“It is a magnificent thing,” Neale wrote, “to pass along the far-stretching vista of hymns, from the sublime self-containedness of St. Ambrose to the more fervid inspiration of St. Gregory, the exquisite typology of Venantius Fortunatus, the lovely painting of St. Peter Damiani, the crystal-like simplicity of St. Notker, the scriptural calm of Godescalcus, the subjective loveliness of St. Bernard, till all culminate in the full blaze of glory which surrounds Adam of St. Victor, the greatest of them all.”
Neale’s LBW hymns include such favorites as “All Glory Laud and Honor” (108), “Christ is Made the Sure Foundation” (367), “Come, Ye Faithful, Join the Strain” (132), “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” (42), and Christmas classics “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice” (55) and “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (34).
“Alleluia, Song of Gladness” is especially appropriate for Transfiguration Sunday (the last Sunday of Epiphany), evoking the divinity of Christ. This Sunday also marks the day we “bury” the “Alleluia” before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 22.
The lilting hymn tune, “Praise My Soul,” is by Sir John Goss (1800-1880), an influential English organist, composer, teacher and critic. Goss was a professor of harmony at the Royal Academy of Music (1827-1874) and rose to be organist at London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral (where he is buried). In 1861, to raise funds for a new organ, Goss conducted a performance of Handel’s “Messiah,” the first oratorio presented at St. Paul’s. In high Victorian style, it featured a whopping 600 performers.
“Alleluia, Song of Gladness,” like many familiar hymns, can even be downloaded free as the ringtone for your cell phone.
December 11, 2011
"Savior of the Nations, Come"
The hymn of the day for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 18, is the beloved "Savior of the Nations Come" ("Nun komm der Heiden Heiland," LBW 28). One of twelve hymns definitely ascribed to St. Ambrose, it is mentioned in manuscripts by Augustine (372) and other 8th and 9th century writers. Its Latin title is "Veni, Redemptor gentium."
Ambrose was born in Trier, in Germany, between 337 and 340. When he was 13 years old his father died and his mother moved the family to Rome. There he received his education, distinguished himself as a lawyer and was appointed consul of two provinces (374) headquartered in Milan. Although he was only a layman and a catechumen, he was elected bishop of Milan, taking office a week after his baptism. As bishop, he found himself in direct conflict with the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ. He defended the orthodox faith vigorously throughout his life. Exhausted from his labors, Ambrose died on April 4, Easter Eve, in 397. He was considered Augustine's father in the faith.
One of the distinguishing features of this hymn is that it expresses the longing of the nations, that is of the whole world, for the Redeemer. The hymn is informed by the theology of the Gospel of John. Originating with God the Father, the Redeemer comes to earth to do His work, even descending to death and hell, then reascending to God's high throne. What a reassuring message it is to us. The last stanza is a doxology to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, restating Ambrose's commitment to the orthodox faith against the Arians.
Ambrose is known as the father of Latin hymnody. His hymns, intended for congregational singing, were characterized by simplicity and austerity. They were so popular that they found imitators, hence the te rm "Ambrosian hymns," Latin hymns ascribed to Ambrose but written by others. Ambrose is also said to have introduced the practice of antiphonal singing to the western church. Martin Luther prepared a quite literal translation of Ambrose's text, and it was included in the first Protestant hymnals, including the Erfurt Enchiridia (1524) and Johann Walter's 1524 collection of hymns. The translation in the LBW is a composite work by several persons.
The tune "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland," is an adaptation of a plainsong melody associated with the original Latin text. J. S. Bach wrote four organ settings of this chorale and used it in two cantatas, including Cantata 62, which was sung at the Bach Cantata Vespers in November. The hymn is included in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (263), as well as in the LBW.
November 22, 2011
"O Savior, Rend the Heavens Wide"
by Carlos Messerli
The picture of the birth of Christ for many Americans is one of a tender baby in a sanitized manger, surrounded by soft hay and gentle animals, with many angelic cherubs hovering about. And aspects of this scene are valid and memorable.
However, the unknown author of “O Savior, Rend the Heavens Wide,” our Hymn of the Day for the First Sunday in Advent, November 27, had something quite different in mind when considering the coming of God to earth that we celebrate at Christmas. (Read the text here.) The Advent anticipation of the miracle of divine intervention in human history represented by the Incarnation suggests words of strength and vigor. These are set in Lutheran Book of Worship (No.38) to a rhythmically energetic, forceful and angular melody. Text (1623) and tune (1666) are of Roman Catholic origin, but combined they reflect the bold spirit of early Lutheran chorales.
The text is replete with strong images related to the coming of the promised Savior: “O Savior, rend the heavens wide” (Isaiah 64:1), “Unlock the gates, the doors break down” (Isaiah 45:2). By means of powerful metaphors, Christ is called our Morning Star as well as our Sun who helps us overcome the “gloom and dark of night.” Our Savior will lead us with a mighty hand from the “dreadful doom of sin” where “grim death looms fierce;” from our earthly wilderness, from “exile to our promised land.” Though the Hymn of the Day is traditionally chosen with an historic purpose in mind, this bold hymn forms an admirable complement to the powerful Gospel for the Day (Mark13:2437). If you attend the Grace Advent/Christmas concert you’ll hear the hymn again, sung by the Senior Choir in a chorale setting by Brahms.
November 8, 2011
"The King of Love My Shepherd Is"
by Stacy Deibler
When Sir Henry Williams Baker died in 1877, a friend reported that his last words were from the third stanza of his famous hymn, “The King of Love My Shepherd Is” (LBW 456): “Perverse and foolish, oft I strayed, But yet in love He sought me, And on his shoulder gently laid, And home, rejoicing brought me.”
This hymn, to be sung during communion on Sunday, Nov. 20, is a poignant paraphrase of the twenty-third Psalm. The text draws upon the language of Psalm 23 to picture God as a loving shepherd and our comforter in life and death, “whose goodness faileth never.”
The hymn first appeared in 1868 in Hymns Ancient & Modern, the standard Anglican hymnal in Victorian England. It was Baker’s idea as editor-in-chief to solicit suggestions and submissions for the new hymnal through advertisements to clergy. He believed that giving many people a chance to participate would predispose them in favor of the final product and boost sales. The hymnbook emerged as a broad, ecumenical collection, both theologically and musically, and its various editions sold more than 60 million copies! Baker's contribution “The King of Love My Shepherd Is” is still used by many denominations.
An Anglican priest and prolific poet, Baker (1821-1877) became vicar of Monkland Priory Church, Herefordshire, England, in 1851, where he served most of his life. The son of an admiral and baronet, Baker succeeded to his father’s title in 1859. He wrote many other hymn texts, translated lyrics and composed hymn tunes. He wrote the text for “O God of Love, O King of Peace” (LBW 414) and the music for “I Am Trusting You, Lord Jesus” (LBW 460).
We sing "The King of Love My Shepherd Is" to an ancient Irish folk tune known as “St. Columba,” to which it was first set in the English Hymnal of 1906. “St. Columba” has been scored for everything from harp to concert band. The text is also sung to the melody “Dominus Regit Me” by John Bacchus Dykes. This tune was used when the hymn was sung at Princess Diana’s funeral in Westminster Abbey.
October 25, 2011
“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"
by Len Berghaus
The entrance hymn for Reformation Sunday, October 30, is "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" (Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott). Many Lutheran and other Protestant congregations use this hymn on Reformation Day. It has been called the "battle hymn of the Reformation" for the effect it had in increasing the support for the Reformers' cause in the 1530s. Martin Luther wrote the words and composed the melody sometime between 1527 and 1529. It was inspired by Psalm 46, the first verse of which reads, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble."
The list of choral, instrumental and organ music based on this hymn is endless. J. S. Bach (1685 - 1750) used this hymn as the source for his Cantata 80, "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott." It has been performed on numerous occasions at in our Bach Cantata Vespers services. Organ chorale settings were written by Bach, Pachelbel, Buxtehude, Flor Peeters, Max Reger and many others. Felix Mendelssohn used the chorale tune as the theme for the fourth and final movement of his Symphony No. 5, which he named "Reformation."
The Lutheran Book of Worship offers two variants of the same basic tune. The "rhythmic tune" is the more familiar one to us at Grace, as this is the version that has been in the various hymnals used by the congregation through the years. The "isometric tune" does away with all the rhythmic nuances and provides smooth, unruffled, easy-to-sing lines. This setting has found wider use in Protestant hymnals, leaving the more authentic version to the German Lutherans! In Cantata 80, however, Bach used the isometric version.
Grace’s Reformation service will include a second hymn ascribed to Martin Luther. "Dear Christians One and All Rejoice" is a powerful message telling of God's unspeakable grace and the true faith we hold so dear for our salvation.
(Click on the bold type for links to musical examples.)
October 11, 2011
“Great God, Your Love Has Called Us”
by Barbara Hofmaier
“Great God, Your Love Has Called Us” (WOV 666), the Hymn of the Day for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (October 23), was written by Brian Wren (b. 1936). An internationally published hymn writer whose work appears in hymnals from many denominations and traditions, Wren received degrees in modern languages and Old Testament from Oxford University. Following ordination in the United Reformed Church in 1965, he served for five years as pastor of a church in Essex. He then worked for five years with the British Council of Churches and for seven years with Third World First, a student-led campaign to end world poverty and protect the environment.
Wren began writing hymns as a service to his congregation. For example, he wrote “Christ Is Alive! Let Christians Sing” (LBW 363) after he prepared a sermon dealing with the murder of Martin Luther King but realized that “there weren’t any appropriate hymns for the congregation to respond with, [any] that suggested a combination of suffering and life” (Reformed Worship, September 1990).
For Wren, the poet in the church has a double vocation: “One vocation is to write poems of faith which people will pick up and sing and say, ‘Yes, this is exactly the way I think,’ or ‘Yes, this is what I believe, although I’ve never put it this way.’ The other vocation…is to try to speak truth by stepping beyond the church’s limits of comfort and convention.” Many of his hymns explore less familiar images of God found in Scripture (God as nesting bird) or suggest new images (Jesus as “Wind of Change,” “Rock of Care”).
From 2000 to 2007 he taught worship at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia. Now retired, he continues to lead workshops and write on hymnody and hymn writing. Hymnologist Erik Routley observed that Wren is “the most frequently sung hymn writer since Charles Wesley.”
Wren believes that most hymns worth singing are worth reading as poetry and prayer. “Great God, Your Love Has Called Us” is one such hymn. Drawing on the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in John 13, it sketches the human predicament with accuracy and gentleness, bringing us to a stunning moment at the close of stanza 3: “We strain to glimpse your mercy seat and find you kneeling at our feet.”
The tune RYBURN was written by Norman Cocker (1889-1953). Cocker was born in Yorkshire, England, studied at Oxford, and served as organist at several churches in Manchester, including Manchester Cathedral. (He was also an amateur conjurer!) We sing the tune RYBURN also as a setting for “Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me” (LBW 336).
September 27, 2011
"Come, let us eat"
by Hans Dumpys
One of the distribution hymns for Pentecost 17 (Oct. 9) is truly an original communion hymn. "Come, let us eat," (A va de tas mioo), LBW 214, comes to us from the mission field in Liberia. It is a relatively new hymn to me, but it quickly captured my heart and mind.
Billama Kvillia (b.c.1923) is the author of both the text and tune. Stanzas 1 through 3 are by Kvillia himself, and stanza 4 is by Rev. Gilbert Doan (b. 1930). Kvillia was a literacy teacher and evangelist, conducting services and leading Christians in his home town. The translator, Margaret Miller (b. c. 1930), notes that Kvillia sang this hymn for a meeting, and it was recorded on tape. That's how it came down to us. As to the structure of the text, the repetition of the first and third line in each verse is characteristic of folk tunes, hence the melody likely originated as a folk tune. It is rhythmic and repetitive. Each syllable has its own note which gives the tune a rapid flow.
The content of the verses is straightforward: the feast of communion is spread before the community which has come together to partake; Jesus' blood is poured which we drink together. We gather in the Lord's presence and rest in him. The fourth verse is the community's response to the Eucharist: spread God's Word abroad and "Jesus risen will bring in the kingdom."
The hymn was first published in English in 1970 in Laudamus, the hymnal of the Lutheran World Federation. Margaret Miller was the daughter of missionaries to Liberia. After earning the B. A. degree at Wilson College in 1949, she went to Liberia for the Committee on World Literacy and Christian Literature on behalf of the Liberian government and the missions.
September 13, 2011
"Salvation Unto Us Has Come"
by Carlos Messerli
Martin Luther viewed the singing of hymns as one of the chief ways in which the faith is taught. He believed that the repetition of rhymed biblical and doctrinal truths set to melodious tunes had the power to penetrate one’s consciousness and memory as no other means could.
“Salvation unto Us Has Come” (LBW 297), our Entrance Hymn on September 18, presents the clearly Lutheran doctrine of sin and grace in five vivid stanzas. (A six-stanza translation is here. The original 14 stanzas, which concluded with a doxology of praise to the Holy Trinity, fleshed out the teaching even more fully and forcefully.) Since, from the earliest days of the Reformation movement, it was sung as a Kernlied (core hymn), every Lutheran congregation had the chance to sing it as the featured Hymn of the Day at least once each year, and thereby refresh its understanding of the faith. It forms a clear review of Christ’s atoning work to save us from the dreadful consequences of our sinful human nature. In short, it defines in poetry Christ’s love for us and our resulting redemption.
Paul Speratus (14841551), the author of the text, was an extraordinary scholar, earning three doctorates, one each in philosophy, the law, and theology. Like Luther, he was a faithful Roman Catholic priest who then converted to the evangelical faith. He was also one of the first of the clergy to marry. The present hymn was written by Speratus while he was imprisoned for his faith. At one point in those dangerous days in Germany, he was nearly burned at the stake as a heretic.
The melody, written by an unknown author, appeared in the first Lutheran hymnal (Wittenberg, 1524). The melody is in the barform (AAB) plan with repetition of the music of first lines of each stanza. Each line of the music begins with the engaging forward propulsion of the upbeat of a quick eighth-note. The strength and quality of the tune have made it attractive to later composers. It appears in five different Bach cantatas (Nos. 86, 117, 155, and 186, and No. 9, for which the chorale text or tune forms the basis of the entire work.) Johannes Brahms wrote a magnificent motet on the chorale.
August 28, 2011
"Draw Us in the Spirit's Tether"
by Stacy Deibler
“Draw Us in the Spirit's Tether” (WOV 703), the entrance hymn for Sunday, September 4, is especially appropriate at this time of year. As we stream back from summer travel and activities to start a new season, we gather once again as the body of Christ, recalling that when “two or three are met together, you are in the midst of them.”
The text of this beloved hymn is by Percy Dearmer (1867-1936), an Anglican priest born in London. An Oxford grad, Dearmer served as a British Red Cross Chaplain in Serbia during World War I. He later became a professor of ecclesiastical art at King’s College, London, and canon of Westminster Abbey (1931-1935), where his ashes are interred.
Dearmer was a leading light in the field of hymnology. He co-edited “The English Hymnal” (1906) with Ralph Vaughan Williams. Later, he teamed with Vaughan Williams and musician Martin Shaw to edit “Songs of Praise” (1925), “The Oxford Book of Carols” (1928), and “Songs of Praise Enlarged” (1931). Editions of all can still be found in many English churches. LBW contains two other Dearmer hymns, both translations of ancient Latin texts: “Father Most Holy” (169) and “Father, We Praise You” (267).
First published in the U.S. in the “Hymnbook for Christian Worship” (1970), “Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether” had already become well-known in the U.S. from Harold Friedell’s soaring 1957 anthem setting. (One of the best recordings is featured on the CD “Great is the Lord,” sung by the Choir of Men and Boys at Washington National Cathedral. Listen to a YouTube recording of this choir singing the hymn here.)
Friedell (1905-1958) was one of the most influential church musicians and composers of the 20th century, serving on the faculty of the Juilliard School and the School of Sacred Music at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He was organist-choirmaster at Park Avenue’s esteemed St. Bartholomew’s Church (“St. Bart’s”) from 1946 until his death.
Jet E. Turner, a Union grad, arranged a portion of the music from the anthem as a hymn for the “United Methodist Hymnal,” naming the tune “Union Seminary.” “Jesus, Come! For We Invite You” (WOV 648) carries the same tune.
Evoking the Last Supper, the text implores that “all our meals and our living, make as sacraments of you, that by caring, helping, giving, we may be disciples true.”
Click here to hear a Japanese choir singing "Draw Us in the Spirit's Tether."
July 26, 2011
“O Living Bread from Heaven”
by Barbara Hofmaier
“O Living Bread from Heaven” (LBW 197), one of the Communion hymns for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (July 31), was written by Johann Rist (1607-1667). The son of a Lutheran pastor, Rist attended the University of Rinteln, where his interest in hymn writing was awakened during his study of theology. While later serving as a private tutor at the University of Rostock, he studied Hebrew, medicine, and mathematics.
In 1635 he became pastor of a church in Wedel, a village outside Hamburg. He was a well-known preacher and corresponded on theological and literary topics with the principal clergypersons and authors of his day. Although he was a strict Lutheran in doctrine, he was chided by some for not preaching sufficiently against heresy. Accusations of heresy, he responded, never produced “a living, fruitful faith” but only “pride and impulses of hatred.”
His 600-700 religious poems and hymns—among them, “Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light”—brought him great recognition. They were sung in congregations throughout Germany, though never in his own church. The emperor Ferdinand III crowned him poet laureate in 1644.
Abiding trust in God is a theme of many of Rist’s hymns. As we sing “O Living Bread from Heaven,” we are reminded that the meal of Holy Communion is a gracious gift from God that blesses and heals us, strengthens us to serve, and gives us a foretaste of a heavenly feast “where joys unmingled flow.”
The tune AURELIA was written by Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876), son of the Anglican minister Samuel Wesley and grandson of Charles Wesley, who (with his older brother John) founded the Methodist Church. Samuel Sebastian Wesley had a strong musical background, was a choirboy at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and began playing the organ for services there at the age of 16. AURELIA (which means “golden”) was published as a setting for “Jerusalem the Golden” in "Selection of Psalms and Hymns" (1864), but it is perhaps most familiar to us as a setting for “The Church’s One Foundation” (LBW 369).
June 28, 2011
"O Holy Spirit, Enter In"
by Hans Dumpys
Pentecost is not just one festival Sunday, but a whole season, stretching from the Day of Pentecost (June 5 this year) to the last Sunday of the church year in late November. The entrance hymn for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost is a powerful reminder of that: "O Holy Spirit, Enter In," (LBW 459) by Michael Schirmer (1606 - 1673). A commentator referred to it as a "beautiful New Testament paraphrase of Isaiah 11:2." Various editions made this into an eight-stanza hymn. The LBW uses three stanzas which are altered versions from a five-stanza translation by Catherine Winkworth in the "Chorale Book for England" (1863).
Michael Schirmer was born in Leipzig, earned a M.A. at the university there in 1630, became assistant rector at the Greyfriars Gymnasium in Berlin in 1636 and rector fifteen years later. He had health problems that were exacerbated by personal traumas and historical events: the Thirty Years War, the death of his nine-year-old daughter, the deaths of his wife and 25-year-old son. He worked faithfully as administrator, teacher, and poet. Depression plagued him especially after his wife's death.
Like other hymns of this period, this one came out of the poet's deep suffering, and yet his spirit remained vibrant as reflected in this hymn, transcending his suffering by faith in Christ. He prays for the Holy Spirit to shine in our hearts with radiant light and engender new life. May God's Word lead us to live in love and holy faith in this world until we are called to our eternal home!
The hymn's images pull together God's love in Christ through word and sacraments into a joyful song "that is at once cosmic and intensely personal," according to Paul Westermeyer. The whole structure of Lutheran theology is encompassed here: God's powerful action evokes a responsive Christian life.
The tune, "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern," by Philip Nicolai (1556-1608), is associated with the Epiphany hymn "O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright" (LBW #76), which has been called the "Queen of Chorales." Bach used this tune in six of his cantatas and an organ prelude. It is an amazingly gracious tune from a time of troubles. Nicolai's house overlooked the cemetery where he conducted the interments of as many as thirty funerals a day.
June 7, 2011
"Alleluia, Sing to Jesus"
by Stacy Deibler
William Dix (1837-1898) managed a marine insurance company in Glasgow, Scotland, “but his heart was in the poetry of worship” (cyberhymnal.org). Dix wrote more than 40 hymns, including “Alleluia, Sing to Jesus” (LBW 158), our Entrance Hymn for May 29 (Sixth Sunday of Easter). (Read the text . Listen here.)
Published in 1867 as a hymn for Ascension Day, the text was originally titled “Redemption through the Precious Blood,” inspired by Revelation 5:9 (“And they sang a new song, saying, ‘You are worthy…for you were slain and have redeemed us to God by your blood.’”)
“Though the cloud from sight received him” sings of Christ’s ascension. And as the text assures us we are not left “as orphans,” it reminds us of Christ's ringing promise “I am with you evermore.” The “Alleluia!” launching each stanza creates a joyful tone of praise throughout.
Other Dix texts in the LBW include the Christmas classic “What Child is This?” (40) and “As With Gladness Men of Old” (82) a touching Epiphany hymn.
Dix’s words are set to the well-known tune “Hyfrydol,” composed by Rowland Pritchard (1811-1887), a gifted Welsh singer and choir director. In a country famous for its passionate love of singing, Pritchard, a humble loom-tender in a textile mill, wrote several hymn tunes. In 1844, he published Cyfaill y Cantorion ("The Singer’s Friend"), a songbook for children.
In Welsh, “hyfrydol” means “good cheer.” This lyrical tune, in various arrangements, is a staple in the hymnals of many denominations. Other LBW hymns set to “Hyfrydol” include the famous Charles Wesley text “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” (315), “Hear Us Now, Our God and Father” (288), and “Lord of Glory, You Have Bought Us” (424). “Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus” is usually sung to “Hyfrydol.” The tune has also been arranged for piano, organ, handbells, bagpipes, dulcimer, guitar, orchestra, brass band and many other instrumental groups.
May 4, 2011
"The Strife is O'er, the Battle Done"
by Len Berghaus
“The Strife Is O’er, The Battle Done” is the entrance hymn for the Fourth Sunday of Easter on May 15. (Read the text here.) This Easter hymn first appeared anonymously in a Jesuit collection, Symphonia Sirenum, published in Cologne, Germany, in 1695. More than 150 years later, it was discovered and translated into English by Francis Pott (1832-1909) an Anglican priest who served as curate and rector in several churches in England. Pott composed hymns but was better known as a hymn translator and the editor of "Hymns Fitted to the Order of Common Prayer" (1861).
The setting of this hymn, as we sing it, is an adaptation from the "Gloria Patri,” published in 1591 by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594), the best known Italian Renaissance composer of the 16th century. Dr. William Monk, an Anglican contemporary of Francis Pott, adapted Palestrina’s music and added the alleluias at the beginning and the end. Monk included this hymn in the Anglican hymnal Hymns Ancient and Modern, 1861 edition.
On the Sundays of the Easter season, we continue to celebrate Jesus' victory over the power of death. This hymn proclaims the Easter message yet again and encourages us to respond with song: "Now be the song of praise begun. Alleluia!" "Let shouts of holy joy outburst. Alleluia!” "That we may live and sing to you. Alleluia!"
"Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 15:57)
April 19, 2011
“Christians to the Paschal Victim” (LBW 137)
“Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands” (LBW 134)
“Christ Is Arisen” (LBW 136)
by Carlos Messerli
“If Christ is not raised, your faith is vain, . . .but now is Christ risen from the dead!" I Cor. 15: 14, 20
These three Easter hymns hold a unique place in Christian hymnody: three hymns closely related in thought and melody throughout history; three hymns that have survived more than 1,000 years of change in taste, doctrine, and sentiment; and, most important for us, three hymns that will be sung at Grace this year during the Easter season. Here is the unusual story of these three powerful hymns that tell of Christ’s victory over death.
“Christians to the Paschal Victim” (LBW 137) is the most ancient of the three. (Listen to this hymn sung in Latin.) The image of Christ as the Paschal (Passover) victim, is a reference to the lamb slaughtered for the last meal of the Israelites in Egypt, who then painted its saving blood on their doors. The firstborn in every Egyptian household died, but the Jewish people were saved. The hymn, created well before the eleventh century, vigorously invites Christians to give thanks for that “stupendous combat” between life and death that was won by Christ‘s resurrection. Mary is invited in mid-hymn to relate what she saw on that early morning. She tells of the empty tomb, the angels, and the risen Christ gone to Galilee. The hymn concludes, “Have mercy, victor King!” The “have mercy” phrase tells us it has a connection with the Kyrie eleison (“Leison”) hymns of the early church.
This hymn was created as one of thousands of so-called sequence hymns that were chanted by choirs in the Middle Ages between the reading of the Epistle and the Holy Gospel to celebrate various festivals and seasons. The dialogue of this Easter sequence is closely related to the mediaeval liturgical dramas of, for example, Easter and Christmas, that often enlivened the mass. This one has been attributed to the legendary Wipo of Burgundy.
“Christ Is Arisen” (LBW 136), a popular German folk hymn, comes a century or more after “Christians to the Paschal Victim,” to which, in simplified form, it surely owes its thought and, in part, its melody. It is an anonymous, three-stanza Leise hymn for Easter in which the “Lord have mercy” phrases have been replaced by jubilant “Alleluias!“ Centuries later, Martin Luther praised it highly. “Christ is Arisen” will be sung at Grace on the Sundays after Easter as a sequence between the second lesson and the Holy Gospel.
“Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands” (LBW 134) is a seven-stanza hymn of Martin Luther from 1524. Five stanzas appear in LBW. Luther expanded on the thought of “Christ Is Arisen” and created a melody reminiscent of it and of “Christians to the Paschal Victim.” The life and death struggle of Christ that secured the victory of eternal life for us is described by Luther in vigorous and earthy terms. He personalizes the Pascal triumph of the Lamb by noting that his saving blood marks our door. He invites us to feast this Easter Day (in Holy Communion) on Christ, “the bread of heaven.” Each stanza ends with a triumphant hallelujah! At Saturday evening's Easter Vigil service we will indeed feast on Christ and sing this historic song of the glorious triumph secured for us.
April 5, 2011
A Passion Meditation
by Pastor Hans Dumpys
April 17 is Passion Sunday, which inaugurates Holy Week. One of the hymns we'll sing during the distribution of communion that morning, "Jesus, I Will Ponder Now," is especially appropriate for the day. It is one of my favorite Holy Week hymns because it invites us to ponder the most sacred events of Jesus' life, in which our faith is grounded.
The key to the hymn, I believe, lies in the last two lines of the first verse: "Grant that I, in love and faith, may the image cherish / Of your suffering, pain and death that I may not perish." The hymn writer asks God's Spirit for the gift of attentive devotion. In such devotion the author expects the images of Jesus' suffering to be made vivid in his consciousness.
In verse two beholding the crucifixion, suffering, and death of Jesus binds the speaker closer to the Son of God. In verse three the author comes to see that his own sin caused Jesus' crucifixion, and he finds God's abundant grace there. In the fourth verse the author prays with grief and repentance that he “not prepare again your cross / By unholy living.”
What a rich text this is on which to meditate all of Holy Week, perhaps pondering one verse each day. It becomes a gift to us. This is real spiritual work.
The hymn originally had six verses which are preserved in The Lutheran Hymnal and Lutheran Service Book. The author of the text, Sigismund von Birken (1626-1681), was a poet who wrote about fifty hymns, of which this is the best known. He was the son of a Lutheran pastor and born in Bohemia; his family was exiled when he was three years old. He went to university, but did not complete his studies because of a lack of funds. In 1654 he was made a nobleman by Ferdinand III because of his poetic achievements.
The tune, "Jesu Kreuz, Leiden und Pein," is by Melchior Vulpius (c.1570-1615), considered one of the finest Lutheran church music composers. His works also include a setting of the "Passion According to St. Matthew" (1612-1614).
January 25, 2011
Now We Join in Celebration
by Carlos Messerli
The writing of the Communion hymn that we will sing on January 30, “Now We Join in Celebration” (LBW 203), is rooted in another, older hymn favorite. For many Lutherans, especially for those of German-Lutheran heritage, one of the signature hymns for Holy Communion is “Soul, Adorn Yourself With Gladness” (LBW 224), with a text by the noted 17th century hymn writer, Johann Franck, sung to the classic tune Schmuecke dich of Johann Crüger (1598-1662). The combination of text and tune remains one of the most deeply thoughtful and beautiful hymns for the celebration of the sacrament. The doctrine of the sacrament is expounded carefully, and the benefits accruing therefrom are described in loving terms. Although in many places this hymn was sung at a painfully slow, even lugubrious tempo, the tune itself, if played at a “moving tempo,” actually promotes a quiet, humble joy, entirely appropriate to the sacred meal.
In the 1960s and '70s, when Lutheran Book of Worship was being prepared, an abbreviated form of the original text of “Soul, Adorn Yourself With Gladness” (translated largely by Catherine Winkworth) was included, but some believed that a more modern, upbeat text should be crafted, one that better reflected the joyful, even celebratory nature of Holy Communion. (Discussions about the sacrament in those days often included gentle criticism of worshipers who left the Lord's table with a serious demeanor. Instead, those who communed were encouraged to leave the encounter with their Lord “radiating joy.”)
In the spirit of those times, Joel Lundeen (1918-1990), a Lutheran college and seminary professor, wrote the text of “Now We Join in Celebration” and paired it with Johann Crüger's original tune. The result was first published in Contemporary Hymns 4, a trial collection issued in 1972, and later revised for inclusion in Lutheran Book of Worship in 1978. Orthodox Lutheran doctrine of the sacrament permeates the new hymn, but the spirit of the poetry has been brought up to date. The phrases “As one family of God,” “Give us grace to live for others,” and “Serving all, both friends and strangers/Seeking justice, love, and mercy” reflect a more modern view of the nature of Holy Communion. The earlier hymn’s rapturous encouragement for us to “Hasten as a bride to meet him" and the plea for Jesus to “Come, and leave your loved one never” are omitted.
Besides providing a starting point for the new hymn, “Soul, Adorn Yourself with Gladness” has been an inspiration for many composers. J. S. Bach wrote three chorale preludes on the tune, and the text and melody form the basis of Cantata 180. Also, Johannes Brahms wrote a popular organ chorale prelude on the melody.
January 11, 2011
I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light
“But you, beloved, are not in darkness . . . for you are all children of light and children of the day.” 1 Thess. 5:4-5
The Hymn of the Day for January 23, “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light” (LBW 649) was written in the sweltering hot summer of 1966 by Kathleen Thomerson, an Episcopalian organist. Kathleen had moved to St. Louis, Missouri, in the fall of 1995. The following summer, her mother came from Houston, Texas, to visit. Because an airline strike cancelled her mother’s travel plans and a heat wave was making St. Louis unbearable, Thomerson decided to drive her mother back to Houston. This hymn came to her as she anticipated visiting her “brothers and sisters in Christ at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Houston.” It was written as a scriptural meditation and prayer. It was inspired by many Bible verses, including Genesis 1:17, Isaiah 60:19, Psalm 75:16, Psalm 139:12, Ephesians 3:17, Ephesians 5:8, Galatians 4:6, Hebrews 1:3, 1 Thessalonians 5:5, 2 Peter 1:19, 1 John 1:5-7, and Revelation 21:23.
On one hand it may be sung as a prayer for illumination. The congregation sings, “Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.” The second stanza conveys a longing to see Jesus and to be led through Christ to the presence of the Father. On the other hand, it may be sung as a song of dedication. The worshiper commits to live in the light of Christ, singing, “I want to walk. . . . I want to see. . . . I’m looking for. . . .” And in hope and anticipation, the worshiper concludes in stanza 3, “When we have run with patience the race, we shall know the joy of Jesus.”
(This hymn story comes from a November 5, 2008, post on the blog of Southwood Lutheran Church in Lincoln, Nebraska.)
December 21, 2010
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
by Stacy Deibler
The beloved Christmas carol “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” (LBW 54), the Hymn of the Day on December 26, began life as a poem. The Rev. Edmund Sears (1810-1876), a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and pastor of the Unitarian Church in Wayland, Mass., wrote this touching meditation on the nativity in 1849. It was first published in the Christian Register, a Unitarian weekly. Sears is said to have composed it at the request of the Rev. W. P. Lunt, a friend and fellow pastor in Quincy, Mass.
Sears was viewed more as a Unitarian in name than by conviction, for he preached the divinity of Christ. In rich, evocative prose, his poem recalls the scene in Luke 2:13-14 when an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds with “good tidings of great joy. . . . And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men!’” Images of stillness and hope dominate the text, a telling reminder this time of year to listen more closely to the glorious tidings of angels touching “their harps of gold” than to the “babel sounds” of our strife-filled world.
Fittingly, the hymn was first sung at an 1849 Sunday School Christmas celebration. Though it has five stanzas, some hymnals, including LBW, nix stanza three (“Yet with the woes of sin and strife, The world has suffered long”), while others omit the fourth stanza, with its hushed plea, “O, rest beside the weary road, And hear the angels sing!”
In the U.S., “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” is commonly sung to the tune “Carol,” composed in 1850 by Richard Storrs Willis (1819-1900), a well-known 19th century American musician, author and music critic. In Britain, the alternate tune “Noel,” adapted from an English melody in 1874 by composer Arthur Sullivan, is most often used. (Listen to both tunes, or view pdf files here.)
In 2006, a recording of the carol by pop duo Hall & Oates hit No. 1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary tracks chart.
December 7, 2010
Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel
by Hans Dumpys
The sending hymn for the Sunday, "Oh, Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel" (LBW # 34), has been called the "quintessential Advent hymn." That judgment no doubt is based on both the text and the tune of the hymn. The words come from the seven "O Antiphons," or "the Great O's," which have traditionally been sung, one at a time, on successive days at the end of the Advent season, before and after the Magnificat at Vespers from December 17 to 23 inclusive.
Based on Old and New Testament references, the "O Antiphons" come from the 8th century or earlier. Each of the Antiphons salutes the coming Messiah with one of the titles ascribed to him in Scripture and closes with a petition based on the salutation. The structure of each stanza of the hymn is similar. Rich in titles for the Coming One, each stanza begins with a plea for the Messiah to come, names the work he is expected to accomplish, and ends with a refrain of reassurance that Emmanuel will come.
This is a hymn of joyful expectation for the Messiah. The cumulative "Oh come, oh come..." of each verse intensifies the pleading. The urgency suggests that the times are so gloomy that only the longed-for Messiah can redeem the situation. The refrain, "Rejoice! Rejoice!" answers the pleading with a promise that "Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel," understood as the new Israel which is the Church. The Church lives with this promise that Emmanuel—“God with us”--will come to us. The strong themes of longing and hope in this hymn make it the quintessential Advent hymn. It is very suitable for personal Advent meditation.
The source for the text was the Psalteriorum Cantio Catholicarum, Cologne (1710). John Mason Neale (1818-1866), an English clergyman and hymn writer, translated the hymn, and with some alterations it is reproduced in the Lutheran Book of Worship. Neale was a high churchman (a supporter of traditional rituals and liturgies within the Church of England) at a time when that was not in vogue, therefore he had to serve in a low-paying position. But before his death the traditional liturgy and hymnody were reinstated.
The tune "Veni Emmanuel" was found in a small 15th century "Processional" which belonged to a community of French Franciscan nuns. The harmonization by C. Winfred Douglas is from the Episcopal hymnal of 1940.
November 23, 2010
"Savior of the Nations, Come"
by Carlos Messerli
Each year I look forward to Advent worship at Grace and the preparation for the celebration of the miraculous incarnation of Christ at Christmas. I enjoy reviewing the three “comings” of Christ, past, present, and future, the Advent readings, the Advent traditions, and above all, the Advent hymns. Christmas will come with its stories and its songs, but first we must experience Advent!
Chief among the Advent hymns is "Savior of the Nations, Come" (LBW 28), the Hymn of the Day for the First Sunday in Advent, November 28. One of the earliest of hymns of the season, it has held its primacy for centuries. The reason for its eminence is that it describes the nature and significance of Christ’s coming in succinct and imaginative poetry set to a truly memorable tune. It has served as the inspiration for countless musical settings for choir, organ, and congregation.
The original Latin text was written by St. Ambrose (340397), Bishop of Milan, theologian, and poet. Ambrose has been called the father of Christian hymnody; more accurately, he composed hymns that were of such quality that they have endured through time. They were well known to Martin Luther who is also sometimes called a father of hymnody for his work in the sixteenth century. It was Luther who translated this hymn of Ambrose into German, and simplified and adapted (with the help of collaborators) the original chant tune for congregational use, forming the melody we sing today. The present English translation is the work of several authors: William Morton Reynolds (1812-1876), Martin Seltz (1909-1967), and Gracia Grindal (b.1943).
The hymn text explores the essence of the Advent message. At first an appeal is made in the hymn for Christ to come to show his divine glory. Then, the incarnation itself and the virgin birth as well as the relationship of Christ to God the Father are noted. Stanzas four, five, and six give marvelously succinct and imaginative descriptions of the journeys of Christ—salvation itineraries taken for our sake, from heaven to earth to hell and back again. The final stanza moves us into the stable with the divine infant. (Luther’s version concluded with an original doxology of praise to the Holy Trinity.)
All of the Advent hymns can contribute to our worship, but “Savior of the Nations, Come” has a message and appeal all its own.
(Image by He, Qi. Messiah, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.)
November 9, 2010
"Christ Whose Glory Fills the Skies"
by Len Berghaus
“Christ Whose Glory Fills the Skies” is the Entrance Hymn for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost. This hymn comes to my mind every time I stand on the shore of a remote island in Lake Michigan and take in the setting sun. My family tells me that I have more photographs of the sunset than any other single subject! In our island neighbor's home, there hangs a picture of the setting sun with a caption that reads, "Happiness is seeing the sunset and knowing whom to thank."
Certainly many of us have experienced this awesome encounter with a sunset and have been overcome with the joy of feeling the warmth of God's love, through his Son entering our hearts. Such is the message of this hymn by Charles Wesley, one of some 2000 hymns written in his lifetime. The three stanzas are composed as a prayer. First, Christ is addressed as the glorious one, the true, the righteous and triumphant Dayspring from on high. He, alone, will appear in our hearts and listen to our petitions. Second, we acknowledge that without him in us, all is dark, cheerless, joyless. When we accept his mercies and inward light, we are glad. Finally, we fervently pray that Christ would be welcomed into our hearts, giving us divine knowledge, dispelling unbelief and keeping us in his grace until we join our Triune God on the "perfect day."
Charles Wesley (1707 - 1788) was an English leader of the Methodist movement, son of Samuel Wesley, an Anglican clergyman and poet. Charles and Sarah had eight children, but only three survived infancy. The ELCA Calendar of Saints commemorates Wesley on March 2 with his brother John. As a result of his enduring hymnody, the Gospel Music Association recognized his musical contributions to the art of Gospel music in 1995 by listing his name in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Other hymns written by Wesley that are well known to us include "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing," "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling," and "Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing."
The tune, “Ratisbon,” was written by Johann Gottlieb Werner, who was born near Leipzig in 1777 and died in 1822. It appeared in his Choralbuch in 1815. Its harmony, however, is ascribed to the English cleric William Henry Havergal (1793 - 1870). Ratisbon is the name of a town in Germany, the scene of many important events in the Thirty Years War. The tune may be older than the 1815 date of Werner's Choralbuch.
Healey Willan, an Anglo-Canadian composer who was born in 1880 in Balham, London, and died in 1968 in Toronto, Canada, composed more than 800 musical works and is best known for his religious music. He, of course, played no role in creating this tune or its harmonization. Willan did, however, compose an anthem using the Wesley text and Werner tune, creating a delightful choral work with organ accompaniment.
October 26, 2010
"The Church's One Foundation"
The Sending Hymn for All Saints Sunday, November 7, was born of conflict. The text of the beloved standard “The Church’s One Foundation,” (LBW 689) is the work of Samuel John Stone (1839-1900), a pastor in the Church of England. Stone is chiefly remembered for this stirring defense of Christian doctrine, written in response to the controversial teachings of John William Colenso, first bishop of Natal, South Africa, challenging many Old Testament accounts. The roiling debate created a schism within the South African church.
This upheaval is alluded to in the dramatic words of Verse 3: “Though with a scornful wonder, this world sees her oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed. Yet saints their watch are keeping; their cry goes up: ‘How long?’ And soon the night of weeping, shall be the morn of song.”
Stone was contending for the historic Christian faith against the “liberalists” or “modernists” of his day. “The Church’s One Foundation” was first printed in 1866 in “Lyra Fidelium” (Lyre of the Faithful), Stone’s collection of 12 hymns explaining the 12 articles of faith in the Apostles Creed and defending the fact of the inspiration of Scripture. The title is based on 1 Corinthians 3:11 and Ephesians 2:20.
Today it remains a passionate statement of the basic tenets of Christianity and our hope that one day, “the great Church victorious, shall be the Church at rest.” It’s also apt on All Saints Day, with its reference to “…mystic sweet communion, with those whose rest is won.”
The words are set to the lyrical tune “Aurelia.” The title, meaning “golden,” alludes to its original use as a wedding tune in 1864. It was subsequently published in “A Selection of Psalms and Hymns” edited by Charles Kemble and Samuel Wesley (1810-1876), grandson of Charles.
October 12, 2010
"Out of the Depths I Cry to You"
One of the distribution hymns for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, October 24, "Out of the depths I cry to you," (LBW 295) is very appropriately chosen. Appropriate because it further elucidates the Gospel for the day, Luke 18:9-14, the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector at prayer in the temple. The hymn is a classic Luther hymn for which he wrote the text ("Aus tiefer Not") and the music. The text is based on Psalm 130, "Out of the depths I cry to you,” and is considered one of the finest German Psalm versifications.
The hymn conveys a powerful message rooted in the Reformation teaching of justification by grace through faith alone. Stanza one is a cry to God the Father to send us his grace without our deserving. Stanza two praises God for the gift of faith which crowns our life with grace. Stanza three affirms our hope in God's Word; our fears rest in the same Word. In stanza four the soul waits with hope for the Lord's returning. Like Israel, he hopes for redemption through his Word. The hymn is a good antidote to the popular gospel of works from pulpits and televangelists.
American Lutheran hymnals have anywhere from three to five stanzas. The complete translation of all five stanzas is by Catherine Winkworth, 1863, and contained in TLH, 1941, though the language is somewhat antiquated. A new translation for the LBW was prepared by Gracia Grindal (b. 1943); the same translation is used in the ELW, except that all male references for God and Christ are made gender-neutral.
The hymn has had distinguished use throughout the centuries in congregations, special occasions, and often at funerals. For example, it was sung at the funeral of Elector Friedrich the Wise in Wittenberg in 1525 and at Luther's own funeral on February 20, 1543, in Halle. I cannot remember when I last heard this hymn at a contemporary funeral service. Perhaps we are following our death-denying culture to mask us from the reality of death.
Several different tunes have been associated with this text. The Service Book and Hymnal of 1958 uses the tune from the Strassburg collection Kirchenampt (1525). Both the LBW and ELW use the phrygian-mode melody which is thought to be by Luther. This plaintive melody is especially well-suited to the text. J. S. Bach based Cantata #38 on this hymn.
September 28, 2010
"Keep in Mind That Jesus Christ Has Died for Us"
In the second reading for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost on October 10, the Apostle Paul writes to his most loved friend, Timothy, to "remember that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead according to the gospel" (2 Tim. 2:8). Paul says, “The saying is sure, if we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him" (2 Tim. 2:11-12).
All of the hymns chosen for that Sunday lead us to the message of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. The Entrance Hymn, “Baptized in Water” (WOV 693), speaks of being born of the Spirit and becoming children of God through our baptism. The Hymn of the Day, “Your Hand, O Lord, in Days of Old” (LBW 431) sings of God's healing, restoring speech and sight, and asks God to restore us now with life-giving breath. The hymns "Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing" (LBW 559) and "Thee Will I Love, My Strength, My Tower" (LBW 502) capture the joy of Christian souls praising their maker for the unbounded goodness God has lavished upon them throughout their lives.
The Hymn of the Day, the canticle “Keep in Mind That Jesus Christ Has Died for Us” (LBW 13) is based directly on Paul’s words to Timothy. The text and tune were composed by the Rev. Lucien Deiss, CSSp, who was a Roman Catholic priest, liturgist, author, lecturer, Scripture scholar and composer. He was a native of France and resident of the Seminaire des Missiones in Larue, France. He died on October 9, 2007, and celebrated what he often referred to as "the most joyful day of my life" in returning home to be with his Lord. The truth of God's love for us in his son, Jesus Christ, is beautifully related to us in this canticle.
Learn this canticle; commit it to memory. The refrain is easy to remember. It will become a spiritual supplement to the prayers, bible verses and hymns you have already learned, a reminder of Jesus’ promise of eternal salvation.
September 14, 2010
"All Depends on Our Possessing"
by Carlos Messerli
While the Holy Gospel for September 19, the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, (Luke 16: 1‒13) and its reference to securing ill-gotten gains may seem puzzling at first, its over-arching message is to serve our Lord and Master faithfully in all of life. The Hymn of the Day, "All Depends on Our Possessing" (LBW 447), brings this theme into sharp focus by noting the importance of facing all conditions of life, such as poverty, joy, sorrow, and advancing years, with trust in a loving God. We must never doubt his wisdom. The thought, developed carefully through five stanzas, is summarized simply and directly in the last phrase of the last stanza: “Safe I anchor in his grace.”
The author of the original German text, which dates from 1676, is unknown, but the present English version of 1858 is the work of that master poet-translator, Catherine Winkworth (1829‒1878). Winkworth was a devoted feminist of her time, one who focused her attention chiefly on the higher education of women. She was also one of the most effective English translators of the Lutheran chorale, and is represented in Lutheran Book of Worship through the translation of thirty hymns. Her hymns, of which "All Depends on Our Possessing" is a good example, are known chiefly for their fidelity to the character and thought of the original, but can also be considered gems of English poetry.
The winsome, almost folk-like melody of the hymn is an example of a tune that was reworked several times in the course of various publications; this one was revised in hymnbooks from 1691 through 1793. The earliest form of the melody was written by Johannes Lȍhner; the present version is by Johann Adam Hiller (1728‒1804), the creator of the German light-opera form called Singspiel with its abundance of simple and appealing melodies. Although he is known now for his composition of operatic melodies, Hiller was also one of the later successors of J. S. Bach as Cantor of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig from 1789 to 1800.
August 24, 2010
Hymns About the Lord's Supper
by Stacy Deibler
Over the next several months, we’ll be sampling more hymns from the rich collection in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, the new ELCA hymnal and worship guide. On Sunday, Aug. 29 alone, we will sing three ELW compositions by the distinguished 20th century hymn writers Carl Daw, Brian Wren and Sylvia Dunstan.
Published in 2006, the “new” red book includes a mixture of traditional and contemporary hymns, many new settings of the liturgy, a daily lectionary and other worship resources. The hymn collection spans several centuries, and includes selections from many nations and ethnic traditions. Some lyrics are in Spanish.
The hymns for August 29, all focusing on the Lord’s Supper, were written by an American, a Englishman and a Canadian. The Hymn of the Day, “As We Gather at Your Table" (522; text here), is by Carl Daw, an American scholar and minister widely honored for his contributions to congregational song. Daw retired in 2009 as executive director of the Hymn Society of the United States and Canada.
An Episcopal priest, Daw began writing hymns as a member of the text committee for the 1982 Episcopal hymnal. Today, his joyful, brightly written texts are found in the hymnals of most denominations. “As We Gather” is based on a Dutch melody, arranged by Julius Rontgen (1855-1933).
The first distribution hymn for communion, “All Who Hunger, Gather Gladly" (461), is by the late Sylvia Dunstan (1955-1993), a pastor and administrator in the United Church of Canada. Dunstan began writing poetry and hymns in her youth. She was a gifted hymnal editor. “All Who Hunger,” published shortly before Dunstan’s untimely death, implores us in simple, passionate language to “taste and see that God is good.” The words are set to “Holy Manna,” an Appalachian tune.
The second communion hymn, “I Come With Joy" (482; text here), is the work of England’s Brian Wren. Ordained in the Congregational Church of England and Wales, Wren now teaches at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. Wren is widely known for his workshops, lectures and books on congregational song and worship enrichment. His texts, often touching on contemporary themes, are used by many denominations. “Dove of Peace,” the familiar tune for “I Come with Joy,” is from William Walker’s famous hymn collection, “Southern Harmony.”
July 28, 2010
"Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones"
by Hans Dumpys
Since early times, beginning in the East, August 15 has been observed as the day of Mary's death. Today we honor in our worship "Mary, Mother of our Lord" as one of our minor liturgical festivals. Through the centuries, Mary has been a principal focus of the Church's devotional attention: chosen by God as his servant, from whom Jesus took his flesh, God-bearer, the personification of the old Israel and the new, obedient to the Word of God. The Church honors Mary because she is present at all the important events in Jesus' life: the birth cycle, the miracle at Cana, at the cross, at the tomb, waiting for the Holy Spirit with all the apostles. Since very early times the Church has sung Mary's song, the Magnificat, at Vespers: "My soul magnifies the Lord," (Luke 1:46-56). From the first half of the second century, there are representations of Mary in the catacombs. (Pfatteicher)
The Entrance Hymn for August 15, "Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones" (LBW 175), is very appropriate for this festival. The text was written by J. Athelstan Riley (1858-1945) and is suggested by Greek liturgies and the imagery of Eastern churches. The second stanza is a paraphrase of the Theotokion, the Hymn of Mary, sung in the early Greek church. The last two lines of that stanza refer specifically to Mary: "Thou bearer of the eternal Word, Most gracious, magnify the Lord: Alleluia." For most of his life, Riley was a member of the House of Laymen of the Province of Canterbury, and an ardent supporter of the Anglo-Catholic movement.
The hymn was written for the tune "Lasst uns erfreuen" and was included in The English Hymnal (1906) with the harmonization by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). The melody may have been based on an earlier tune, perhaps a folk song. (Stulken) This joyously exultant hymn of praise owes its musical power to the accumulating force of repetition and is indeed a worthy hymn for the festival of “Mary, Mother of our Lord.”
June 30, 2010
"Open Now Thy Gates of Beauty"
by Len Berghaus
“Open Now Thy Gates of Beauty,” the Entrance Hymn for Sunday, July 11, authored by Benjamin Schmolck, dates back to 1732. Schmolck was the son of a Lutheran pastor and was himself ordained as an assistant pastor in his father's congregation in Barauchitzdorf, Silesia, in 1701. He wrote many devotional books and was the author of some 900 hymns.
This hymn was translated from German into English by Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878). She is best known for bringing the German chorale tradition to English with her book "The Chorale Book for England." She is considered the most prolific of all translators of German hymns.
This very loving hymn of adoration is a prayer to God in which the soul patiently asks permission to enter into the Lord's presence knowing that God will answer this prayer. The five stanzas petition for spiritual gifts: enter my heart, make it your temple; let my soul bring forth precious fruits; increase my faith and comfort me in strife; speak, Lord, and I will hear and do your will.
The composer of the tune is Joachim Neander, a Calvinist born in Bremen in 1650. He, like Schmolck, was a poet and writer of hymns, though not as prolific as Schmolck. We are most familiar with his hymn “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation.” He died at the age of 30 of tuberculosis.
At Grace Church, “Open Now Thy Gates of Beauty,” as far back as Paul Bouman remembers, was the traditional favorite that started all church and school activities every September on the first Sunday after Labor Day. (This means at least as far back as 1953!) As the hymn pictures the heavenly Zion as a physical space, with gates and walls, we can picture our earthly Grace space and let it become the place where we come to worship frequently and without reservation to find and adore our God, our Redeemer.
June 9, 2010
"Lord, Thee I Love With All My Heart"
by Hans Dumpys
The Hymn of the Day for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, June 27, is "Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart" ("Herzlich Lieb hab’ ich dich, O Herr"; LBW 325). The text by Martin Schalling (1532–1608) is based on Psalms 18 and 73 and was first published in a collection in Nuremberg in 1571. The son of the pastor in Strassburg, Schalling was a favorite student of Phillip Melanchthon at the University of Wittenberg. He lived and worked in a time of great turmoil and controversy in Protestant Germany. He held several pastorates but was forced to give up pastoral work for a time for theological and political reasons. Once he was even under house arrest for three years. Eventually he returned to pastoral work.
Out of this difficult life situation came Schalling's amazing grace-filled hymn. The text reads like a meditation of a believing soul on his life and death before Jesus Christ. There is no time or situation in life when the believer is not surrounded by a gracious God. The words are heartfelt, immediate, and personal, focused on God's sheltering grace. This is a favorite hymn at funerals, but it surely can be taken to heart by believers at any stage in life.
In the opening stanza the author declares his unshakable trust in God, and prays that he would never forsake him in life and in death. He wants to glorify God by serving the neighbor. Typical of the turmoil of that time, he prays not to be lured by false teaching, not by Satan's temptations; instead he asks for patience to bear his cross in following his Lord. In the final verse he contemplates his death and prays that angels bear him home so that he may die without fear. He looks forward to being awakened from death for the ultimate blessing—to behold the glorious face of Jesus.
The translator of the hymn was Catherine Winkworth (1829–1879). The tune, Herzlich Lieb, is by an unknown composer. It was included in Bernhard Schmid's collection (1577) of early organ music, secular songs, motets, and dances. The harmonization was prepared by Friedrich Zipp (b. 1914), organist, choirmaster, music critic, professor at the Hochschule für Musik, Frankfurt. J. S. Bach employed the melody in his St. John Passion.
May 19, 2010
"Come, Gracious Spirit, Heavenly Dove"
Simon Browne’s stirring “Come, Gracious Spirit, Heavenly Dove” (LBW 475) is the Entrance Hymn for the Day of Pentecost, Sunday, May 23.
The simple lyrics evoke the image of the Holy Spirit first descending upon Christ at his baptism as a “heavenly dove, with light and comfort from above.” (John 1:32) “Come be our guardian and our guide,” we sing. “O’er every thought and step preside.” We conclude the 50 days of the Easter season on Pentecost by celebrating the descent of the Holy Spirit on Christ’s disciples.
Browne (1680-1732) was an English pastor and theologian. He began preaching before he was 20. Early on, Browne joined the Dissenters, Christians who separated from the prevailing Church of England (as did another famous hymn-writer, Isaac Watts). Browne pastored independent churches in Portsmouth and London.
“Come, Gracious Spirit, Heavenly Dove” was first published in 1720. A prodigious writer, Browne published many other hymns, three hymn collections, a “Defense of Christianity,” and other books. Following the death of his wife and son in 1723, Browne withdrew from church life, suffering from a peculiar delusion that God had “annihilated” his powers of thought, but he continued to write and publish.
Browne’s text is set to the familiar tune “Wareham,” by William Knapp (1698-1768). A prolific musician and hymn writer himself, Knapp’s published works include two sets of hymns and anthems (1738, 1753). He served as parish clerk at St. John’s Church, Poole, Dorsetshire, England, for four decades. Another familiar hymn, “The Church of Christ in Every Age” (LBW 433), is set to the same melody.
May 5, 2010
"Alleluia! Jesus Is Risen"
It's much too early to designate the Entrance Hymn for next Sunday as a "classic" (it was written just 15 years ago), but it has many of the attributes of such a designation and could well join the roster of great resurrection hymns. Traditionally, generations of singers and decades of time would have to pass before "Alleluia! Jesus Is Risen" (With One Voice 674) could be recognized as a treasured part of the "heritage." But it contains classic ingredients: a stimulating devotional text of poetic substance rich in biblical imagery, wedded to an unusual, yet substantial, tune that has found wide and serious acceptance in the church.
An Easter hymn, "Alleluia! Jesus Is Risen," gives the singer significant phrases that reflect joy in the resurrection of Christ, but also direct thought towards various images of Christ and his ministry. He is at once the sacrificial Lamb and the "river of life," the vine as well as the "fruit of the tree" of the cross. With the disciples going towards Emmaus after his resurrection, we are "walking the way" and "breaking the bread"; we are later to be "clothed in wonder," adorned in "the light" of the Lamb upon our own resurrection.
The text was written at the behest of the editors of With One Voice by the Rev. Herbert Brokering, who also wrote the texts for "Earth and All Stars" (LBW 558) and "Thine the Amen" (WOV 801). Born in 1926, the author attended a one-room school in Beatrice, Nebraska, and eventually received his M.Div degree from Trinity Seminary. His career covered many fields of service: refugee ministry, parish ministry, directing the national confirmation education program of the American Lutheran Church, teaching at the U. S. Navy Chaplain's School, and seminary teaching in Minneapolis and Columbus, Ohio. In addition, he is perhaps chiefly recognized as the author of 40 books and as a hymn writer. Pastor Brokering died in 2009.
The hymn tune, named "Earth and All Stars," was composed for the hymn of that name by David N. Johnson (1922‒1987). After noteworthy war-time military service, Johnson completed a
Doctor of Music degree at Syracuse University. A distinguished organist, he eventually became chair of the music department of St. Olaf College and professor of music and university organist at Syracuse. After moving to Arizona he taught at Arizona State University and served as musician at Trinity Episcopal church in Phoenix. A widely-recognized composer, Dr. Johnson wrote over 300 compositions, mostly for church use, as well as a number of other hymn tunes.
April 21, 2010
"You Servants of God"
The Entrance Hymn for the Fourth Sunday of Easter on April 25, "You Servants of God," was written in 1744, a year of political and religious turmoil in Britain. Charles Wesley, author of this hymn and a strong proponent of the newly formed Methodist societies, anonymously published Hymns for Times of Trouble and Persecution. This text, in seventeen stanzas, was the first of these hymns to be sung in such a time. In the Lutheran Book of Worship only four stanzas remain of the original seventeen, offering us a hymn that expresses thankful praise to Christ for his victorious reign and for providing salvation for his people.
The tune, "Lyons," was composed by Johann Michael Haydn, younger brother of Joseph Haydn. He was born in Rohrau, Austria, in 1737, baptized on September 14, 1737, and died on August 10, 1806. Michael Haydn's works include more than 400 pieces of religious music; his sacred choral works are generally regarded as his most important.
April 7, 2010
"That Easter Day With Joy Was Bright"
The Hymn of the Day for the Third Sunday of Easter (April 18) is the joyous "That Easter Day with Joy was Bright" (LBW 154). The text comes from an old Latin hymn of the fourth or fifth century, Claro paschali gaudio, sometimes ascribed to Bishop Ambrose (339-397). John Mason Neale's translation first published in the Hymnal Noted (1851) has been extensively altered in other hymnals, including in the LBW.
In many English uses, the hymn was divided between matins (after midnight) and lauds (at sunrise) from the Second Sunday of Easter until the Ascension. Thus it conveys the Easter message of the risen Lord throughout the season of Easter in a dynamic lilting rhythm. More specifically, it celebrates the unusual brightness of the day, causing the apostles to see the risen Lord. He possesses our hearts with gentle love. As Lord he is our strength and shield against the ravages of death. Our response to the Easter event is nothing less than a doxology of praise to the Holy Trinity (st. 4).
The tune, Erschienen ist der herrlich Tag, was composed by teacher, poet, and composer Nikolaus Herman (ca. 1480-1561), and is based on the Easter antiphon Ad monumentum venimus. Jan Bender's (1909-1994) harmonization, prepared for the Worship Supplement of 1969, appears in The Lutheran Hymnal and Lutheran Book of Worship. Bach used a setting of this melody in Cantata 145.
March 24, 2010
"A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth"
The great German pastor and hymn writer Paul Gerhardt (1607-1674) captures powerfully both the suffering of Christ at the cross and the glory of His sacrifice “to save a world of sinners” in his moving Passion hymn, “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth” (LBW 105). Our sending hymn for Palm Sunday (March 28), Gerhardt’s meditation is a perfect text to begin Holy Week.
Modern congregations no longer sing the original 15 stanzas, which trace Christ’s journey to Calvary and our fitting response of repentance, love and praise. The words recall many passages in the Old and New Testaments, especially those pointing to Christ as the Lamb of God, willing to die “for the inequity of us all.” The final verse offers a rich picture of Christ’s – and our – victory over death.
Despite his own personal suffering and the horrors of the Thirty Years War, Gerhardt wrote more than 130 hymns, expressing both orthodox doctrines and emotional warmth in response.
The plaintive tune for this hymn, An Wasserflussen Babylon, is generally attributed to Wolfgang Dachstein (1487-1553). A monk in Strasbourg, German, Dachstein served as organist at Strasbourg Cathedral. After embracing the Reformation in 1524, he moved to Strasbourg’s St. Thomas Church which was Lutheran.
March 10, 2010
"Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me"
The Hymn of the Day on March 21, "Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me" (LBW 336), is a prayer initiated with praise and thanks reflecting the endless love which Jesus has for "me." The desires of the heart are expressed by one who wants to be drawn closer to Jesus in all aspects, through words, deeds, thoughts, hopes, through the sad storms of life, so that ultimately he will draw "me" closer and closer until the end of this earthly life. This hymn was written by the German hymn writer Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676). Gerhardt's poetry shows deep devotion with no sentimentality, but with fine sensitivity, and at the same time, it is sturdy with meaning.
Gerhardt wrote 123 hymns. Three of his most well-known are: "Awake, My Heart with Gladness," "Now All the Woods Are Sleeping," and "All My Heart This Night Rejoices." He was no stranger to grief. Four of his five children died very young. His wife also died after years of sorrow from the loss of so many children, and she left him with one son to raise, a son six years in age. Throughout all of this crushing turmoil, he remained strongly resilient in his faith.
In 1628, Gerhardt enrolled at the University of Wittenberg where Luther had done much of his work a century before. He moved to Berlin around 1642. There he was a highly influential, revered minister. His poetry came to the attention of Johann Crüger (1598-1662), the cantor and organist at the Nicolaikirche. They collaborated in their work and had a friendship which endured many years.
John Wesley (1703-1791) translated the hymn. Wesley was the founder of the Methodist movement in England which encouraged people to experience Jesus Christ personally.
The tune to which "Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me" is set is entitled Ryburn. (The Ryburn River flows through West Yorkshire, England.) It was composed by Norman Cocker (1889-1953). He was born in Yorkshire, was a chorister at Magdelene College, Oxford, and in 1920 became the assistant organist at Manchester Cathedral. Interestingly, Cocker was an amateur conjurer.
February 24, 2010
"The God of Abraham Praise"
Other than the hymns based on the Psalms, there are not many hymns in our Lutheran Book of Worship based on Jewish texts. One of our greatest hymns and one with a distinctly Jewish heritage is "The God of Abraham Praise," the Entrance Hymn for February 28, the Second Sunday in Lent. We should not be dismayed by its length (11 stanzas!) for it is a hymn with a great history that has much to say to us. Here is the story:
Long ago, in the 12th century, the brilliant Jewish scholar, physician and teacher, Moses Maimonides of Spain and later Egypt, created the 13 articles of the Hebrew Creed, a statement as foundational for Jews as our own Apostles' Creed is for us. These articles were then cast in the metrical form of a hymn (the "Yigdal") by either Daniel ben Judah or Immanuel ben Solomon, both 14th century poets.
When Thomas Olivers (1725-1799) heard the Yigdal sung in a Jewish synagogue in London, he was so moved by the depth of its thought and beauty that he prepared a Christian paraphrase of it and set it to a tune transcribed from the Hebrew Yigdal for Olivers by Meyer Lyon, a Jewish cantor and opera singer.
This long hymn extols the virtues of the God of Abraham, and traces God's powerful hand of creation and guidance of all that is and is to come. We bow to acknowledge his love for us throughout our earthly journey, at last to be borne on eagles' wings to see his face and "sing the wonders of his grace." The scriptural allusions of each stanza are rich and poignant, well served by the stirring poetic language.
Some congregations have found that a hymn of this length requires singing stanzas in alternation between congregation and choirs or soloists - placed in various recesses of the nave - to give the people time to catch their breath and pause for reflection. Whether sung that way or by the people throughout, this is truly a great hymn with a historic past, a paean of praise to the Almighty, a pledge of trust in his mercy, full of relevance and meaning for the present. A magnificent hymn with which to begin worship.
February 10, 2010
"O Lord, Throughout These Forty Days"
As we begin our Lenten journey to the cross, the Entrance Hymn for February 21, the first Sunday in Lent, calls our attention to the example Jesus set for us.
The hymn was written by Claudia Frances Hermann (1838-1898) who was born in Addlestone, Surrey, a county bordering greater London. She wrote about 150 hymns and translated others from Latin. Many of these were included in her "Child's Book of Praise; A Manual of Devotion in Simple Verse" (1873). "O Lord, Throughout These Forty Days" was one of those published in this book. The hymn was written with five stanzas. Between the time Gilbert E. Doan (b.1930) paraphrased the original text and the inclusion of this hymn in Lutheran Book of Worship, the fourth stanza was omitted.*
The tune, “Caithness,” was first published in "The Psalmes of David in Prose and Meeter" (Edinburgh, 1635). The setting is from The English Hymnal (1906). Caithness is a county in far northeast Scotland bordered by the Pentland of Firth and the North Sea.
And through these days of penitence,
And through thy Passion,
Yea, evermore, in life and death,
Jesus! with us abide.
January 27, 2010
"Isaiah in a Vision of Old"
Hans G. Dumpys
The Old Testament reading for the 5th Sunday after Epiphany (February 7) is the call narrative of the prophet Isaiah (6:1-8). Isaiah experienced a vision of God's awesome holiness and majesty in the temple where the seraphim (literally, "fiery ones," the Lord's attendants) were ceaselessly calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory" (6:3). The triple holy is an intensive superlative. This text from Isaiah together with the text of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem - "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord" (Mark 11:9) - constitutes the text of the Sanctus in our liturgy of the Great Thanksgiving.
On this Sunday we sing an alternative Sanctus that is closely related to the Old Testament lesson: it is Luther's majestic hymn "Isaiah in a Vision of Old" ("Jesaia, dem Propheten"; LBW 528), a paraphrase of Isaiah 6:3. This version is rarely incorporated in the liturgy due to its unfamiliarity, though it enriches our worship of God in an alternative manner.
The text of Luther's German Sanctus was included in his German Mass and the order of worship, Wittenberg, 1526. "Ulrich Leupold notes that in later 16th century agendas it was suggested that the part of the hymn beginning 'Holy, Holy, Holy' be sung with special gravity and dignity, and that in city churches it was customary for three altar boys to intone that section while kneeling before the altar." The translator of the hymn is Martin H. Franzmann (1907-1976).
The tune Jesaia dem Propheten was adapted by Luther from an 11th century plainsong which was used on Sundays during Advent and Lent. The LBW version of this melody was included in Gystliche Lieder, Leipzig, 1545. The harmonization for the LBW was prepared by Carl Schalk.
January 13, 2010
"O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright"
by Stacy Deibler
What we tend to think of today as the most joyous of hymns, “O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright” (LBW 76), the entrance hymn for Jan. 17, was born of tragedy.
The text and tune are both the work of Philip Nicolai (1556-1608), a Lutheran pastor in Germany. During his years in Unna, Westphalia, bubonic plague killed hundreds of Nicolai’s parishioners. To comfort worshippers, Nicolai wrote a series of meditations which he called Freudenspiegel dess Ewigen Lebens (“The Joyous Mirror of Eternal Life”). To this he appended two uplifting hymns, both of which became world-famous.
The first was the Advent favorite, “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying” (LBW 31). The second, “O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright,” is filled with rich imagery hailing Christ as our light and our deliverer, celebrating the hope of eternal life in “that happy place beyond all tears and sinning.”
Used in Germany for many years at weddings and funerals, this hymn is now sung most often at Epiphany due to the images of light in the text. At Epiphany, we celebrate the manifestation of the divine nature of Jesus, the morning star (Rev: 22:16) who triumphs over darkness, shining “with God’s own truth and light, aglow with grace and mercy.” The journey of the Magi, who followed Christ’s star, is a major biblical theme of Epiphany.
The earliest English version was by Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878), of Manchester, England, a well-known translator of German hymns who published several hymn collections.
“O Morning Star” is sometimes called the “queen of chorales.” The harmony we know is by J.S. Bach (circa 1731). Bach’s cantata “How Beautifully Shines the Morning Star” (Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern), composed in 1725, includes the words of Nicolai’s hymn in movements 1 and 6.
Though written over 400 years ago, “O Morning Star. How Fair and Bright” still speaks powerfully to us today!
December 30, 2009
“Oh, Love, How Deep”
by Bruce Cordes
“Oh, Love, How Deep” (LBW 88) serves as the Entrance Hymn on January 10 - The Baptism of Our Lord. A biblical reference for the text is Ephesians 3:17-18: “How wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” The hymn opens with a statement of awe regarding the depth, breadth and height of God’s love in sending his Son to take on human form for mortals’ sake. The next stanzas express that it was not an angel from heaven, but God’s own Son, Jesus, who took on the role of Savior. His baptism, fasting and temptation in the wilderness, prayer, teaching, miracles, and great suffering and death on Calvary were all for us. His dying was not in vain, the hymns reminds us, as it ends in Jesus’ triumphant resurrection, ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit to guide and cheer us to heaven. The final stanza is a glorious doxology of praise.
The hymn is supported by a majestic tune, Deo Gracias, or the “Agincourt Hymn,” “Carol,” or “Song” as it is variously called. The original Latin text was set to an anonymously composed melody in 1415 for the celebration of the decisive victory of the English over the French at Agincourt during the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453). The French lost some 6000 knights and men-at-arms while the English lost fewer than 450 men.
John Dunstable (1385-1453), an English composer, greatly influenced early Renaissance music. He lived at the time of Joan of Arc (1412-1431). He may have been the composer of the tune and the well-known organ work based on the tune.
Thomas á Kempis (1380-1471), a medieval Catholic monk, is credited with the writing of the text. He was born in Germany but lived mostly in the Netherlands. He is best known for his Christian books on devotion. The translation of the text was done by Benjamin Webb (1819-1885). He was educated at Cambridge University and ordained in the Church of England.
December 9, 2009
"Savior of the Nations Come"
by Carlos Messerli
When in spirit you join in the procession singing the Entrance Hymn on the Fourth Sunday in Advent, you will literally be participating in a centuries-old custom of singing the hymn that perfectly prepares one to think about the nature and meaning of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ: "Savior of the Nations, Come" (LBW 28). Traditionally sung as the Hymn of the Day on the First Sunday in Advent, it is one of the few hymns that we still sing, even though both text and tune originated more than 16 centuries ago. The hymn first appeared as a Latin text by Bishop Ambrose, sung to an appealing Gregorian Chant melody. More than 1,100 years later, Martin Luther took the then-legendary hymn, translated it and reworked the tune to suit the German language. The LBW English translation is the work of several authors, but the tune of Luther has been preserved without change.
The hymn illustrates Luther’s view that hymns should teach the faith to young and old alike. Luther would say, they are enjoyable to sing, and they are well capable of arousing Christian devotion, but he valued the ability of a hymn to articulate the Gospel—in other words, to indoctrinate!
The first stanza of "Savior of the Nations, Come" invites the Savior to come to us and receive our praise. Stanzas 2 and 3 anticipate the mystery and majesty of the Christmas Event, the Incarnation. In the 4th, 5th, and 6th stanzas the course and purpose of Christ’s journey from heaven to earth and back again to heaven are extolled. Stanza 7 tenderly anticipates the glory of the manger-birth of the Savior that we commemorate at Christmas.
This is a hymn worthy of imprinting permanently on our hearts and minds—an Advent hymn that countless Christians have committed to memory to carry with them throughout life until they join their Savior in eternity.
November 25, 2009
"On Jordan's Bank the Baptist's Cry" by Len Berghaus
"On Jordan's Bank the Baptist's Cry" is the Hymn of the Day for December 6, the second Sunday in Advent. All four Gospel writers introduce John as the Baptizer who appears in the wilderness of Judea to announce that the Lord's coming is near. The prophet Isaiah says: "A voice is calling out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way for the Lord; make the paths straight for Him.'"
The first stanza of this hymn is like a trumpet fanfare that explodes into the whole world and into each one of our hearts the long awaited announcement of the birth of the world's Savior. Wake up! The news is great! And through the inner stanzas we invite each other to prepare for this welcomed guest and to honor Him. We ask for the Lord's blessing upon our lives, that we be favored with good health and strength to endure until life's end. The concluding stanza praises the triune God for the freedom we have gained through the gift of his Son.
Charles Coffin is the author of this great hymn. He was born in Buzancy, Ardennes, France, on October 4, 1676. In 1736, the majority of his hymns, including this one, appeared in the Paris Breviary (a liturgical collection of services for the Roman Catholic Church). Stanzas 1-3 were translated from Latin into English by John Chandler; stanzas 4-5, the translator is unknown. Charles Coffin died on June 20, 1749, in Paris and was forbidden by the rector of his parish to receive the last rites or to have a Christian burial because of his persistence in appealing against the papal Constitution Unigenitas of 1713.
The composer Michael Praetorius (1571-1621), the youngest son of a Lutheran pastor, is familiar to us as the writer of this hymn and the beloved chorales "Lo, How a Rose is Growing" and "In Dulci Jubilo."
November 11, 2009
"Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying" by Hans Dumpys
The sending hymn for the first Sunday in Advent is the majestic chorale by Philip Nicolai "Wake, awake, for night is flying" LBW #31, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme. He wrote both the German text and the music for this hymn. Nicolai (1556-1608) was a Lutheran pastor in several towns and cities in Germany, ending his pastoral work in Hamburg where he was renowned for his preaching ("the second Chrysostom").
Within six months in 1597-1598, 1300 of his church members died of the Bubonic plague which swept across Germany. It was one of the worst times in European history. To be able to live with the awful suffering all around him, Pastor Nicolai wrote meditations on eternal life, Freudenspiegel des ewigen Lebens (Joyful mirror of eternal life), published in 1599. In the worst moments of his life he composed a hymn and attached it to his meditations. The hymn was "Wake, awake, for night is flying", also known as "the King of Chorals".
The author uses several biblical images to convey the message of the hymn: a watchman on a city wall, Jerusalem (Isaiah 52:8), the parable of the bridesmaids welcoming the Bridegroom to the marriage feast (Matthew 25:1-13), and the song of triumph in heaven (Revelation 19:6-9).
The three stanzas of the hymn are like a drama in three acts. The first stanza conveys a stern message of preparation for the coming of the Bridegroom, both public, the city of Jerusalem, and personal, the wise virgins: "Wake up, stay alert, the night is coming to an end and a new day is dawning." (From what do we need to be awakened and stay alert in this Advent season for the coming of the Blessed One?)
Stanza two describes the coming of the Bridegroom from heaven to be with us, culminating in the celebration of the Holy Communion/Heavenly Banquet (Abendmal halten). Stanza three describes the adoration of the Blessed One, both communal and cosmic. "May gloria be sung to you...and hallelujahs eternally," as the original German version has it.
The translation is by Catherine Winkworth (1829-1878), in Lyrica Germanica, second series, 1858. It is altered for the LBW. The translation does not always capture the exact image or the meaning of the text. The tune appears to be based on the Silberweise by Hans Sachs. J.S. Bach based cantata #140 on Nicolai's hymn and also arranged a movement of that cantata as one of the Schuebler Chorales for organ.
October 28, 2009
"Jesus, Still Lead On" by Stacy Deibler
The richly melodic “Jesus. Still Lead On” (LBW 341), the sending hymn for Sunday, Nov. 15, speaks eloquently of the roadblocks and the rewards of following Christ. The author, Count Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700-1760) was intimately acquainted with both.
Born into aristocracy and wealth, von Zinzendorf inherited a great estate in the German province of Saxony. There he provided a haven for persecuted Moravians. A devout Christian himself, Zinzendorf joined them in establishing a model community of saints (the village of Hernhut) devoted to prayer, praise, Bible study and mutual support. In 1738, John Wesley visited “this happy place,” and was so impressed that he commented in his journal: “I would gladly have spent my life here…oh, when shall this Christianity cover the earth as the waters cover the sea?”
Zinzendorf wrote some 2,000 hymns. The Moravians translated many into other languages for use in their wide-reaching mission work. The English version of “Jesus, Still Lead On” comes to us courtesy of Jane Borthwick (1813-1897), a Scot who aided the Moravians in their mission efforts. Borthwick and her sister, Sarah Findlater, co-produced a book of translations of German hymns called “Hymns from the Land of Luther,” first published in 1854.
The tune (Seelenbrautigan), is by Adam Drese (1620-1701), a German musician. Once Kapellmeister to royalty, by the late 17th century he was devoting his talents to the Pietist movement.
The LBW includes a second beloved hymn by von Zinzendorf, “Jesus, Your Blood and Righteousness” (302).
September 30, 2009
"All My Hope on God Is Founded" by Bruce Cordes
The Sending Hymn for Sunday, October 11, is “All My Hope on God Is Founded” (WOV 782), a powerful statement of faith which calls us to trust God rather than “mortal pride” or “earthly glory.” We are reminded that “sword and crown betray our trust.” It calls us to praise the God whose “great goodness e’er endureth.”
Joachim Neander (1650-1680) wrote the words later paraphrased by Robert Bridges (1844-1930). Neander was a German Reformed Church teacher, theologian and hymn writer whose most famous hymn, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation” is generally regarded as one of the greatest hymns of the Christian church. Neander wrote about 60 hymns and provided tunes for many of them. An interesting fact is that a valley in Germany was named after Neander. It became famous in 1856 when the remains of the Neanderthal Man were found there. (‘Thal‘ means valley.) Thus the Neanderthal Man was named indirectly after a hymn writer.
The tune, “Michael,” was named after Herbert Howells’ son who died suddenly of polio. Howells (1892-1983), born in England, was recognized at an early age as one with strong musical talents. He became famous as a composer and organist. At an early age, he suffered from a severe case of hyperthyroidism. As the first person to receive radium as a treatment, Howells successfully overcame the disease and lived 70 years longer. His great remorse upon his son’s death led him to compose the tune “Michael” for “All My Hope on God Is Founded.”
September 16, 2009
"In Thee Is Gladness" by Len Berghaus
This delightful hymn truly deserves the more appropriate title of “Chorale”! One can easily trace its text and tune into the Baroque era from whence came many of these hymns so familiar to the Christian church. The text of “In Dir ist Freude,” or as we know it, “In Thee is Gladness,” is found as early as 1594 in a collection of 20 Christmas carols first printed in Erfurt (Germany) with its sacred text. The text of “In Dir ist Freude” replaced the secular one with its Fa la la la las for the author/composer’s balletti , a vocal dance by Giovanni Gastoldi, printed in Venice in 1591.
The tune, also by Gastoldi, with the harmonization as we know it, has remained basically unchanged from its original setting. If Martin Luther once said that the devil should not get all the good tunes, here, certainly is one case about which there can be no debate: the Church has found favor with an exceptional example of the secular crossing the line into the sacred.
From my perspective and experience, this chorale finds its ultimate success when the congregation sings it as if it were the last song to sing in its life. We at Grace know how to do this; the opportunity comes to us again on September 27. This is the last or “sending hymn” of the service. J.S Bach composed only one setting of this chorale and it will serve as the postlude following the dismissal. Stay for 2-1/2 minutes and savor the bursts of joy that exude from this organ prelude.
September 2, 2009
"Children of the Heavenly Father" by Stacy Deibler
The Hymn of the Day for Sunday, September 20, "Children of the Heavenly Father" (LBW 474), recalls the rich Swedish heritage of the Lutheran Church.
Karolina Wilhelmina (Lina) Sandell-Berg (1832-1903), who wrote the words, was the daughter of Jonas Sandell, a Lutheran pastor in Froderyd, Smaland, Sweden. A poet and devout Christian, she dedicated her life to spreading the Gospel. Known as the Fanny Crosby of Sweden, Sandell-Berg wrote hundreds of hymns, many later brought to this country. The heartfelt words of "Children of the Heavenly Father" flow from I John 3:1 ("Behold what matter of love the Father has bestowed on, that we should be called children of God!"). The hymn was translated into English by hymnal editor Ernst W. Olson (1870-1958), a Swede who'd emigrated to America. It was first published in 1925.
Sandell-Berg's hymns owed much of their popularity to the efforts of Oskar Ahnfelt (1813-1882), known as Sweden's "Spiritual Troubadour." Ahnfelt composed or arranged the music for all of Sandell-Berg's hymns. "Children of the Heavenly Father" is based on Swedish folk melody. Ahnfelt traveled through Scandinavia singing Sandell's hymns, accompanying himself on a 10-string guitar.
The hymn is often sung at baptisms and funerals in Sweden and the U.S. Legend has it that Sandell-Berg wrote the touching text following the tragic death of her father in a boating accident.
"I once sang the bass line of ‘Children of the Heavenly Father' in a room with about 3,000 Lutherans in it, and when we finished, we all had tears in our eyes, partly from the promise that God will not forsake us, partly from the proximity of all those lovely voices. By joining in harmony, we somehow promise that we will not forsake each other." Garrison Keillor
August 19, 2009
"O God, My Faithful God" by Carlos Messerli
On Sunday, August 30, we will hear in the second lesson (James 1:17-27) the command: "Be doers of the word and not merely hearers." Later, in the Holy Gospel Jesus lays out principles for a holy life. The Hymn of the Day, "O God, My Faithful God" (LBW 504), reinforces these thoughts with advice for daily living, all set to memorable poetry and a venerable tune. The four stanzas of the hymn focus on our total reliance on God and provide a prayer for strength to love and serve others in specific thoughts and actions. The hymn provides strong daily motivation for living out the Gospel of Christ. The original hymn text contained eight stanzas. The stanzas omitted in LBW describe how a dedicated Christian life naturally leads to a peaceful death in Christ.
The text was written by Johann Heermann (1585-1647), a German Lutheran pastor who suffered greatly during the ravages of the Thirty Years' War, even to losing his personal possessions three times. The present hymn reflects his great faith and strength of character in the midst of adversity.
The composer of the hymn tune is unknown, although the melody first appeared in a hymn collection edited in 1679 by Ahasverus Fritsch. Pastor Fritsch was another German Lutheran pastor who suffered greatly in the Thirty Years' War, but through the early guidance of a persevering mother received a good education and ultimately became the Chancellor of the University of Jena. The LBW tune may be familiar to some because it was sung to the words "What is the World to Me" in The Lutheran Hymnal.