HYMN 128 Lord, Jesus Christ, Be Present Now
Updated: Jul 28, 2020
Danish: O Herre Krist! Dig til oss vend
German: Herr Jesus Christ, dich zu uns wend
Norwegian: O Herre Krist, deg til oss vend
Swedish: O Jesus Krist, dig till oss vänd
Text: Duke Wilhelm II Saxe-Weimar (1598-1662). Tune: Anonymous, 1628
1. Lord Jesus Christ, be present now, Our hearts in true devotion bow, Your Spirit send with grace divine, And let your truth within us shine.
2. Unseal our lips to sing your praise, Our souls to you in worship raise, Make strong our faith, increase our light, That we may know your name aright.
3. Until we join the hosts that cry, "Holy are you, O Lord Most High!" And in the light of that blest place Fore'er behold you face to face.
4. Glory to God the Father, Son, And Holy Spirit, Three in One! To you, O blessed Trinity, Be praise throughout eternity! Tr. Catherine Winkworth
Every concert of the Augsburg Choir when I was in it, 1962-1965, began with an anthem based on this chorale. It was one of Sateren’s better pieces, and he liked it because the unison singing at the beginning gave him a sense for the place where we were singing it. It gave us confidence, too, I think as a choir: to fill the room with praise that was striking in its simplicity at the beginning and then moved into eight real parts. And it was a perfect Trinitarian invocation for the beginning of our concert.
Hearing it brings back floods of memories. The choir sang it on tour the summer of 1965 in Norway, Denmark and Germany in every kind of church and venue. We were housed on the Eliezer mission boat and lived there for nearly a month as we traveled into many little fjords and inlets along the way from Trondheim to Kristiansand where we left for Denmark on midsummer night. I remember our concert in the Stavanger Cathedral especially well, standing in the alto section, looking steadily at Sateren as he directed. My eyes wandered and he made it clear he saw that. "Watch me!" he gestured, terrifying me. But a good memory.
The prayer invoking the presence of Jesus Christ before the sermon has been a ritual of Protestants. Henry Horn, the sage of Eastern Lutherans, taught with me for several years at Luther Seminary. In talking about hymns such as this he spoke about the moment of entering the pulpit to this song, or another like it, such as "Dearest Jesus, Draw thou near me." He remembered, he said with awe, looking out into the congregation and seeing in the faces of his congregation whose experiences of the week he knew, and understood their needs and great expectations. This is what they had come for, and their prayers that the sermon would be rich with the presence of their Lord Jesus Christ filled him with awe. The high moment for him in the Lutheran service.
"Unseal our lips to sing thy praise." Perfect for a concert of sacred music. We need to pray that we will be able to sing praises. We need the Lord to help us both pray and hear. As Henry made clear, it was something that made you work hard on your sermon. You did not want to stand in the pulpit with nothing to say.
Seminary students would rightly tremble at the notion of having to be ready for such a privilege and grave responsibility. It might have been tempting to work instead on being experimental with the liturgy, and being routine about the sermon. Exactly turned around. While the liturgy should be done with grace and dignity, the sermon is contemporary and speaks especially to the issues of the people sitting there. They have come to hear the Word of God connect with their daily lives. To know that Christ is with them and for them, right now. is what they came for. This hymn has the entire congregation sing its prayer that the preacher will arrive and preach Jesus. Every Sunday!
The hymn is from the Thirty Years War. We are not quite sure who wrote it. Duke Wilhelm II of Saxe-Weimar is credited with it, but that is not quite certain. He joined forces with Gustavus Adolphus who promoted him. He was so badly wounded on the field he was left for dead. As Duke, he called Georg Neumark, the writer of "If thou but trust in God to guide thee," to be the court poet. The Duke was highly honored for his piety and literary works. This hymn was first printed in 1651, but not with the Duke’s name. That came later in a hymnal printed in 1676. Ever since it has been associated with this name. The tune appeared in 1648, but the composer is not clear.
The hymn became the sermon hymn for many Lutherans in the German duchies at the time and quickly spread throughout the Lutheran lands. In 1717 it was translated and appeared in Denmark and came later to Norway in 1840 in Wexel’s hymnal. Lutheran immigrants brought it to America where it became well beloved. Some have said that Bach’s congregation sang it every Sunday just before the sermon as the pastor prepared to preach.. He wrote several choral preludes on it. It was a kind of Holy, Holy, Holy of its time.
LINKS Augsburg Choir https://youtu.be/ph71HJSSeEM
Ev. Kaiser-Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche https://youtu.be/f2VjYIMUAf4
Bach Chorale Prelude BWV 655