Text: Reginald Heber (1783-1826) Tune: Welsh folk/Ar hyd I nos
1 God, who made the earth and heaven, Darkness and light: You the day for work have given, For rest the night. May your angel guards defend us, Slumber sweet your mercy send us, Holy dreams and hopes attend us, All through the night.
2 And when morn again shall call us To run life's way, May we still whate'er befall us, Your will obey. From the pow'r of evil hide us, In the narrow pathway guide us, Never be your smile denied us All through the day.
3 Guard us waking, guard us sleeping, And, when we die, May we in your mighty keeping All peaceful lie. When the trumpet's call shall wake us, Then, O Lord, do not forsake us, But to reign in glory take us With you on high.
4 Holy Father, throned in heaven, All holy Son, Holy Spirit freely given, Blest Three in One: Grant us grace we now implore you, Till we lay our crowns before you And in worthier strains adore you While ages run.
MEDITATION Just hearing the beginning strains of this hymn brings me close to the land of nod. It is one of the evening hymns most beloved in English speaking lands. We know it as much for the closing line in the first stanza as by its other name. Once again we see the conventions of the evening hymn appearing in it: The time of day, the holy angels keeping watch, sleeping and waking to a new day ready to work, keeping us from evil and making us ready to die.
One of the things that always strikes me when I read these morning and evening hymns is how the faith is not just about church, but about the way we live our lives through the week, through the day. Luther’s doctrine of vocation was a dramatic move from thinking that the only way one could be a really good Christian was to enter the religious vocations and be a nun or a priest. Luther opened up the imagination of Christians to think of themselves as having a religious vocation in their homes and at work, simply doing the things their being alive had called them to. It was very closely linked to our being creaturely. We are called to serve the neighbor, not with sermons, but with deeds of love, like helping them cope with some of the daily tasks that can become overwhelming at times.
Luther saw the family as neighbor in this theology. The father changing the diaper of his baby was serving him as a neighbor, caring for him, so the child would thrive. His body had helped to make the baby and now he was to serve it. In a way, creation makes us grow up. Nobody but the most confirmed narcissist can take on the care of his or her child without realizing that they no longer are in charge of their lives. Standing beside a new child, especially one’s own, causes one immediately to realize what our parents did for us, and makes us thankful, even as we realize our time is no longer our own.
Once, as my sister and I were sitting by our aged aunt as she was dying, out of the stillness, my sister said, "It says, so that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee." Yes. If you have been neglectful or brutal to your children, the odds are they are not going to care for you. Unstated here also, is that your children will be watching how you treat grandma and grandpa and do the same for you.
Of course, we need the church, its preaching, sacraments, and fellowship to receive the strength to serve, but if we miss how chummy the faith really is, that it calls us to those next to us, rather than far away, we miss the joy of six days out of seven. In Charles Dicken’s great classic Bleak House there is a woman named Mrs. Jellyby who sits by an untended fire, her children hungry and needy, while she writes letters to Parliament about the problems in far away Africa. Dicken's withering comment is a pearl, “She never saw a need closer than Africa.”
These morning and evening hymns almost without exception call us to live our daily lives serving those closest to us. A holy calling. They teach that every hour is every bit as holy as the hour we spend in church..
HYMN INFO This is one of the more well-known and popular evening hymns in the hit parade of hymns. Reginald Heber wrote the first stanza, but others, probably Bishop Whately, added the next stanzas for publication in Hymns: Ancient and Modern. It is loved as much for the Welsh tune as for the words. Heber wrote some of the most popular and enduring hymns in the English language, "Holy, Holy, Holy," "From Greenland’s icy Mountains," and this one while serving the Hodnet parish in Shrewesbury. Later he was named bishop of Calcutta and served there as bishop until his untimely death from the heat
LINKS Harvard University Choir https://youtu.be/QQO4IQ78lZQ
Child singing https://youtu.be/lPdo-U6dJ9Q