Text: Synesius of Cyrene (ca. 375-430). Tune: William Daman (ca. 1540-1591), Psalmes 1579
1 Lord Jesus, think on me, And purge away my sin; From earth-born passions set me free, And make me pure within.
2 Lord Jesus, think on me, With care and woe oppressed, Let me Thy loving servant be, And taste Thy promised rest.
3 Lord Jesus, think on me, Nor let me go astray; Through darkness and perplexity Point Thou the heav'nly way.
4 Lord Jesus, think on me, That, when the flood is past, I may eternal brightness see, And share Thy joy at last. Re. Allen W. Chatfield (1836-1896)
MEDITATION In Benjamin Britten’s opera Noyes Fludde (Noah’s Flood) this is the closing hymn. Brittten, who loved the English tradition with its hymns and its medieval mystery plays, set several of those plays into operas. This is the most popular and enduring. His goal was to include the entire community in the production. I first saw the opera at Houghton College, (Dr. Deborah Birx is a graduate) the Free Methodist college in upstate New York, when I was doing some lectures on Christianity and literature. When the animals marched into the ark, starting with the mice, I was possessed with its charm and the urge to see it again.
One of the blessings of my work at Luther Seminary was that with the support of many, it was possible to produce it for the community. We did. It was a hit. The kids were wonderful as was the cast of adults. Best of all was the ending when, with the character playing Noah, the cast and congregation sang this hymn. I would not have noticed or at least remembered the reference to Noah in the last stanza—now when the flood is past--without this experience.
Now when it is sung, I see the stars sparkling in the Chapel of the Incarnation at the seminary and the huge sail of the ark with Noah processing down the aisle singing with the congregation. Kudos to Kathy Hansen in Seminary Relations, and many others, who generously helped with this. It gave us memories that still endure. Britten's intention that it be a community event was fulfilled, with members of the neighborhood joining in, the Luther Seminary community there, with opera singers and orchestra from the city. Amazing.
The flood imagery is fundamental in Christian imagery. One has to be made new in baptism, and it is not a one time event. It is a daily struggle. My mother wearied of baptismal talk that did not include daily repentance. She carried Luther’s Small Catechism with her in her purse. If someone started talking about baptism as a past event that guaranteed salvation, she would whip out the book and say, it says daily, one needs to die daily to sin.
The writer of the hymn knew that. Life is a struggle—we fight every day against abandonment, darkness and sin. One needs to be saved from that. The promise is that across the flood there is eternal brightness. Noah saw it shining in the rainbow. We see it as the goal and end of our pilgrimage. There the light is always shining. Lord, bring us through the darkness toward eternal light where we may share your joys forever!
Synesius was born in Cyrene, the place from which Simon of Cyrene, who carried Jesus' cross, came. It was in what is now eastern Libya. Synesius--who had an illustrious heritage that went far back into Roman and Greek history--came slowly to Christianity. He was a student of Hypatia, a Neo-platonic woman philosopher at the time. He spent some time in Athens and lived in Constantinople on a mission for his homeland for a few years. He then returned home, stopping by Alexandria, in Egypt where he married his wife, a Christian. He gradually moved from Neoplatonism toward the Christian faith. He was named Bishop of Ptolemais in 410. His writings have lasted through time. This is one of the oldest hymns in the hymnal and shows the bishop’s deep Christian faith. The translator, Chatfield, included Synesius’ Ode in his collection of translations. This was the Tenth Ode in his Songs and Hymns of the Greek Christian Poets.
The tune comes from the hand of Damon, an Italian who arrived in England in 1566 to play in the Court of Elizabeth I. He was a servant of Sir Thomas Sackville.
LINKS The College of St. John’s College, Cambridge https://youtu.be/XwLJTtmKTY8
The Collegiate Choir of St. Mary’s Warwick https://youtu.be/gBxgppN80iE
Wandsworth School Boys Choir/English Opera Group Orchestra https://youtu.be/YCsyBaX-12o
Los Angeles Opera—explanation and images from the opera https://youtu.be/RqKezabmMTM