HYMN 204 When Morning Gilds the Skies
German: Beim Frühen Morgenlicht
Text: Anonymous German Tune: Joseph Barnby (1838-1896)
1. When morning gilds the sky, Our hearts awaking cry: May Jesus Christ be praised! In all our work and prayer We ask his loving care: May Jesus Christ be praised!
2. To God, the Word on high, The hosts of angels cry: May Jesus Christ be praised! Let mortals too upraise Their voices in hymns of praise: May Jesus Christ be praised!
3. Let earth's wide circle round In joyful notes resound: May Jesus Christ be praised! Let air and sea and sky From depth to height reply: May Jesus Christ be praised!
4. Be this, when day is past, Of all our thoughts the last: May Jesus Christ be praised! The night becomes as day When from the heart we say: May Jesus Christ be praised!
5. Then let us join to sing To Christ, our loving King: May Jesus Christ be praised! Be this the eternal song Through all the ages long: May Jesus Christ be praised! Tr. Edward Caswell (1814-1878)
MEDITATION A morning hymn filled with wonder and praise. While not a morning person, I do love the hymns that rejoice in the dawn and see the work of Christ in it. This one does over and over again.
One of the pleasures of this hymn is its repetitions. Two rhymed couplets followed by "May Jesus Christ be praised!" The pattern is clear so one expects it and can sing it without reading the text. When people look up from their hymnals they are truly singing from their hearts.
The rhyme also helps one remember. While rhymes are there for the sound, they also are there for memory. Form is essential to memory. And memory is fundamental to the faith. Now we are not memorizing important texts, and have Google to find things for us. Regrettable.
I have longed to be in a worship service where we all knew all the words and music by heart, like we did when I was growing up. That's when worship really works. C. S. Lewis remarked once that the words we say in the liturgy should be by heart: if one is still counting one, two, three—one is not dancing. One should not be thinking about the dance, one should be dancing. As a confirmed non-dancer I have not experienced that, but I envy it when I see beautiful dancing. Pure physical pleasure.
Lewis says liturgy should be like that. We should not be thinking but be lost in the moment of it. That is when we truly know it: when it shapes us by going deep in us, kinetically, into our flesh, like music. It is no longer information, it is a physical experience of grace.
A colleague of mine has written an article on preaching in the spring Lutheran Forum. She is reflecting on her teaching of preaching. New seminary students are very worried that their theology might be wrong. She is confident their theology will be fine, but what she wants them to learn Is how to preach so that rather than a sermon informing the congregation about grace, they experience grace via words. Her example is the Gospel of John. While the word grace appears in the first chapter, it does not after that. Why not, she asks. Because the rest of the book immerses the hearer/reader in what grace is—the story of Jesus here on earth—among us--as John says.
I have heard some sermons like that—when time seems to stop and one is lost in wonder, love and praise as the preacher shifts into high at the end, and we are lost in a moment of grace, not standing back contemplating it for its reason, or eloquence, but moved into another place.
St. Augustine went to hear St. Ambrose preaching in Milan because he heard he was so eloquent. Which he was—Ambrose’s sign was a beehive because his words were so sweet. It attracted thousands to him. The miracle and mystery was that a great many had the experience of Augustine—as they were attracted to his eloquence, at which they marveled, suddenly they found themselves, as Augustine did, moved to weeping for their sins. As Augustine would say later in his Confessions, "Ambrose' preaching provided ...people with the choicest wheat and the joy of oil and the sober intoxication of wine." Rhapsodes of the Gospel is what another friend of mine called for. If Jesus is everything, Give me Jesus. When that happens, we can sing with our whole beings, “May Jesus Christ be praised!"
We do not know the name of the German author, but scholars think the hymn was written in the late 18th century. Edward Caswell, the translator, was an important figure in the 19th century Anglo-Catholic revival. He became a significant translator of hymns and resources from the medieval church and breviary. He studied classics at Oxford, then a clergyman in the Anglican church and served several parishes while working more and more closely with those who had left for Rome. After the death of his wife, in 1847, Caswell joined the ranks of the Roman Catholic clergy, working closely with Cardinal Newman, the leader of the movement, at the Oratory of Egbaston. There he continued his writing. This hymn was first published in 1854 in Catholic Hymns and then in Hymns: Ancient and Modern 1872.
Barnby’s tune is one of his most popular and enduring. While he wrote hundreds of tunes, this has lasted the longest. (See HYMN 155 for more on Barnby.) Barnby was a key figure in Victorian England's music, succeeding Charles Gounod as conductor of the Royal Albert Hall Choral Society from 1871 until his death in 1896. He helped Gounod's music receive the recognition it deserved.
LINKS First Plymouth church, Choir and congregation Lincoln NE https://youtu.be/rPQ7t8TcY5k
Addaquay The Black and White Keys
Grace Community Church https://youtu.be/EKkTB617sDU
Coral Ridge Presbyterian https://youtu.be/tP2kaDn_Ujg