Matthew 5: 1-12 All Saints Sunday Lectionary hymn by Gracia Grindal
Text: Gracia Grindal (1943-). Tune: Daniel Charles Damon (1945-); or Holy Manna
1. “Blessed are the poor in spirit;
Heaven shall be yours,” Christ said,
“Blessed are the ones who sorrow,
You will soon be comforted.
Blessed are the meek and humble;
You will soon possess the earth.
Blest are those who thirst and hunger
After truth and righteousness.
2. “Blessed are the ones whose mercy
Helps the poor, those in distress,
One day they’ll be brimming over
With the love that they confess.” Jesus spoke again and told them.
“Blessed are the pure in heart;
My word fills the soul and cleans it;
It will stay and not depart.
3. Jesus blessed the brave peacemakers,
Who have labored long for peace;
“They will all be called God’s children,
For their struggles never cease.”
Jesus blessed those persecuted
For the sake of righteousness;
“Theirs will be the joy of heaven,
Though they suffer great distress.”
4. In his words they heard the heavens
High above be opened wide
As he blessed the poor and needy
Sitting on the mountain side.
Jesus’ words will last forever---
This he proved upon the cross,
When he beat the pow’r of evil
Bringing blessings down on us.
Copyright Wayne Leupold Editions, 2006, See below for further information
Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount with blessings. Matthew presents Jesus as being like Moses so this address from the mountain brings to mind Moses on Mt. Sinai receiving God's Word as it is carved on the stone tablets. Many people have heard these blessings and tried to become what Jesus blesses--poor in spirit, mourners, the meek, those who hunger after righteousness. My favorite exegete of Matthew, Frederick Dale Bruner, argues successfully, to my mind, that the first four beatitudes are for those who are empty and need blessings. The next four are blessings on those who are active and give blessings in their work and need replenishment. I find that edifying. One does not pray to become poor in spirit, for example, but one can pray to be filled, hungering and thirsting after righteousness. And those who are doing the works of the Lord, showing mercy, peacemaking, those who are pure in heart, can pray to be strengthened in their work. In doing these good deeds, we may well be persecuted and need the assurance of the joy of heaven. All told, it is our emptiness that makes it possible for Jesus to fill us with blessings, with the gospel.
I've thought about what a blessing is quite a bit. My book of sonnets on Jesus is coming out soon from Augsburg Fortress Press and the one on blessings fits here, I think
To bless, to say, blessed are you, to speak
A word rooted in sacrificial blood,
Jesus, the Torah in flesh, begins to preach
By blessing them, he teaches what is good
While the poor and hungry look for sustenance.
The words wash over them like fragrant balm,
Their lesions heal. They want to hear it again,
Its oil running down their faces, like a psalm
Whose words have run through their minds for years.
They dress a festering open wound with bliss,
Blessings like rain burbling in fields. We hear
Words washing over us. Words that can bless
The lacerations we have borne in pain
Now made level, the rough places plain.
Copyright Augsburg Fortress Press forthcoming 2021
A pastor once told me that he had a confirmand who had, like the prodigal in a far country, come to himself and remembered phrases from Luther's Explanation to the Second Article of the Creed--especially "Lost and condemned creature." "I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord. He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, and freed me from sin, death, and the power of the devil, not with silver or gold, but with his holy and precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. He does all this in order that I might be his own, live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, even as he is risen from the dead, and lives and reigns for all eternity. This is most certainly true. (ReClaim version)
He found his pastor's telephone number, phoned him and told him his story and asked for help to find his way back. His hunger and thirst for righteousness brought him to the Savior again. These words filled him with blessing, heaven opened up to him and made him new.
The eight beatitudes have been the source of songs and anthems throughout the life of the church. They are beautiful and comforting, but difficult to make a hymn out of since the sentences are somewhat extensive. I chose to versify them into a common English form, leaving for the most part any explanation out. My last stanza comments on them, but briefly--not as to what they mean, but as to what they do for us.
The composer, Daniel Charles Damon, set all of the texts from the Series A hymns on the Gospel texts. It was my first collection. He had studied hymn writing briefly with me so we knew each other. He often commented on the strange meters I would use--mostly from the Scandinavian tradition I knew well, and he had some connections with. This text is a fairly square English traditional ballad and can be sung to the lovely Sacred Harp tune "Holy Manna," but Dan's tune has a Latin sound and is fun to sing. You can hear the Sacred harp tune here, one of them a jazz version by Dan, but not Dan's Hermosa, unfortunately. You can find many recordings by him and his Jazz Quintet on the web.
Piano playing Holy Manna https://youtu.be/5T_ajnXGdpo
Dan Damon's Jazz Version of the tune https://youtu.be/xbZpL6G3MVI
Canto Deo Choirs
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