Danish: Jesus, livets sol og glæde
German: Schmücke dich
Text: Johann Franck (1618-1677). Tune: Johann Crüger (1598-1662)
1. Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness, Leave the gloomy haunts of sadness; Come into the daylight's splendour, There with joy thy praises render Unto him whose grace unbounded Hath this wondrous banquet founded: High o'er all the heavens he reigneth, Yet to dwell with thee he deigneth.
2 Now I sink before Thee lowly, Filled with joy most deep and holy, As with trembling awe and wonder On thy mighty works I ponder: How, by mystery surrounded, Depth no mortal ever sounded, None may dare to pierce unbidden Secrets that with thee are hidden.
3. Sun, who all my life dost brighten, Light, who dost my soul enlighten, Joy, the sweetest heart e'er knoweth, Fount, whence all my being floweth, At thy feet I cry, my Maker, Let me be a fit partaker Of this blessed food from heaven, For our good, thy glory, given.
4. Jesus, Bread of Life, I pray thee, Let me gladly here obey thee; Never to my hurt invited, Be thy love with love requited: From this banquet let me measure, Lord, how vast and deep its treasure; Through the gifts thou here dost give me, As thy guest in heaven receive me. Tr. Catherine Winkworth
MEDITATION Yesterday I was awakened by the excitement of the boys downstairs. It was lefse day. My sister has made it a wonderful time for the family. She spends all Friday boiling the potatoes, mashing them, ricing them, etc. Then we arrive on Saturday to roll them out, cook them, and prepare them for eating—freezing sometimes up to 300 rounds.The children get to watch TV, play games and eat. The first lefse is always a moment.
Getting ready for the holidays is fun. We prepare, prepare--for Christmas festivities, when we meet Jesus. Most families have their rituals for these preparations. Before refrigerators, and other modern conveniences, life was lived much closer to the ground. Making sure the family had food enough involved regular times for butchering, for example, so one was prepared for the holiday. The Christmas butchering took the whole family's efforts. My grandmother who died in childbirth just before Thanksgiving was said to have worked feverishly to get the butchering done before she went into labor.
Our hymn today, one of the great chorales, focuses on the preparations for the great marriage feast, a foretaste of which we receive in communion with our Lord. Being prepared by donning the garments of gladness, which in this case are the garments of repentance, is part of the joy of receiving the sacrament, a seal on Christ's gift of forgiveness and reconciliation. In the olden days it took preparation. And sometimes that was hard work. My great uncle said once that before communion he went out behind the barn, stood by the manure pile and just hollered for his sins. Forgiving a family member or neighbor, and being forgiven for some transgression was hard, but the rituals of the church made it something one did before receiving the sacrament. (See Walter Sundberg's book, Worship is Repentance Eerdmans, for more on this.)
We have lost a sense for rituals of any kind, especially those that mark passages in our lives. We seem to have abandoned them, leaving our society, especially our children, clueless, having to make their way into a wilderness of behaviors that have no markers.
I wonder if this isn't because we are so far removed from nature today, given our industrial society. Life is a round of natural passages that the church has rituals for and which people need. Jesus became incarnate to live with us in these times. "Yet to dwell with thee he deigneth." Right now people are hungry for those rituals. When things open up again, we should be ready to deal with people needing them--like communion especially. Weddings, funerals and every which kind of passages have not been held because of the pandemic. We have missed that. They bring God into the rhythms of our lives, large and small
It is not just churchly rituals we need, but deep in the Christian understanding of daily life, we know that all life is holy and made richer by rituals like making lefse, preparing for the big event. I think of my grandmother who suffered preeclampsia, from which she died, helping with the fall butchering on the farm. They say she fully enjoyed the roast spare ribs they made the day before her labor pains began. Many said later it probably didn’t help her survive her condition. Probably not. She very likely had premonitions she would die and prepared her daughter for it by singing to her, "God will take care of you" (See HYMN 11) even as she was preparing for the coming holidays. As she was dying she said, "Now I am going home to Jesus." Knowing that he would meet her, she lived life to its fullest. She had her wedding garments on and was ready. "Through the gifts thou here dost give me,/As thy guest in heaven receive me."
HYMN INFO Franck was among the greatest hymnwriters of his day which was the high point of Lutheran hymnody in Germany. He was born the year that the Thirty Years War began and lived through it. He matriculated at the University of Königsberg, the only German university not affected by the war. There he made good friends, and learned his craft. His mother demanded he come and live with her in 1640 because the wars threatened her in Guben where he had been born and lived. He lived there and became a civil servant in the city government. His hymns numbered over 100. This is one of his most well known.
Crüger’s tune, published in 1649, is one of his earliest and most beloved. Bach wrote an entire cantata on it which you can listen to below.
LINKS Hastings College choir https://youtu.be/Mmo9pCCcBgw
Bach’s Cantata BWV 180 Schmücke dich https://youtu.be/1nZjYDfxvNQ
Brahms Chorale Prelude https://youtu.be/bBHaPkD29gM
Guitar and soloist https://youtu.be/DsgfLYaQhQU