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HYMN 249 We Gather Together

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

Dutch: Wilt heden, nu treden

Psalm 55:3

Text: Anonymous, Theodore Baker tr. (1851-1934) Tune: Dutch folk Song, first appearing in a Dutch book of songs in 1626, then Eduard Kremser (1838-1914)

1. We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing; He chastens and hastens his will to make known; The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing. Sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own.

2. Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining, Ordaining, maintaining his kingdom divine; So from the beginning the fight we were winning; Thou, Lord, wast at our side; all glory be thine!

3. We all do extol thee, thou leader triumphant, And pray that thou still our defender wilt be. Let thy congregation escape tribulation; Thy name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free! Tr. Theodore Baker

First Thanksgiving in Plymouth by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe (1850-1936)

MEDITATION This tune means Thanksgiving to Americans. It emerged from the Dutch victories over the Spanish in the late 16th century. When it was translated into English by Theodore Baker it was called a hymn of Thanksgiving and quickly became the hymn for the American Thanksgiving services which were almost universally celebrated in American churches. Such observances came with European settlers; they were common in Europe and celebrated through the decades by American pioneers. Abraham Lincoln made the day official in 1863. Ever since it has been observed on the last Thursday of November.

Those traditional services have not been so universal in the last decades. but the holiday remains America's favorite holiday as does the hymn.

The hymn tune is used as a marker for Thanksgiving—which for Americans is the beginning of the holiday season. This year with shutdowns fairly common in the States, especially in regard to Thanksgiving gatherings, people are still celebrating the time, either by making the meal for their own family in a small gathering or by ignoring the mandates. The papers reported on Monday that air travel was way up as people observed the holiday as they were wont to.

The first line of the hymn really says it all. We gather together…. To pray, to hear and to praise. We want to be together with our families and friends for the holidays. And for worship. The congregation is where the Lord Jesus promises to be. Wherever two or three are gathered, Jesus says, in my name, there I will be also. That may be why so many of us are feeling a void. Of course, Jesus is with us as we are alone with his word, but the hunger for the sight and sense of another comes because we know that when we are with each other in Christ’s name, he is there.

Pentecost by Emil Nolde 1906

The Christian faith is a chummy one. Jesus calls us friends. We know and have experienced how things happen when we are together. We can tell stories about how one person started something in a group, and all of a sudden, like a match to kindling, it caught fire and suddenly the entire group was energized and changed, ready to do something it would never have thought possible before.

We think of the disciples, bereft and lonely, watching Jesus disappear into the ether, and then following his instruction to wait for the coming of the Spirit. They went to the Upper Room. A scraggly group of poor people. Who were they? Poor fishermen, laborers, a despised tax collector, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, with many women. Not much there in worldly terms of power. And then the Spirit came upon them. With power. Peter began preaching and suddenly thousands were swept up into the church. These simple people went forth with the story of Jesus as he commanded them, and suddenly the Roman Empire was on fire for the Lord. By 325 AD it was the religion of the empire. Others went farther east and farther north and south with the Gospel and changed millions of lives. Praise the Lord!

We Christians know we need to keep praying for humility and chastening in order to remain faithful to our mission and we rejoice as we see people around the world gathering together, even where there is great persecution. We praise God as they find life and power in the Spirit, and the courage to speak his name as they gather together. May we also receive that power and that courage.

HYMN INFO The text and tune were not in the English tradition until the 19th century when Theodore Baker, the first American musicologist, translated the text keeping the very tight rhymes.

Baker, the first to include American composers in his dictionary of music, studied in Leipzig and wrote his dissertation on the music of the Seneca Indian tribe, the first scholarly work on such music. The tune was published anonymously in 1626 in a book Nederlandtsch Gedenckclanck. Eduard Kremser, a Viennese choirmaster, made the tune known when he collected it into a book of Dutch songs for male choirs in 1877. When the Dutch Calvinists in America abandoned the notion that they should only sing psalms in church, this was the first hymn they included. Julia Bulkley Cady translated the text "We Praise thee, O God, our Redeemer Creator." Its Dutch tune goes well with the text.

LINKS Grace Community Choir

London Festival Orchestra

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir

First Plymouth Church, Lincoln Nebraska/The Cory translation

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