HYMN FOR EASTER 6 How Lovely Shines the Morning Star/Lord, Send your Holy Spirit
Updated: May 15
English: How Lovely Shines the Morning Star
German: Wie Schön Leuchtet der Morgenstern
Icelandic: Sjá, morgunstjarnan blikar blí∂
Norwegian: Ei morgonstjerne klar og fin
Swedish: Du morgonstjerna, mild och ren
Psalm 45; Revelation 22:16
Text: Philip Nicolai (1556-1608) Tune: Philip Nicolai (1556-1608)
1 How lovely shines the Morning Star! The nations see and hail afar the light in Judah shining. O David's son of Jacob's race, my Bridegroom and my King of grace, for you my heart is pining. Lowly, holy, great and glorious, O victorious Prince of graces, filling all the heav'nly places.
2 O highest joy by mortals won, true Son of God and Mary's son, the highborn King of ages! In your blest body let me be, e'en as the branch is in the tree, your life my life supplying. Sighing, crying for the savor of your favor, resting never till I rest in you forever.
3 O mighty Father, in your Son you loved me ere you had begun this ancient world's foundation. Your Son has made a friend of me, and when in spirit him I see, I joy in tribulation. What bliss is this! He is living, to me giving life forever; nothing me from him can sever.
4 Oh, joy to know that you, my friend, are Lord, beginning without end, the first and last, eternal! And you at length — O glorious grace — will take me to that holy place the home of joys supernal. Amen, amen! Come and meet me, quickly greet me! With deep yearning, Lord, I look for your returning.
5 Lift up the voice and strike the string, let all glad sounds of music ring in God's high praises blended. Christ will be with me all the way, today, tomorrow, ev'ry day till trav'ling days are ended. Sing out ring out triumph glorious, O victorious chosen nation; praise the God of your salvation.
(I have used some reflections on this hymn from another one in the blog.) God through his Son Jesus has gone to every length to love us and heal us so we can live freely. He conquered death so we could live without fear of death and face life and all its terrors with courage. He gives the lonely a home so they can be in communion with him and those around them—I will not leave you orphaned. He will stay with us, even live in us, with his Father and Holy Spirit, so we are no longer alone. In fact, he died to make us his brothers and sisters—but more he gave us brothers and sisters in those around us. We see him in others, he is in others as he is in us, and so we have communion with each other and him as we gather in his name. In addition, he makes us friends both with him and with each other. This hymn dwells on that image of friendship and our joy in Christ. It can be used any time of the church year as it rejoices in Christ, our Light. It was used as the hymn for weddings for centuries--and rightly so because marriage begins life and is rightly one of the images for our relationship with our bridegroom, Christ.
I remember a long time ago, I was in England over the New Year’s holiday and Epiphany. On Epiphany I was in York, all alone, very cold in the raw English weather. Just across from me was Yorkminster, the huge cathedral there The paper announced there would be a play in the cathedral that evening. I decided to go.
As people gathered, I heard them chit chatting, talking family, weather, and news. The play began. It was punctuated by the singing of hymns. At the end, the wisemen entered with all the pomp of royalty, something the English know all about still as we have just seen.
The great Queen of Chorales, How Lovely Shines the Morning Star, rang out as the organ thundered. It is the great Epiphany hymn, written by Philip Nicolai the pastor in 1597 as he saw the Morning Star rising above the caskets of hundreds of people who had died of the plague. He would have to bury them, many of whom he knew. The losses were awful and terrifying. And yet, he could write this great chorale, a triumph of life over death, asserting against all the darkness and death around him, the light of Christ. He, like the branch of a tree, supplying us life. He hath made a friend of me. “Oh, joy to know that Thou, my Friend, art Lord, Beginning without end, The first and Last, Eternal!”
As we sang it, a thousand of us, we watched the richly garbed wisemen proceeding to the humble manger.
Suddenly, I realized I was with friends, brothers and sisters, joining my voice with many others in a heavenly chorus as we all worshiped at the foot of the cradle.
That night, I walked out into the raw English mist, with a warm heart, no longer lonely, but joined at the heart with Christ and all the others in whom he lived. It is exactly what he came to do! And we can sing it any time of the year. It celebrates who Christ is today. For now we live as friends, brothers and sisters in our Christian family. Happy Mother's Day!
The hymn is based on Psalm 45, known as the wedding psalm. Nicolai adds to it the image of the Morning Star from Revelation 22:16. He wrote it quickly, spending an entire day working it over and over. It became the hymn for weddings and funerals in Germany. Lutherans also used it for the celebration of the annunciation, when Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel.
Johan Sebastian Bach wrote a cantata "Wie Schön Leuchtet der Morgenstern" for the celebration of the Annunciation in 1725. He used this hymn as the basis for his composition. He followed the language and thought of the entire hymn in his cantata, using the first and last stanzas of the hymns with two arias of rapturous beauty in the middle.
Daniel Damon wrote the following hymn for my text on John 14:15-21
Choir singing hymn
Bach Cantata BWV 1 Wie Schon leuchtet der Morgenstern
Text and information about cantata
The text of the entire cantata can be found here.
Another version of cantata