Updated: Sep 25
Brethren we Have met to worship
Text: George Askins d. 1816 Tune: William Moore 1790-1850 Sacred Harp
1 Brethren, we have met to worship And adore the Lord our God; Will you pray with all your power, While we try to preach the Word? All is vain unless the Spirit Of the Holy One comes down; Brethren, pray, and holy manna Will be showered all around.
2 Brethren, see poor sinners round you Slumb'ring on the brink of woe; Death is coming, hell is moving, Can you bear to let them go? See our fathers and our mothers, And our children sinking down; Brethren, pray and holy manna Will be showered all around.
3 Sisters, will you join and help us? Moses' sister aided him; Will you help the trembling mourners Who are struggling hard with sin? Tell them all about the Savior, Tell them that He will be found; Sisters, pray, and holy manna Will be showered all around.
4 Let us love our God supremely, Let us love each other, too; Let us love and pray for sinners, Till our God makes all things new. Then He'll call us home to heaven, At His table we'll sit down; Christ will gird Himself, and serve us With sweet manna all around.
REFLECTIONS This is one of those old chestnuts that was very popular in the revivals of the 19th century
and the Sacred Harp tradition, but not known in the main line churches. Its text with its address to brothers and sisters clearly makes one think of the evangelical tradition. What is clear in the text is that one comes to church to worship, and what that worship involves is repentance, finding a new life in the mercies of God.
My colleague Walter Sundberg wrote a book on this called Worship is Repentance. (https://www.amazon.com/Worship-Repentance-Liturgical-Traditions-Consensus/dp/B00EQBX12I/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Walter+Sundberg&qid=1631981696&sr=8-1)
The book, published by Eerdmans, looks at the way the Christian church has planned its worship services and the place of confession and absolution in those services. He ends with a reflection on how that major thread in the life of Christian worship has been overtaken by another movement that is not as focused on repentance as it is on celebration. This is an old argument which he traces carefully and with his typical depth and economy.
The worship service described in this hymn, while clearly not descriptive of a typical Lutheran service today, does describe the struggles we as Christians must have with our sins. It is a struggle, a battle with the forces of the devil. Sometimes it feels like Christians have sued for peace with the devil over the past generation, missing. how the devil in sheep’s clothing deludes us into not seeing him, and making us call evil good and good evil. This battle is ongoing, daily and never ending until the final day. Thus we call for Jesus to be with us at all times. And what he brings is joy.
Repentance brings us the joy of salvation. When we pray and struggle with sin together, God showers us with holy manna. That is what Christians do for each other, in holy conversations one on one, or in small groups, or in the worship service. We learn to name the evil one and rout him with the little word Luther speaks of in his great hymn A Mighty Fortress.
These struggles are necessary, they make life vivid and rich because in these struggles Christ will always be present as we call upon him and name him. And in those struggles he gives us forgiveness and joy. Joy that springs from the deepest wells of salvation. It is what the religious leaders of the day hated about him. Jesus was joyful. He enjoyed dinners with all kinds. While John the Baptist’s disciples went into the wilderness and denied themselves, Jesus went to weddings and feasts with joy. There he would find sinners whom he could turn around toward his joy. He showed us the love that endures, that makes all things new and that finally will bring us to the paradise he has planned for us, a foretaste of which he gives us now whenever we hear and share his word. “Christ will gird Himself, and serve us/With sweet manna all around.” Amen!
HYMN INFO The author, George Askins, was born in Ireland, but emigrated to the United States early in his life. He was a Methodist and became an itinerant preacher where he wrote several hymn texts. We know little more about him. The tune Holy Manna is one of the more popular of the Sacred Harp tradition songs and was used in the LBW, for example, but with another text, God who Stretched the Spangled Heavens. The music committee of the LBW eschewed the music of Lowell Mason, the American composer who had fought the Sacred Harp tradition as being barbarous and preferred the folk nature of the Sacred Harp tradition. (What is considered good taste in one generation changes very quickly in the next.) Fascinating.
William B Moore is thought to have been born in Tennessee. A composer he wrote tunes that appear in” Wyeth’s Repository” (1810). His tunes were collected in Columbian Harmony (1825). Some were also in William Walker’s Southern Harmony (1835).
LINKS Great American Gospel https://youtu.be/21tEZzVK0Vo
Clark Art Institute https://youtu.be/rdiATBLqFDs
The Marksmen Quartet