Danish: Nu bede vi den Helligand
German: Nun bitten wir
Text: Stanza 1: Medieval hymn; 2-4 Martin Luther (1483-1546) Tune: Johann Walther, (Geistliche Gesangbüchlein 1524)
1. Now to the Holy Spirit let us pray for true faith, most needed on our way: Guide us and defend us when life is ending and our journey homeward is tending. Lord, have mercy.
2. O sweetest Love, your grace on us bestow; set our hearts with sacred fire aglow, that with hearts united we love each other, every stranger, sister, and brother. Lord, have mercy!
3. Transcendent comfort in our every need, help us neither scorn nor death to heed, that we may not falter, nor courage fail us when the foe shall taunt and assail us. Lord, have mercy!
4. Shine in our hearts, O Spirit, precious light, that we Jesus Christ may know aright clinging to our Savior, whose blood has bought us, who to our true homeland has brought us. Lord, have mercy!
Happy Pentecost! Although this was among the first hymns Luther wrote and published, it is not among his most famous. Once you have sung it a few times it grows on you with its sweet and prayful text and tune. It was very popular in Luther’s time and one of the hymns from the medieval church he commended warmly as being well worth congregational singing.
At first he simply used the original one stanza hymn with its medieval Leise as it was called because of its refrain Kyrie Eleison. He added the next thee stanzas probably in 1524, so it is one of the earliest Reformation hymns. Johann Walther, his colleague and musician, arranged it for him.
I first learned it when we were compiling the Lutheran Book of Worship. When I taught my hymn classes at the seminary, for some time we started every class with it and it came to be set into our memories.
It is not common to pray to the Holy Spirit, called the shy member of the Trinity among Lutherans. But Luther teaches us how and why: The Spirit gives us faith. It comes to us like fire, like wind, like love; it is the truth, our light and our guide and comfort on our journey to our true home. As Luther explains in his explanation to the third article in his catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in the Lord Jesus Christ nor come to him, but that the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in the one true faith…”
Without the Spirit, life is rote; even Scripture without the Spirit would be a dead letter unable to create life. We believe that wherever God’s Word is, the Spirit is there raising up new life, filling our lives with joy..
When we go to church and hear the Word read and preached, the liturgy and hymns, and receive the sacraments, it is the Spirit that gives them life and awakens faith in us. Not only that, it even interprets our deepest feelings and longings for which we have no words. As Paul says in Romans 8:26 even when our prayers are groans too deep for words, the Spirit interprets them.
Bach has a motet on this that we sang in the Augsburg Choir. The Spirit also helpeth... As we sang it over and over again on choir tour, I learned from Bach and the text the truth of the Scripture verse.
The Spirit is also quiet. Just now I am packing for a move that will be a good thing, but the stress is over the top, just getting things organized and ready. With all the other things going on these days, I sometimes think I won't survive. So my prayers seem more like groans. The Lord's Prayer is a welcome reprieve. Those are words I can use and I feel them give me life. The work of the Spirit is so quiet and seems so natural we may even forget we have prayed desperately for something. It happens many many times a day, really. We pray in the Spirit with groans too deep for words and then without even noticing, like a gift, the answer suddenly appears in our living room; there it is. It may not even seem special. So we forget to give thanks.
But our thanks will be heard even if they are groans too deep for words. The Spirit knows and can interpret them to the Father.
Praise be to God!
LINKS David Horn, the song with the guitar like the lute which Luther used https://youtu.be/ZK8l2jKOCd8
First Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls/a fine presentation/sermon/lesson on the hymn https://youtu.be/Tpc3S4DJKoM
Organ version https://youtu.be/W1_Oq-JyAzY
Bach Cantata 169/concluding chorale is third stanza of Nun Bitten Wir/Ravishing!
Bach's Motet The Spirit also Helpeth
Berlin Vokal Consort/Glorious Music
Augsburg Choir The Spirit Also Helpeth https://youtu.be/zfXzIJUJ7Y0