Text: Habakkuk 2:20; Isaiah 6: Tune: George Frederick Root (1820-1895) Quam Dilecta The Lord is in his holy temple, The Lord is in his holy temple: Let all the earth keep silence, Let all the earth keep silence before him -- Keep silence, keep silence before him. MEDITATION Many of you remember this as the beginning call to worship in your congregation. The choir would stand in the back and sing this song, and things would quiet down. I remember seeing the sleeves of the maroon robes in one of our little country churches out of the corner of my eye—we were not to look back—and then the organ would begin “Holy, Holy, Holy” and the choir would process in to take their place in the front choir loft. The service would begin. These little rituals were as important as the main part of the liturgy: the Kyrie, the Gloria, the Creed, Lord’s Prayer, Sanctus and Agnus Dei and the sermon. Now we call them the gathering part of the service. Whatever, they settled us down and got us ready for the service. Later, as a teenager, when I started reading the Bible through, I was astonished to find the complete text of this hymn in the Bible, in Habakkuk. A wonderful, short book, it has two verses that have made it into Christian parlance—this one that comes at the end of a list of woes that assures the people the Lord is still in his holy temple, and the last verse in the book, "hind’s feet on high places." Many people are surprised when they realize that much of the liturgy is biblical texts put to music. It it we remember the major times in Jesus’ life—the Gloria: the Angel’s song on Christmas night; the Lord’s Prayer—the Sermon on the Mount; the Sanctus—Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the donkey; and the Agnus Dei—the institution of the Lord’s Supper in the Upper Room and the Crucifixion. This hymn also refers back to the Sanctus from Isaiah 6:1--where the train of the Lord's robe fills the temple. The hymn rightly focuses us on what is to come—when the Lord will appear as he promises to wherever two or three are gathered In his name. People are sometimes surprised to be reminded that as they are sitting in church listening to the Word. Jesus, as he promised, is there riding on the words and music we say and sing, working on us, breaking into our stony hearts, healing them, feeding us with his Word so we can live. He is there among us—although we know he is also with us in our isolation—we long to be together so we can see the Lord in each other as we receive him. Come, Lord Jesus! NOTE: Today it is a half a year since I began writing these blogs! It is difficult to imagine all that time has gone by, but it has. I have been praying about what I should do—and asking friends. Should I continue? Should I be done? For now, I have decided to continue. I have dealt with many favorite hymns but am always surprised to remember another one that is a favorite. I notice that about one-third of those on the contact list click on the hymns. It is always interesting to see which are the most read, and those which are not. Because some reading the blogs are in Scandinavia and many other readers have Scandiavian roots as well, I do share more Scandinavian hymns than most American hymnologists might think appropriate, but it is where I began and even if you don’t know the hymn, I love introducing them as I love doing the blogs--they use my knowledge of hymns, my desire to share them and teach about them. Meanwhile, God bless you all. Thanks for your interest, and have a blessed Sunday. The Lord is in his Holy Temple! HYMN INFO George Root was a major figure in 19th century popular American song. He, like many of his compatriots, worked with Lowell Mason, the father of main-line American hymnody. Born in Sheffield, MA, he was something of a musical genius—he announced he wanted to play as many instruments as he was old, so for his thirteenth birthday he could play thirteen different instruments. He played the organ in church, and taught music in one of Lowell Mason's schools and then at several schools in New York among them the New York Institute for the Blind, where he met Fanny Crosby. Overworked, he left for Europe in 1853 to rest and study. When he returned he established his Dr. Geo. Root's Normal Musical Institute. Most of the 19th century popular musicians studied there. He was also a publisher of music. During the Chicago Fire in 1871 his company was burned to the ground. The reports are that he lost a quarter of a million dollars of inventory and machinery from the disaster. He sold the plates and remained in Chicago where he continued his school, publishing some seventy-five books and two hundred sheet music songs, plus gospel songs. He died while on a vacation in Maine. LINKS GYC Music A violin solo Kgomotson Moshugi
Norwegian: Nu solen går ned Text: Samuel Olsen Bruun (1656-1694). Tune: Norwegian Folk 1. The sun has gone down And peace has descended on country and town; The songbirds in silence have flown to their nest, And flowers are closing their petals in rest; So closes my heart to annoyance and care, In homage and pray'r, In homage and pray'r. 2. I praise for this day The Father in heaven who prospered my way, Who shielded from danger, protected from harm, Promoted my labor, and strengthened my arm; For hours that passed lightly as birds on the wing, Thanksgiving I bring, Thanksgiving I bring. 3. Forgive me, O Lord, My sins and transgressions in deed and in word! Thou knowest my heart and my innermost thought, The words I have spoken, the deeds I have wrought, My errors and failings I deeply regret, Forgive and forget, Forgive and forget! 4. I ask for no more; My light I extinguish and fasten the door, And seeking my chamber, betake me to rest; Assured that my slumber this night will be blest, I fondly confide to Thy care and control My body and soul, My body and soul. Tr. O. T. Sanden MEDITATION “The Sun has Gone Down” the ever-dwindling number of people who remember the Concordia hymnal will say, if you ask “What is your favorite hymn from that collection?” The tune is part of the reason, but the text is so vivid it makes it even better. It describes in concrete detail what the father of the house, the singer, does before going to bed, preparing for the night, thanksgiving, regret for one's failings and a request for forgiveness and then safety through the night. It teaches us how to prepare for the night. This is clearly in the tradition of the Lutheran hymn. It describes nature and is concrete about our living situtations. Isaac Watts, who taught most English speakers how to write hymns, was a classicist and preferred generalities to specifics, but was also deeply wedded to the notion that a hymn should be Scriptural. This hymn is not based on a Scripture text, but is the prayer and confession of a Christian describing his life as a faithful Christian, completely in the tradition of Luther’s “Evening Prayer: “We give thanks to you, heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ your dear Son, that you have this day so graciously protected us. We beg you to forgive us all our sins and the wrong which we have done. By your great mercy defend us from the perils and dangers of this night. Into your hands we commend our bodies and souls, and all that is ours. Let your holy angels have charge of us, that the wicked one have no power over us. Amen. (Luther’s Evening Prayer.) Looking at Bruun's text we can see the same themes in Luther's prayer. Hearing the hymn again brings me the kind of peace I need to feel. Simply taking one's body and soul, and "confiding them into God's care and control," quiets me and "assures me that my slumber will be blest." The anxieties that seem overwhelming just now need to be put to rest in God. Sleep does not come easily to the anxious and perturbed. The hymn brings a quiet ending to the day, something we all need to have no matter where we are. It gives us a lovely and peaceful description of someone praying as they get ready for the night. They give me lovely words to pray. Very little more need be said. Amen. HYMN INFO Samuel Olsen Bruun was born in Arendal, Norway, to a wealthy merchant. He chose not to follow in his father’s profession, but went to Aalborg University and then to Copenhagen for his theological studies. While there he may well have met the Bishop of Odense, Thomas Kingo, the most accomplished hymn writer in Denmark at the time and the compiler of the 1699 Dano-Norwegian hymnal. Bruun returned to Norway to serve the congregation in Kragerø where he married and raised a family. His wife was a daughter of the pastor in Bamble, a nearby parish. When that call was free, the congregation asked the king to name Bruun as their pastor which he did. He was never really well and found joy in his writing—he translated many German hymns into Dano-Norwegian. This hymn appeared in a book of his hymns Den Siungende Tids-fordrif Eller Korsets Frugt, published in 1695, the year after his death. His early death kept him from writing more hymns. If he had lived longer, many think he would have been one of Norway’s greatest hymn writers, on par with Kingo and Engelbretsdatter. O. T. Sanden's translation is very fine and is one reason the hymn took in English--at least for those who know it. LINKS The National Lutheran Choir dir. David Cherwien Choir A Cappellissimo Grete Pedersen directing in Trondheim and Serbia Milwaukee Choral artists arr. Linn Andrea Fuglseth Oslo Kammerkor/Sondre Bratland/dir. Berit Opheim Sondre Bratland Telle Kvifte in a Bagpipe version Fivil
Text: Anonymous Tune: Anonymous, arr. William Walker, (1809-1875) Southern Harmony 1. What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul, What wondrous love is this, O my soul! What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul, To bear the dreadful curse for my soul! 2. When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down, When I was sinking down, sinking down; When I was sinking down beneath God's righteous frown, Christ laid aside his crown for my soul, for my soul, Christ laid aside his crown for my soul! 3. Ye winged seraphs fly, Bear the news, bear the news! Ye winged seraphs fly, Bear the news!— Ye winged seraphs fly like comets through the sky Fill vast eternity! With the news with the news! Fill vast eternity with the news! 4. Ye friends of Zion’s king, join his praise, join his praise; Ye friends of Zion’s king, join his praise; Ye friends of Zion’s king, with hearts and voices sing, And strike each tuneful string in his praise, in his praise! And strike each tuneful string in his praise!
5. To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing, To God and to the Lamb, I will sing; To God and to the Lamb, who is the great I AM, While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing, While millions join the theme, I will sing! 6. And when from death I'm free, I'll sing on, I'll sing on, And when from death I'm free, I'll sing on; And when from death I'm free, I'll sing and joyful be, And through eternity I'll sing on, I'll sing on, And through eternity I'll sing on! MEDITATION I can’t remember when I first heard this hymn. It seems like it has always been there. And in a way it has—its folk origin connects it to folk music all around the world. The tune and text are a wonderful marriage. We do know when and where it emerged in the American context. It was during the Second Great Awakening which started around the turn of the 18th century into the 19th. The First Great Awakening had occurred during the time of Jonathan Edwards a half century earlier. The Second Great Awakening began in the late 1700s with several iterations of it as it moved west. The Revival of 1800 in Logan County, Kentucky, is one of the most famous events in the history. It started as a traditional Presbyterian long weekend known as sacramental time, or communion season, or holy fair, as it had been known in Scotland. It began with a communal fast on Thursday. On Friday, preachers would ask the men to interpret a portion of Scripture and the ones who were best at it might become leaders. Saturday would be a day of preparation for communion on Sunday. Monday would be a day of thanksgiving. James McGready was the pastor of three congregations around Logan Country. People were gathered at the Red River Meeting house preparing for a service when suddenly the Spirit swept over the group and changed everything. The next year at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, under the leadership of several pastors, over 20,000 people came to what has been called the first camp meeting in America. The meetings swept the country and really changed the frontier--and American religion. From these conversions and spiritual renewals came many groups and reform movements such as the Shakers, Seventh Day Adventists, the Female Missionary Societies, The American Bible Society and Abolition movements.. This song was first sung in meetings like this after 1811. Think of someone who had strayed from the faith, who was living now entirely on their own in a fierce struggle for survival, who had come to these meetings simply for human companionship. On hearing the preacher, usually a fire and brimstone preacher, calling them back to the Lord, so they were slain in the Spirit, they must have been thrilled to sing this song. This was wondrous love indeed! The Southern Harmony style can simply overcome and fill one with wonder just physically from the tide of sound sweeping over one. And then thinking of what Jesus had done for them? Can you think of a more beautiful song to sing in wonder and praise? Right out there in the piney woods? I can’t. HYMN INFO We can say where the text first appeared, in 1811 in a camp meeting songbook, A General Selection of the Newest and Most Admired Hymns and Spiritual Songs Now in Use. The text may well have been created when people sitting around the campfire at an earlier meeting kept adding one line after another. The repetitions made it easy to do. That does not tell us much about who wrote it. The tune had been used for a folk tune called the Ballad of Captain Kidd. William Walker was the first to publish tune and text together in his Southern Harmony (1835) which sold over 600,000 copies, at the time a phenomenal number. Walker is considered essential to American music. He collected folk tunes and set them together with texts that we still cherish today, like this one, or Amazing Grace. Walker may have made the text fit the tune better, but we just don’t know. In the first link below you can hear the way it first sounded being sung by Southern Harmony aficionados. The last link is a short intro to Walker and his importance to American music. LINKS The Sacred Harp Convention 2012/Southern Harmony St. Olaf Choir/Anton Armstrong Blue Highway in Bristol/kind of Blue Grass Short video on the contributions of William Walker and the shape note tradition
Genesis 7-9:17 Text: Synesius of Cyrene (ca. 375-430). Tune: William Daman (ca. 1540-1591), Psalmes 1579 1 Lord Jesus, think on me, And purge away my sin; From earth-born passions set me free, And make me pure within. 2 Lord Jesus, think on me, With care and woe oppressed, Let me Thy loving servant be, And taste Thy promised rest. 3 Lord Jesus, think on me, Nor let me go astray; Through darkness and perplexity Point Thou the heav'nly way. 4 Lord Jesus, think on me, That, when the flood is past, I may eternal brightness see, And share Thy joy at last. Re. Allen W. Chatfield (1836-1896) MEDITATION In Benjamin Britten’s opera Noyes Fludde (Noah’s Flood) this is the closing hymn. Brittten, who loved the English tradition with its hymns and its medieval mystery plays, set several of those plays into operas. This is the most popular and enduring. His goal was to include the entire community in the production. I first saw the opera at Houghton College, (Dr. Deborah Birx is a graduate) the Free Methodist college in upstate New York, when I was doing some lectures on Christianity and literature. When the animals marched into the ark, starting with the mice, I was possessed with its charm and the urge to see it again. One of the blessings of my work at Luther Seminary was that with the support of many, it was possible to produce it for the community. We did. It was a hit. The kids were wonderful as was the cast of adults. Best of all was the ending when, with the character playing Noah, the cast and congregation sang this hymn. I would not have noticed or at least remembered the reference to Noah in the last stanza—now when the flood is past--without this experience. Now when it is sung, I see the stars sparkling in the Chapel of the Incarnation at the seminary and the huge sail of the ark with Noah processing down the aisle singing with the congregation. Kudos to Kathy Hansen in Seminary Relations, and many others, who generously helped with this. It gave us memories that still endure. Britten's intention that it be a community event was fulfilled, with members of the neighborhood joining in, the Luther Seminary community there, with opera singers and orchestra from the city. Amazing. The flood imagery is fundamental in Christian imagery. One has to be made new in baptism, and it is not a one time event. It is a daily struggle. My mother wearied of baptismal talk that did not include daily repentance. She carried Luther’s Small Catechism with her in her purse. If someone started talking about baptism as a past event that guaranteed salvation, she would whip out the book and say, it says daily, one needs to die daily to sin. The writer of the hymn knew that. Life is a struggle—we fight every day against abandonment, darkness and sin. One needs to be saved from that. The promise is that across the flood there is eternal brightness. Noah saw it shining in the rainbow. We see it as the goal and end of our pilgrimage. There the light is always shining. Lord, bring us through the darkness toward eternal light where we may share your joys forever! HYMN INFO Synesius was born in Cyrene, the place from which Simon of Cyrene, who carried Jesus' cross, came. It was in what is now eastern Libya. Synesius--who had an illustrious heritage that went far back into Roman and Greek history--came slowly to Christianity. He was a student of Hypatia, a Neo-platonic woman philosopher at the time. He spent some time in Athens and lived in Constantinople on a mission for his homeland for a few years. He then returned home, stopping by Alexandria, in Egypt where he married his wife, a Christian. He gradually moved from Neoplatonism toward the Christian faith. He was named Bishop of Ptolemais in 410. His writings have lasted through time. This is one of the oldest hymns in the hymnal and shows the bishop’s deep Christian faith. The translator, Chatfield, included Synesius’ Ode in his collection of translations. This was the Tenth Ode in his Songs and Hymns of the Greek Christian Poets. The tune comes from the hand of Damon, an Italian who arrived in England in 1566 to play in the Court of Elizabeth I. He was a servant of Sir Thomas Sackville. LINKS The College of St. John’s College, Cambridge The Collegiate Choir of St. Mary’s Warwick Wandsworth School Boys Choir/English Opera Group Orchestra Los Angeles Opera—explanation and images from the opera
HYMN 180 Beyond the Sunset/Den lille Ole med Paraplyen?
Text: Virgil Prentiss Brock (1887-1978). Tune: Blanche Marie Kerr Brock (1888-1958) 1. Beyond the sunset. Oh, blissful morning, When with our Savior Heaven is begun. Earth's toiling ended, Oh, glorious dawning, Beyond the sunset When day is done.
2. Beyond the sunset, No clouds will gather, No storms will threaten, No fears annoy; Oh, day of gladness, Oh, day unending, Beyond the sunset, Eternal joy. 3. Beyond the sunset, A hand will guide me, To God the Father Whom I adore; His glorious presence, His words of welcome, Will be my portion On that fair shore. 4. Beyond the sunset, Oh, glad reunion With our dear loved ones Who've gone before; In that fair homeland. We'll know no parting-- Beyond the sunset Forevermore. MEDITATION In the 1950s and a bit later, almost every funeral I knew about featured this hymn. While I did not go to many funerals, I did go to some. I would hear my mom and dad practicing this at home. They were a great team. He would preach the sermon, usually well critiqued by her, and he would accompany her fine mezzo on the piano. They added rather much to the small country church gatherings where they served. Whenever I hear a sweet mezzo soprano singing, I get lonesome for them. The history of this hymn is a picture of American evangelistic song. It was written by a couple from Indiania, the Brocks. Virgil, after a conversion, became a pastor in the Christian Church. Blanche had attended the Indianapolis Conservatory of Music and the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago. Married in 1914, she composed the music for his texts and played the piano for him. They were colleagues of Homer Rodeheaver (1880-1955), the compiler of gospel song collections that filled the small churches in America. The story goes that they were gathered with others at the Rodeheaver School of Music at Winona Lake, Indiana, the summer of 1936, in the middle of the Depression and a bad year on the farms. The sunsets, however, were reported as being gorgeous, probably because of the dust. Someone commented that the sunset before them was among the most beautiful they had ever seen, it looked like the water had taken fire and above the colors, storm clouds were gathering. A cousin of Virgil, who was blind, commented that it was the most beautiful sunset he had ever seen. Surprised by this comment, they asked him how he could “see” it. He said, "I see through other people’s eyes. Sometime I think I see more, I think I see 'beyond the sunset.'” Virgil began writing a text starting with “Beyond the sunset” and before long he had a stanza, then someone thought he should write a stanza including the storm clouds. Then another on how their blind relative always walked hand in hand with his wife, like our walk with God. And then before they left the table, a fourth was written. From there they went to the piano to play the melody that Blanche was hearing. By the end of the evening they had a song. Rodeheaver published it in a book. And the rest is history. Some time after that, Albert “Rosy” Rowswell, the announcer for the Pittsburgh Pirates wrote a poem, “Should you go First,” a poem to his wife if she would die first. It was frequently read between stanzas. Chickie Davie was the first to record it followed by Elton Britt. Then, in 1950, Hank Williams, Sr., the country western laureate heard it and recorded it using the pseudonym, Luke the Drifter. It was released as the B side to a single called “The Funeral.” I never heard that part, but you can hear it on three of the links below. It is right out of Victorian sentimentality. Some of you will have never heard the song, or the poem. Some of you will hold it dear. Whether it is your cup of tea or not, you can be sure that a good number of your grandparents or other loved ones older than you, went to their eternal reward after a soloist like my mother in a small church in the country sang it. They may well have shed a few tears of loss hoping for the reunion they were expecting in that homeland where there would be no parting. It clearly still speaks to people--look at the millions who have listened to the various renditions of it on Youtube! HYMN INFO The hymn did not make it into main line hymnals, but was a constant in the Rodeheaver collections and other evangelical songbooks. Many Gospel songs were often country western songs in style, so Hank Williams singing this is completely in order. I am a little suspicious of how fast the tune came. It sounds very much like the Danish song, “Den Lille Ole med paraplyen /The little sandman with his umbrella,” which Alice Babs and the Swe-Danes sang on one of their albums. The tunes are close. Listen and see what you think. LINKS SE Samonte Bill and Gloria Gaither with the poem The Cathedrals—with the poem Hank Williams—with the poem Alice Baba and the Swe-Danes/Den lille Ola med paraplyen
Norwegian: Med Jesus vil eg fara John 15: 1 Text: Elias Blix (1836-1902). Tune: Norwegian Folk Sunmøre 1. With Jesus I will travel, On my life’s pilgrimage. Lord, keep me close beside you, Until my dying day. It is my highest glory, The greatest joy I know, To follow in your footsteps Where you would have me go. 2. O Jesus, star of morning, Shed light upon my way. My heart is filled with longing To walk with you each day. Your light is even brighter Than once in Bethlehem, Send light to light my journey As I am coming home. 3. O Jesus, Rose of Sharon, Bloom gloriously in me. Let nothing come between us Or lead me, Lord, astray. O vine within the vineyard, My dear Lord Jesus Christ, I am a branch who needs you: The food that feeds me best. 4. You grafted me into you When I was newly born. The springtime sun and showers Gave me a glorious morn. Come, Lord, and feed me daily Until my final day, Then give me life eternal, A light that will not fade. Tr. Gracia Grindal MEDITATION The Christian life is a pilgrimage. It can be difficult and trying, joyful and vibrant, all at the same time. This hymn explores those themes. It really is an expansion on the notion in John 15 that Jesus is the vine, or the trunk of the tree, from which all our life as branches comes. In some senses, especially in this hymn by Blix, Jesus is fully with us and where we are going-the light of Bethlehem come closer, the Rose of Sharon blooming in us. One of the strange things about our journey is the difference between what we believe and what we feel. Jesus hasn’t changed or left us; but we may feel abandoned. Let nothing come between us, the hymn cries. It isn’t unchristian or wrong to feel God has abandoned us—Jesus felt that for an awful moment on the cross—it is upsetting and difficult. Where are you, Lord? Is a cry of many a faithful believer at times in their lives. But even crying out to him is evidence that we believe he is there and know it to be true. Faith speaks of what it cannot see. The absence or silence of God is a theme many have contemplated. Mother Teresa said toward the end of her life that although her entire life was dedicated to the service of the poor and sick because of Jesus’ words, she had not ever had any experience of his presence after her first mystical experience. During it she felt called to be a nun serving the poorest of the poor in India. In her book, Come be my Light she admitted that she felt abandoned by God and never really felt again the exhilaration of her initial experience. She wondered if she had lost her faith. Yet, she remained faithful. Why? That is a mystery, the kind of mystery that remains unfathomable. She received holy communion every day and observed the daily rites of prayer. Did she not experience God there? Apparently not. But she remembered the Lord's call until her dying day. We believe that Christ is present to us in his Word no matter what we feel. He has promised to be with us always on our journey, when we gather to hear and read his word, to pray to him, through the sacraments, through our conversations, through the hymns we hear. Sometimes we will have a moment when it all seems clear, but not always. Faith is a gift that drives us to thirst after righteousness, Jesus' word and succor. Being hungry for him, needing his juices flowing through us, is what faith craves. If I get to thinking I haven’t experienced much of Jesus lately, and feel doubtful, I then have a moment in which I think of the blankness, the terror, the pain, of life without him. It is then I know he is near. HYMN INFO This is considered one of Blix’ greatest hymns. It was first published in Blix' third volume of hymns, Nokra Salmar, in 1875. Blix, born in Sandhornøy, Gildeskål, Salten in Nordland, in hard times, was a bright young man who went to school in Tromsø and taught there for a few years. His abilities made it possible for him to continue his education at the University in Christiania where he studied theology, especially the biblical languages. He became a Professor of Semitic languages in Christiania. He also served as Minister of Education and Church Affairs in the Sverdrup government, 1884-1888. When he started writing hymns, he worked diligently to use Nynorsk, or old Norwegian. Many of his hymns became classics. He also worked to translate the Bible into Nynorsk. Unfortunately he wrote most of his hymns after most of the immigrants left for America so he was not in their hymnals. Very little, if any, of his works were translated into English, unfortunately. He is probably the most poetic Norwegian hymn writer--especially in his use of Norwegian nature images. The hymn tune is a folk tune from Sunmøre the area around Ålesund. This has become a favorite in the canon of Norwegian hymns. LINKS Viggja Voices/Orkdal Church arr. Henning Sommerro Nidaros Domkor Mons Leidvin Takle Brazzy Voices/SKRUK Iver Kleive
Text: James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) Tune: J. Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954) 1. Lift ev'ry voice and sing 'Til earth and heaven ring, Ring with the harmonies of Liberty. Let our rejoicing rise High as the list'ning skies; Let it resound loud as the rolling sea. Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us; Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us; Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, Let us march on 'til victory is won. 2. Stony the road we trod, Bitter the chastening rod, Felt in the days when hope unborn had died; Yet with a steady beat, Have not our weary feet Come to the place for which our fathers sighed? We have come over a way that with tears has been watered; We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered, Out from the gloomy past, 'Til now we stand at last Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast. 3. God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, Thou who has brought us thus far on the way; Thou who has by Thy might Led us into the light: Keep us forever in the path, we pray. Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee; Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee; Shadowed beneath Thy hand May we forever stand, True to our God, True to our native land. MEDITATION (People are asking about this song since it has been sung at NFL games over the weekend. Its history is important for us to know.) James Weldon Johnson and his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, were part of the movement called the Harlem Renaissance which flourished in the 1920s in Harlem and around the country. During the post-WWI migration of African Americans north out of the south, many were attracted to large cities of the north. Many settled in Harlem. From that movement came some of our greatest African American musicians, poets and artists, such as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, Ethel Waters, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Roland Hayes, William Johnson and many many more. But this song was written before that movement, at the turn of the century, by the Johnsons. It is among their first works. Born in Jacksonville, Florida, to a mother with a Bahamian background, both of the Johnsons had stellar educations—their mother, a teacher and musician, taught them to love poetry and music. James attended the Edwin M. Stanton School and then graduated in 1894 from Atlanta University, a historically black college where he received a rigorous classical education. Later, he studied law and became the first African American admitted to the bar in Florida. He and his brother moved to New York in 1901 where they worked on musical theater productions. Johnson was also involved in politics as a Republican. He became President of the Colored Republican Club in 1904 and worked against such movements as the KKK. In 1906, Theodore Roosevelt named him consul in Venezuela and then Nicaragua where he was central to bringing peace after some unrest. During this time he wrote poetry and an autobiography. In 1916 he became a leader in the NAACP where he worked for justice organizing peaceful protests against racism during a time of much unrest in the country. He was killed in a car accident. When I was a teenager in the 1950s I bought myself a used hi-fi with the money I had earned picking beans in the fields outside of Salem. I had three LP records, The Grand Canyon Suite by Ferde Grofe, Bolero by Maurice Ravel, and God’s Trombones, a collection of poetic sermons by Johnson. In it Johnson tells a folksy version of the creation story from Genesis and several other poems. I must have listened to it hundreds of times. When I was on the LBW text committee 1973-1976 we realized we had to include hymns from the African American tradition and this one was among the ones we considered necessary. Most people who used the book did not know where it came from or that it was known as the Black National Anthem, something we are hearing about again. It is a text that refers back to the Exodus and the pilgrimage away from slavery and Egypt, a common theme in spirituals. When it was written it was understood to be deeply Christian. Usage may change how a song is received and known. But it is important to know the story of the song and understand where it came from. As the final stanza prays, keep us faithful to God and not to our own devices. A prayer we should all pray at any time. HYMN INFO J. Rosamond Johnson, James younger brother, wrote the tune at this time. He had studied music with his mother and at school. Later he attended the New England Conservatory of Music and also studied in London briefly. He wrote Broadway plays with Bob Cole and had a distinguished career as a musician/composer and actor in the theater, singing the part of Frazier in the first performances of Porgy and Bess. The hymn was first performed in 1900 with a mass choir of the Stanton School which his brother and he had attended. It was first recorded in 1923 by the male gospel group, Manhattan Harmony Four. It was more and more used after it appeared in Maya Angelou’s autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in 1969. In the 1970s, dozens of main line Protestant hymnals included it. Melba Moore recorded it in 1990 and it became part of the Rhythm and Blues repertoire. The third stanza was used almost verbatim by Rev. Joseph Lowery in his benediction at Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009. Now many are hearing it for the first time at the NFL games. There are hundreds of performances of it on Youtube. Here are a few. LINKS Tuskagee University Gold Voices Concert Choir The Spelman College Glee Club The Hampton University Choir Melba Moore
HYMN 177 Whate'er my God ordains is right/contemporary
German: Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan Text: Samuel Rodigast (1649-1708) Tune: Gastorius/Matt Merker 1 Whate'er my God ordains is right: his holy will abideth; I will be still, whate'er he doth, and follow where he guideth. He is my God; though dark my road, he holds me that I shall not fall: wherefore to him I leave it all. 2 Whate'er my God ordains is right: he never will deceive me; he leads me by the proper path; I know he will not leave me. I take, content, what he hath sent; his hand can turn my griefs away, and patiently I wait his day. 3 Whate'er my God ordains is right: though now this cup, in drinking, may bitter seem to my faint heart, I take it, all unshrinking. My God is true; each morn anew sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart, and pain and sorrow shall depart. 4. Whate’er my God ordains is right: He is my Light, my Life, Who can grant me nothing evil; I will surrender myself to him In joy and sorrow! The time will come When it shall openly appear How faithful is his intent. 5. Whate’er my God ordains is right: Though I must taste the cup That is bitter according to my delusion I do not let myself be afraid For nonetheless in the end I shall be delighted By sweet comfort at heart: Then all sorrows shall retreat. 6. Whate'er my God ordains is right: here shall my stand be taken; though sorrow, need, or death be mine, yet am I not forsaken. My Father's care is round me there; he holds me that I shall not fall: and so to him I leave it all. Tr. Catherine Winkworth MEDITATION This Sunday I am juxtaposing Bach's use of the hymn text and tune with another by a popular contemporary Christian musician, Matt Merker. The text appealed very much to both Merker and Bach who used it several times in his cantatas, as we have seen, and also to contemporary Christian singers. Merker's tune has been sung and viewed by many on Youtube. Bach used the original tune in this cantata as a wedding text and sets each stanza without other poetry. It is a sober, but joyful, hymn for a wedding. The traditional vow, "for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health," etc. faces the issues of life's ups and downs squarely, although one could bet that many a bridal pair had not thought that such sorrows might come. None of us do. All we can do, ever, is promise to build upon the Lord, as the soprano sings so beautifully in this cantata with the flute in movements 3, and trust in his grace. Stanza 4 is a strong confession that God will always have our best interests at heart. And even though we can’t know as we are going through a trial how it is going to end, we are taught in this stanza that we will understand it at the end. I am glad the young singers are rescuing the text and making it contemporary. It is a needed and sober statement on the life of faith. In our Bible study group at church we have had conversations about how looking back we understand things better and why God led us one way or another. In fact, some of us have expressed gratitude that God did not answer our prayers the way we wanted, but seemed to refuse the request. Ultimately we could now see it was a gracious no, all for our best. "Then all sorrow shall retreat," when we understand that. We may not see it until we stand before Jesus. Many people have said that when they get to heaven they have one or another question to ask Jesus. Most of them are about the mystery of what happened in a life that still seems unresolved. As Paul says in his great love chapter, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” We can look forward to that knowing, but for now what we have is faith “that God is holding us so we do not fall.” Amen. HYMN INFO This has become a popular contemporary Christian song. Matt Merker, a colleague of Keith Getty, has written a tune that many are using today. Merker grew up on Long Island, and went to Vanderbilt University to study music and religion. He later attended Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He composes in several styles but says on his website his favorite thing is leading congregations in song. He is on the staff at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D. C. and has a position with Keith Getty's organization. As you may remember, Getty wrote “In Christ Alone.” (See HYMN 91) There are a couple other settings of the text by modern composers so the text seems to speak to the contemporary scene. For more on the Rodigast tune see (HYMN 170). This tune clearly attracted Bach—and many others for its joyful sound. His Cantatas 98, 99, and 100 are based on it. It has been one of the classic hymns that is not quite so popular today. But it has been included in Lutheran hymnals for the past three hundred years. It will be interesting to see if the new tunes will bring it back. LINKS Keith Getty/modern tune by Matt Merker Sovreign Grace Congregational song Merker tune sung by Jasmine Ruth Baluja Redeemer of the Shoals Church Cantata BWV 100 Netherlands Bach Society The libretto is all of the stanzas above.
HYMN 176 God who made the Earth and Heavens/All Through the Night
Text: Reginald Heber (1783-1826) Tune: Welsh folk/Ar hyd I nos 1 God, who made the earth and heaven, Darkness and light: You the day for work have given, For rest the night. May your angel guards defend us, Slumber sweet your mercy send us, Holy dreams and hopes attend us, All through the night. 2 And when morn again shall call us To run life's way, May we still whate'er befall us, Your will obey. From the pow'r of evil hide us, In the narrow pathway guide us, Never be your smile denied us All through the day. 3 Guard us waking, guard us sleeping, And, when we die, May we in your mighty keeping All peaceful lie. When the trumpet's call shall wake us, Then, O Lord, do not forsake us, But to reign in glory take us With you on high. 4 Holy Father, throned in heaven, All holy Son, Holy Spirit freely given, Blest Three in One: Grant us grace we now implore you, Till we lay our crowns before you And in worthier strains adore you While ages run. MEDITATION Just hearing the beginning strains of this hymn brings me close to the land of nod. It is one of the evening hymns most beloved in English speaking lands. We know it as much for the closing line in the first stanza as by its other name. Once again we see the conventions of the evening hymn appearing in it: The time of day, the holy angels keeping watch, sleeping and waking to a new day ready to work, keeping us from evil and making us ready to die. One of the things that always strikes me when I read these morning and evening hymns is how the faith is not just about church, but about the way we live our lives through the week, through the day. Luther’s doctrine of vocation was a dramatic move from thinking that the only way one could be a really good Christian was to enter the religious vocations and be a nun or a priest. Luther opened up the imagination of Christians to think of themselves as having a religious vocation in their homes and at work, simply doing the things their being alive had called them to. It was very closely linked to our being creaturely. We are called to serve the neighbor, not with sermons, but with deeds of love, like helping them cope with some of the daily tasks that can become overwhelming at times. Luther saw the family as neighbor in this theology. The father changing the diaper of his baby was serving him as a neighbor, caring for him, so the child would thrive. His body had helped to make the baby and now he was to serve it. In a way, creation makes us grow up. Nobody but the most confirmed narcissist can take on the care of his or her child without realizing that they no longer are in charge of their lives. Standing beside a new child, especially one’s own, causes one immediately to realize what our parents did for us, and makes us thankful, even as we realize our time is no longer our own. Once, as my sister and I were sitting by our aged aunt as she was dying, out of the stillness, my sister said, "It says, so that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee." Yes. If you have been neglectful or brutal to your children, the odds are they are not going to care for you. Unstated here also, is that your children will be watching how you treat grandma and grandpa and do the same for you. Of course, we need the church, its preaching, sacraments, and fellowship to receive the strength to serve, but if we miss how chummy the faith really is, that it calls us to those next to us, rather than far away, we miss the joy of six days out of seven. In Charles Dicken’s great classic Bleak House there is a woman named Mrs. Jellyby who sits by an untended fire, her children hungry and needy, while she writes letters to Parliament about the problems in far away Africa. Dicken's withering comment is a pearl, “She never saw a need closer than Africa.” These morning and evening hymns almost without exception call us to live our daily lives serving those closest to us. A holy calling. They teach that every hour is every bit as holy as the hour we spend in church.. HYMN INFO This is one of the more well-known and popular evening hymns in the hit parade of hymns. Reginald Heber wrote the first stanza, but others, probably Bishop Whately, added the next stanzas for publication in Hymns: Ancient and Modern. It is loved as much for the Welsh tune as for the words. Heber wrote some of the most popular and enduring hymns in the English language, "Holy, Holy, Holy," "From Greenland’s icy Mountains," and this one while serving the Hodnet parish in Shrewesbury. Later he was named bishop of Calcutta and served there as bishop until his untimely death from the heat . LINKS Harvard University Choir Martin Luther College Evening Chapel
Text: John Ylvisaker (1938-2017). Tune: Norwegian Folk tune: Jeg ser deg, O Guds Lam å stå 1. I will always remember the days of old And worship the Lord of Creation. I will always remember the stories told By those of the past generations. R/ I’ll sing with all the saints who’ve gone on before, And sing with all the saints of earth And I’ll always remember the day of old And worship the Lord of Creation. 2. I will always remember the days of old, Confirmed by the Lord’s invitation. I will always remember the stories told By those who have brought me salvation. R/I’ll sing with all the saints who’ve gone on before, And sing with all the saints of earth. And I’ll always remember the days of old, Confirmed by the Lord’s invitation. 3. I will always remember the days of old, Rejoicing in loving relations. I will always remember the stories told, The source of a lasting foundation. R/ I’ll sing with all the saints who’ve gone on before, And sing with all the saints of earth. And I’ll always remember the days of old, Rejoicing in loving relations. 4. I will always remember the days of old, Sustained by the Lord’s congregation. I will always remember the stories told And join in the great celebration. R/I’ll sing with all the saints who’ve gone on before, And sing with all the saints of earth. And I’ll always remember the days of old Sustained by the Lord’s congregation. Copyright John Ylvisaker/reprinted with permission MEDITATION This is an interesting piece by John Ylvisaker that I hope will get more use. It would fit perfectly on All Saints’ Day. The tune is associated in Norway with Hans Adolph Brorson’s “I See Thee Standing, Lamb of God/Jeg ser deg, O Guds Lam å stå, an Ascension hymn that was in the Concordia and Lutheran Hymnary but with another tune. This is John at his best. Those who know the Norwegian tune and Brorson’s text on the saints in heaven with Jesus will hear that under John’s words. Both are well suited for All Saint’s Day. John wrote it sometime in 1994 just before the Ylvisaker reunion in Norway in Sogndal Sogndal where his sister lived and his grandfather had emigrated from. If you watch the DVD on his life, this song is what closes it. A beautiful scene as you see the reunion and the gorgeous vistas of Sognefjord and the area. We sang it in the Muskego church on the Luther Seminary Campus for the150th anniversary of the building in October 1994. There were people from the Wind Lake, Wisconsin, congregation, once called Muskego, there who had gone to some effort to restore it in memory of their grandparents. The services connected people to the ones who had gone before. People knew their grandparents, or great grandparents had been baptized, confirmed, married, even buried from there. They knew the joys and sorrows that met in that place. Our singing and speaking were filled with echoes that went deep into the marrow of everyone. What fascinated me was that while we sang songs from their old hymnals that many of them knew, this was the hymn that they spoke of afterwards. They knew it in their bones. Yet, it was the first time any of them had heard it. Why? I think it was the folk tune. Folktunes speak immediately to people. It is not difficult music, and as Norwegian Americans they knew that sound from other hymns from the old country. And the text, which is an ingenious piece of work, with many repetitions, simply said what they were feeling as they sang. Repetition in poetry is important. Those of us who grew up writing themes in school can remember the red marks of our teachers when we repeated words in an essay. We learned to haul out the thesaurus and substitute synonyms for the word we had repeated. In great rhetoric and poetry, however, repetition is a musical impulse and adds to the impact of the word. John’s frequent use of “I will always remember” makes the song easy to remember. There is not a lot of new information in each stanza—as there should not be in tunes. Repetition is important for the sake of memory—and by the end of the song one can look up from the text and sing without reading. It causes reverie and connects the singer to the moment and thousands of moments before. There is no Youtube version of this song—you can see it in a beautiful DVD done on the life of John which I will link to below. But sing it along with the Norwegians singing the Brorson hymn. You will learn it quickly and it will be a blessing to you. With all the repetitions, musical and poetic, you will also remember it and be humming it for the rest of the day. And it will be all for the good to remember the saints of old and look forward to seeing them again at the great celebration! HYMN INFO This is published in his book of songs, Borning Cry. The best way to hear it is to go on line and view the DVD on his life. LINKS Bodø Domkor Marianne Juvik Sæbø Jazz version DVD on John's life and work
Text: Gloria Gaither (1942-) William J. (Bill) Gaither (1936-) 1. God sent His son, they called Him Jesus, He came to love, heal and forgive, He lived and died to buy my pardon, An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives, R/Because He lives, I can face tomorrow, Because He lives, all fear is gone, Because I know He holds the future, And life is worth the living, just because He lives 2. How sweet to hold a newborn baby And feel the pride and joy He gives, But greater still the calm assurance This child can face uncertain days, because He lives, R/ 3. And then one day, I'll cross the river, I'll fight life's final war with pain And then, as death gives way to victory I'll see the lights of glory and I’ll know he lives. R/ MEDITATION While some people are capable of writing both tune and texts, and a few of our most beloved hymns have been the products of one person, a writing/composing team, if it works, is also a very fruitful way to get hymn written. We have Rogers and Hammerstein in the secular world, and in the 17th century, Paul Gerhardt and Johann Crüger, but the best team for hymns and spiritual songs in the twentieth century is Gloria and Bill Gaither. In the year 2000, they won the award by ASCAP as the Christian songwriters of the century, based on the number of albums and sales they had. No one had come even close. Their southern gospel sound, and their association with the contemporary worship movement kept them out of the main line hymnals until recently, but attention must be paid to their accomplishments. They have given millions of people songs to sing through their lives as they deal with normal life and its problems. This was among the first of their songs that crossed over into the main line, I think. Gloria was an English, French and Sociology major at Anderson University in Anderson, Indiana. After she graduated she went to teach French in the Alexandria, Indiana, high school where she met Bill, who was teaching English. After they married in 1962, they began working together in a trio, with Bill’s brother, going around the country singing gospel music together. As the contemporary worship movement grew, they became one of its signal groups. They had one hit album after another. After touring for almost thirty years—and that kind of work can be devasting on marriages, families and personalities--Gloria, who appears to be the business minded one, founded the Homecoming Series, gatherings featuring their musicians singing hymns and songs that they have written, but not exclusively. In 1996 she established a magazine based on the Homecoming series. Gloria is the editor and leader of these projects. They are still working together and still producing hits. One can still see them singing and playing during the pandemic. Their southern gospel sound, and texts that speak to the lives of their listeners has kept them popular. It was common for the main line to disparage them for their influence on main line worship, but they had sensed a need and found a way to speak to millions about Jesus and the life of faith, with amazing success. The best thing about them, from my point of view, is that they still, after 58 years together, sing simply of what matters: Jesus. Sometimes that is all we can say. Or need to say. HYMN INFO This hymn was written in 1974 when their son was born. It was near the beginning of the Gaither Trio’s recording and touring business. Some experts have said that sonnets or any other kind of poem that begin with a dependent or subjunctive clause are best because one has to hear the main clause to get the meaning, sort of like resolving a chord. I think this is a skillful use of that rule, but the interesting thing, despite the grammar, is that everything depends on the dependent clause. "Because he lives---" and then the writer could add the main facts in Jesus' life, and many main clauses about what that meant in the life of the singer. Bill wrote the melody as she wrote the text and it became a hit. It is known around the world as you can see here. Some added Jesus Loves me to be sung along with it and that works well. LINKS Bill and Gloria and the Gaithers Yonsel Central Baptist Mass choir and orchestra Choir and orchestra Cornerstone Children’s choir Guy Penrod Bill and Gloria talking together at the piano last April
HYMN 173 And did those Feet in Ancient Time/Jerusalem
Text: William Blake (1757-1827) Tune: Herbert Parry (1848-1918) 1. And did those feet in ancient time Walk upon England's mountain green? And was the holy Lamb of God On England's pleasant pastures seen? 2. And did the countenance divine Shine forth upon our clouded hills? And was Jerusalem builded here Among those dark satanic mills? 3. Bring me my bow of burning gold! Bring me my arrows of desire! Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold! Bring me my chariot of fire! 4. I will not cease from mental fight, Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, Till we have built Jerusalem In England's green and pleasant land. MEDITATION A shining evening in early September, the early 1970s, the sable sky of rural Iowa filled with stars sweeping over me as I drove home to Decorah. I had been doing an NEH seminar in Eldora, talking about poetry to church people, Kiwanis, even the boys at the Reform School. I was exhausted. I twiddled with the car radio tuning knob. (This was long before FM stations were received on car radios.) I got a faint staticky hint of a concert that ebbed in and out as I approached the signal. Then I heard it, it was the Proms closing concert from London. It was the last set of numbers, with "Rule, Brittania," "Land of Hope and Glory," and then clear as a bell, "And did those feet in ancient time."Jerusalem. I had never heard anything like it before. This year, because of the pandemic, we have not had the pleasure of hearing the almost six weeks of concerts that make up the Proms. It is an amazing time. Orchestras from around the world come to play, with singers, trios, quartets, and soloists of the very top ranks as well. London and its environs are packed with music lovers who can go to a concert every night, if not a couple a day. Those are formal and long haired as can be. But the night of the Proms is something altogether other. People gather around the world to watch and sing along with the group in Royal Albert Hall. The concert is all about classics that are popular. The last part of the concert is a sing-along of patriotic songs concluding with “God Save the Queen” done more and more reverently as everyone realizes what a treasure she is. Still every kind of noisemaker that can be safely used in a crowded Royal Albert Hall adds to the ruckus. I never miss it now on public radio—it is usually the first weekend in September. Jerusalem is what I want to hear. William Blake’s poem, written as a preface to a very strange poem, Milton, became a patriotic anthem after Hubert Parry’s musical setting. There is a persistent story in old English annals that Jesus visited England with Joseph of Arimethea after his resurrection. Blake used that in his poem. While there is nothing in the Bible to suggest that, we don’t know where Jesus was every moment after his resurrection until his ascension so there is room for such stories, outlandish as they may seem. However, it is entirely possible that a Roman soldier who had witnessed the crucifixion and become a Christian ended up in Britain serving in the Roman army which conquered Britain in 43 AD. Early Britons were ruled by the Romans some ten years after Jesus' crucifixion and the connection with Rome was close. In fact, by 49 AD, a colony for retired Roman soldiers was built at what is now Colchester. . The hymn does not say Jesus came to Britain, but it asks questions: "And did those feet in ancient time," etc. Blake lived at the time when people in England were leaving the farm for the city to work in factories, the “dark, satanic mills” where they suffered the privations of cramped cities, far away from the green and pleasant lands of rural England. Mothers and fathers would leave their very young children at home to fend for themselves, even making infants drunk with gin to keep them asleep during their long working hours. It was horrific and Blake wrote against those conditions many times. The hope expressed in this hymn—that Blake could help to build in England a new Jerusalem, like that envisioned in the Bible, is thrilling—and well set in Parry’s tune. Hearing these words echo out of the raspy radio on my yellow Gremlin as I rode east through the dark night was a moment out of time that still comes back when I hear it again. So much hope, so much fun! So much life. HYMN INFO William Blake was one of the strangest geniuses of the English poetic scene. An evangelical Christian, a gifted artist and poet, he kept constructing worlds in poetry as well as etchings that fascinate and charm, especially his lovely Songs of Innocence and Experience. “Little lamb who made thee…” But his epics, like Milton, Kenneth Clark in his Civilization series called a muddle. Blake's best work to my mind are his illustrations of the Divine Comedy by Dante. They continue to fascinate me every time I read Dante. Hubert Parry was one of the great English composers of his day. This is his greatest piece and by far most popular. He was still actively composing music when he was struck down by the Spanish Influenza October 8, 1918. The hymn has been sung or used as background in many films, most famously "Chariots of Fire" as the title of the movie was taken from the poem. LINKS The Proms 2012 Chariots of Fire Kate and William’s wedding St. George’s Chapel congregation singing