HYMN 346 As Moses Lifted Up the Brazen Sign/Moses in the Wilderness
LENT IV Series B John 3:14-21 Numbers 21:4-9 Text: Gracia Grindal Tune: Amanda Husberg 1. As Moses lifted up the brazen sign So did we lift this rose of Jesse’s line. Whose glory in the darkness brightly shines. R/For God so loved the word he gave, He gave his Son, his only Son. 2. The world could see his light and hated it. Preferring darkness, we could not outwit His plan to give us all his benefits R/ 3. Though we had lifted him upon the cross, He proved his love, we could kill or crush His love, for still he looked with love on us. R/ 4. It was for us, for all the world, he died And overcame the evil one that night, And rose again. He is the world’s true light. R/ Text: Copyright 2008 Wayne Leupold Editions, Inc. Text: Gracia Grindal Tune: Iteke Prins 1. As Moses in the wilderness Raised up a serpent made of brass, And those who looked on it were healed By looking on the thing that killed, We take the mercy cure he gives, A draught that kills so we may live. 2. To look at Jesus on the cross And see what he has done for us Is like a death for those who see Their fault before them on the tree. It breaks their hearts with grief and pain To see their sinful selves made plain. 3. He takes us to himself in love, And as our hearts are strangely moved, He draws the lethal venom out To treat our self-regard and doubt. He kills the death in us with life And overcomes our deadly strife. Text copyright 2012 Wayne Leupold Editions, Inc. MEDITATION Once again the cross is central to the texts for next Sunday as is appropriate for Lent. This time from Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus in John 3, the chapter which contains the entire gospel in a verse, John 3: 16. The central word is Love. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” How can one exhaust this topic? The scholars, preachers, poets, composers, dramatists, painters, have produced one after another of works on it and still come away aware that they have barely touched what it means. While it can be contemplated and wondered at, it is not until we add the phrase “for me” that the true profundity of it comes clear. As Augustine hearing Ambrose’ eloquence marveled for a bit at his command of rhetoric, the true impact of what he was preaching did not get to Augustine until he began weeping for his sins. This cosmic event was about him in ways that he needed a good preacher to impress on him so that his heart broke with remorse for his sins. When we know our hearts are breaking, we look for help. As Jesus says elsewhere, he came to help those who needed a physician, not those who did not. My estimable mother would say, when hearing criticisms of the church, that only those who had lost a parent or had teenagers should be allowed on Church boards. In other words, on the whole, those who had not faced sorrow or a broken heart had not yet understood what the work of the church was. Having not experienced grief or pain, they thought the church was simply an organization that needed good business practices—which it did, but it needed them to be able to fulfill its mission. She would observe that the work my father did with the broken and needy was unseen by most of the congregation, but it was there that his work was most vital, most fulfilling and rewarding. Bringing the gospel to those who needed it showed its power. I remember many a meal where the phone would ring and after a bit we would hear of some tragedy or trial. Then my father would leave for the hospital or home where people were waiting for him. In the meantime, we would pray and then go about our work. The parsonage is one of the last places where life’s sorrows, death and tragedies along with unutterable joys are still daily fare. The best was when we heard good news. My father would come home, his eyes shining with joy. You won’t believe what happened, he would say. Then he would tell us how someone, on hearing the good news, had taken it in and it had changed their lives for good. It was not his call to change people; it was his call to bring the medicine of the Gospel to people and then see how it worked in them. He just had to be faithful in bringing the good news wherever he went. The ends of these stories were not always good; but often they were and they were always surprising. Looking at Christ on the cross, facing him, had the power to heal, big time. Christ came in order that the world might be saved. To live close to that truth is to live close to the heart of God. HYMN INFO The theme of John 3:17 and the brass serpent has always fascinated me with its use of what kills, like all good medicine, in order to bring life. Luther said that when Christ is on the cross he becomes the death of death, the devil to the devil, and sin to sin, defeating them all. That notion is central to both of these texts. I had previously used the first two lines, but rewrote the entire hymn to a slightly different meter. I have written elsewhere about both Amanda and Iteke. These tunes are both fine settings of texts that can seem pretty tough. Lenten hymns, especially those from the orthodox Lutheran collection, as we have seen, can get pretty graphic. LINKS Fantasia for Organ by Item Prins, played by Cooman Next month, April 6, my book of sonnets, Jesus The Harmony, will be released. One can pre-order it on Amazon now.
German: Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die schuld Text: Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676). Tune: Wolfgang Dachstein (1487-1553) 1 A LAMB goes uncomplaining forth, The guilt of all men bearing; 'Tis laden with the sin of earth, None else the burden sharing; It goes its way, grows weak and faint, To slaughter led without complaint, Its spotless life to offer; Bears shame, and stripes, and wounds, and death, Anguish and mockery, and saith, "Willing all this I suffer." 2 This Lamb is Christ, the soul's great Friend And everlasting Savior; Him, Him God chose, sin's reign to end And bring us to His favor. "Go forth, my Son!" He said, "and tell The children, who are doomed to hell But for Thine intercession. The punishment is great, and dread The wrath, but Thou Thy blood shalt shed, And save them from perdition." 3 "Yea, Father, yea, most willingly I'll bear what Thou commandest; My will conforms to Thy decree, I do what Thou demandest." O wondrous Love! what hast Thou done! The Father offers up His Son, The Son content descendeth! O Love! O Love! how strong art Thou! In shroud and grave Thou lay'st Him low Whose word the mountains rendeth! 4 Thou lay'st him, Love, upon the cross, With nails and spear Him bruising; Thou slay'st Him as a lamb, His loss, From soul and body oozing; From body 'tis the crimson flood Of precious sacrificial blood, From soul, the strength of anguish: My gain it is; sweet Lamb to Thee What can I give, whose love to me For me doth make Thee languish? 5 Lord, all my life I'll cleave to Thee, Thy love fore'er beholding, Thee ever, as Thou ever me, With loving arms enfolding. Yea, Thou shalt be my Beacon-light, To guide me safe through death's dark night, And cheer my heart in sorrow; Henceforth myself and all that's mine to Thee, my Savior, I consign, From whom all things I borrow. 6 By morn and eve my theme shall be Thy mercy's wondrous measure; To sacrifice myself to Thee, My foremost aim and pleasure. My stream of life shall flow for Thee, Its steadfast current ceaselessly In praise to Thee outpouring; And all that Thou hast done for me, I'll treasure in my memory, Thy gracious love adoring. 7 Enlarge, shrine of my heart, and swell, To Thee shall now be given A treasure that doth far excel The worth of earth and heaven. Away with the Arabian gold, With treasures of an earthly mold! I've found a better jewel. My priceless treasure, Lord my God, Is Thy most holy, precious blood, Which flowed from wounds so cruel. 8 This treasure ever I'll employ, This ever aid shall yield me; In sorrow it shall be my joy, In conflict it shall shield me; In joy, the music of my feast, And when all else has lost its zest, This manna still shall feed me; In thirst my drink; in want my food; My company in solitude, To comfort and to lead me. 9 Death's poison cannot harm me now, Thy blood new life bestoweth; My Shadow from the heat art Thou, When noonday's sunlight gloweth. When I'm by inward grief opprest, On Thee my weary soul shall rest, As sick men on their pillows. Thou art my Anchor, when by woe My bark is driven to and fro On trouble's restless billows. 10 And when Thy glory I shall see And taste Thy kingdom's pleasure, Thy blood my royal robe shall be, And joy beyond at measure; It then shall be my glorious crown, Thus I'll appear before the throne Of God, and need not hide me; And shall, by Him to Thee betrothed, By Thee in bridal garments clothed, Stand as a bride beside Thee. Tr. Composite MEDITATION This has been called the jewel of Lutheran passion hymns for its tender portrayal of the events around Jesus’ suffering and death, and its application to us. Like Luther’s first hymn, "Nun Freut euch," this hymn also includes a dialogue between God the Father and the Son discussing what his mission is. The driving force is love. It causes Christ to suffer for us: “It is Love that lays him on the cross,/With nails and spear Him bruising;/Thou slay'st Him as a lamb, His loss,/From soul and body oozing;/From body 'tis the crimson flood/Of precious sacrificial blood.”
This is vivid stuff. People may recoil from it. The current German hymnal has left these images out. The Baroque sensibility, however, loved them. When I translated the LBW version, which reduced the stanzas to four, the last stanza sounded like the conceit in a poem by the Baroque English poet, Richard Crashaw (1613-1649) They have left thee naked, Lord, O that they had! This garment too I wish they had deny'd. Thee with thy self they have too richly clad; Opening the purple wardrobe in thy side. O never could there be garment too good For thee to wear, but this of thine own Blood. Since I first read it in college, I have never forgotten Crashaw’s line “The purple wardrobe at his side.” To wear the purple is to be royalty, as the phrase goes. One does have to be careful with these images. Count Zinzendorf wrote a hymn wishing to be a leech in Jesus’ veins drinking his blood. John Wesley was understandably repelled by the image. On the other hand, Jesus’ sacrifice has to be faced. It took a sacrifice, like the lamb at Passover, for our sins to be forgiven. Jesus consented to be that sacrifice, once for all. Now it is finished. We remember it and give thanks it was done for us. Gerhardt' s last stanza refers to our royal robe. Christ's blood is now our wedding garment--now we can wear the purples, as the phrase goes for royalty. Quite a turn, from sinner to royal, just like that! HYMN INFO This hymn is very long, with ten line stanzas, and ten stanzas. It first appeared in 1647 in Crüger’s hymnal, Praxis Pietatis Melica. That means it was written while Gerhardt was serving the Mittenwald parish near Berlin. The tune was written for a setting of Psalm 137 by Dachstein, a Strausburger who studied music and theology with Luther. The tune and hymn have been used by many composers from Johann Walter to Hugo Distler. LINKS Laestadian Lutheran Church Concordia Publishing House Cantata on hymn by David Kampen Bach Chor Sieger Hugo Distler’s piece Johann Walter’s Choral Prelude on the tune
Latin: Membra Jesu Nostri Text: Arnulf of Leuven, Abbot of Villers-la-Ville, (ca. 1200-1250) Tune: George William Martin (1828-1881) arr. by Arthur Sullivan 1 Wide open are your hands To pay with more than gold The awful debt of guilt and sin, Forever and of old. Ah, let me grasp those hands, That we may never part, And let the power of their blood Sustain my fainting heart.
2 Wide open are your arms, A fallen world to embrace, To win to love and endless rest Our wayward human race. Lord, I am sad and poor, But boundless is your grace; Give me the soul-transforming joy For which I seek your face.
3 Draw all my mind and heart Up to your throne on high, And let your sacred cross exalt My spirit to the sky. To these, your mighty hands, My spirit I resign. In life, I live alone to you; In death, I’m yours alone. Tr. Charles Porterfield Krauth MEDITATION This hymn is from a meditation on the limbs of Christ and his wounds, a popular devotional exercise in the Middle Ages. It has been attributed to the great doctor of the church, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, (1090-1153) a significant power broker in the Medieval church, who mediated between the various men who were or wanted to be pope. He encouraged the disastrous Second Crusade and was involved with the establishing of the Knights Templar. He helped further the work of his order, the Cistercians, building communities throughout Europe. Dante uses him as a guide to Paradise in his Divine Comedy. And he wrote one of the greatest hymns of the Middle Ages—Jesu, dulcis memoria. When I started researching this hymn, I thought, as many have, that it had come from that poem of 350 lines which is the source for a number of well-loved hymns in English, "Jesus the very thought of thee," and "How sweet the name of Jesus sounds," etc. But it did not. The source is another poem, Membra Jesu Nostri. Recent scholarship has pointed to Arnulf, the Abbot of Villers de Ville as the author. He lived a bit later than Bernard. It certainly breathes the same piety as Bernard. Meditating on the wounds of Christ became a devotional discipline popular in the late middle ages, still popular in Luther's time. Staupitz, Luther's spiritual advisor, told him once that instead of looking at himself, he should look at the wounds of Christ. Paul Gerhard, an orthodox Lutheran, used one of the stanzas of the Arnulf text for his hymn, "O Sacred Head Now Wounded." Gerhard looked at a picture of Jesus' head crowned with thorns every day on the altar in Mittenwald church where he served. So Lutherans have also mediated on the wounds of Christ enough to have one of their greatest hymns use the idea. This hymn meditates on the hands of Christ, but does not more than obliquely speak of the wounds--"the power of the blood." There is plenty of language in the treasury of Christian piety that uses the nail scarred hands of Jesus, but given the anti-Catholicism of the day, Lutherans in the 19th century might have reacted against language about meditating on the wounds of Christ. The translator seemed to know that. One cannot but think of Doubting Thomas, the Twin, and his announcement that he would not believe in the resurrection without seeing and touching Christ's wounds. I am never sure when I read that account in John that Thomas actually does touch the wounds, or that on hearing Christ speak, he is simply bowled over and begins to worship Christ. In fact, he is the first in the Gospel to call Jesus both his Lord and God. His story gets at the mystery of the faith. We have a historical faith for which there is lots of evidence. But seeing is not believing. I once heard a famous Lutheran theologian speaking about the Shroud of Turin which was under investigation at the time. Some Christians were certain that it was authentic and would prove the resurrection beyond a shadow of a doubt. He noted that even if it did, it would not bring people to faith. Faith is a gift, given to us through the Word and the Spirit. It is a mysterious transaction, but when it happens, we can see to see. Then we can look at Christ and receive all that his hands have done for us and what they continue to give us. HYMN INFO The translator of the hymn, Charles Porterfield Krauth (1823-1883) was one of the greatest Lutheran scholars in America at the time. He helped found and then led the Philadelphia Mount Airy Seminary. He is best remembered for his book The Conservative Reformation and its Theology (1872). He also helped formulate the Galesburg Rule: Lutheran pastors for Lutheran pulpits. He was attracted to the Oxford Movement and the effort to rediscover devotional themes from the entire history of the church. So it is not surprising to see him as the translator of this medieval poem. Martin, the composer, sang in the Westminster Boy's Choir when Queen Victoria was crowned. He was a talented musician and composer, writing especially for glee clubs and singing societies. A difficult temperament made him hard to work with and after some success he fell out of favor and ended up destitute and forsaken. This is the same tune as for "Make me a Captive Lord." Buxtedhude wrote the first Lutheran Oratorio on the original text for which I have provided a link below. LINKS The Norsemen Quartet Piano music Buxtehude’s setting of the entire poem/René Jacobs conducting/ gorgeous!
Danish: Korset vil jeg aldri svige Norwegian: Korset vil jeg aldri svike Text: Hans Adolph Brorson (1694-1764). Tune: Norwegian Folk from Lesja 1. Jesus’ cross, I’ll never leave it; For I know its blessed end. For to truly be a Christian, I must bear my cross to heav’n. Jesus welcomes all believers, Knows them all, and calls them friends, Jesus’ cross, I’ll never leave it, For I know its blessed end. 2. Though the way is dark and dreary, Soon we’ll see the Promised Land. Though we trudge through pain and sorrow They will fade in God’s tomorrow. There our Savior shines with glory, Where we soon with him will stand. Though the way is dark and dreary Soon we’ll see the Promised Land. Tr. Gracia Grindal MEDITATION This is a hymn from Hans Adolph Brorson’s Swan Song, finished the year of his death, 1764. It is one of his shortest hymns and written as he was dying in the Ribe bishop’s palace in Jutland, Denmark, where he was bishop. It has fallen out of use in Denmark, but is in the current Norwegian hymnal, partly because of its tune. Norwegians cherished Brorson's texts and the tunes that were used from the folk tradition. The klokkers, or cantors, in the congregations throughout Norway would choose tunes for his hymns from the folk songs in the area making them sound Norwegian. If they didn't sing them in church, they did sing them at meetings and at home. Sondre Bratland, who loves Brorson’s hymns, has made a life out of singing them using the quarter tones that were used in the folk song tradition for centuries. The quarter tones give them several more notes than one can find on the piano or organ. Sondre once talked about how some musicians who don’t know this tradition think this tune is boring, but with the quarter tones, it is a much more interesting tune. It has that modal sound that many people, post 19th century, think of as minor. It is not. Sondre has taught students from around the world, like Bhutan, who have come from cultures still using the quarter tone scales. There is a special skill to singing in that tradition which the Norwegians call kveding. The sound does fit the Lenten mood as well. This brief hymn focusing on the text for Sunday, where we think about not only Jesus’ cross, but our having to bear our own cross, says it succinctly. There is no getting around the cross in the Christian life. It is, as the hymn says, both the end and the way through to the Promised Land. John Bunyan in his classic Pilgrim’s Progress described the journey Christian, the main character, must take to receive Eternal Life. Christian bears a heavy burden as he journeys. He comes to a highway walled on both sides, the wall is called Salvation. As he runs along, he comes to a small mountain upon which is a cross, below which is a sepulcher. As he approaches the cross, the burden falls from "off his back, and began to tumble, and continued to do so till it came to the mouth of the sepulcher, where it fell in, and I saw it no more." After which Christian is filled with joy and a merry heart. He is absolved, receives a new robe, and the mark of the cross along with a paper that he is to take to the celestial gate. He goes forward bearing the cross, having to suffer the trials of the Christian life. Jesus makes that clear in his answer to Peter: "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." When we hear Jesus say that, we should be careful not to think we are to find ways to suffer. That comes with the territory. To carry our cross, I think means, going forward into life and living it fully, meeting everything that comes our way with full hearts and deep sympathy for the needs and joys we meet. When my parents were approaching the end of their lives, they needed help to live. As the older daughter and single, I was the the one who had to take care of them the most, with a lot of good help from my brother and sister. Most every day I would help them with doctor visits, shopping, getting them ready for bed, ministering to them. Sometimes I wondered whether I would make it. After they were gone, some would say, "Well, now you can get back to living your life again." It made me wonder what it meant to live? The fourth commandment says "Honor your father and mother so that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee." In serving them, holding them, washing them, thinking of how I had issued from their bodies, "trudging with them through pain and sorrow" I thought, this is what I am to do with the body they gave me now. Serve them. It is my cross, but in the end it brought me joy and a sense of doing the right thing. God has created life so we can flourish. When I hear this old tune and its words, I think of how suffering is so much a part of this pilgrimage. But underneath the deeply plaintive song and words, there is a joy that is oddly overwhelming. The glory of the Lord shines round and our hearts overflow with joy. HYMN INFO Brorson’s son found this collection of hymn texts in his father’s last effects. He had the good sense to get them published in 1765. Although they did not receive instant recognition and popularity, over time as people began to sing them to favorite old tunes they became favorites. This folk tune comes from Lesja. It was known among folk singers, and among prayer house singers. It became part of the Norwegian church hymnal after 1915 because those who prepared it loved the tune. You can hear the best of the old folk style in the version by Sondre Bratland. And also how popular it is with folk and jazz singers as well as classical musicians. LINKS Sondre Bratland Anne Lise Aadland Arild Sandvold Organ Improvisation on the tune Rebekka Bakken, jazz version. long Vox Humana Nils Henrik Asheim organ and Ruth Wilhelmine Meyer soprano For more on Brorson see HYMN 47 There is more on Brorson at HYMNS 37, 94, 104, 154, 226, 263, 274,
Text: George William Kitchin (1827-1912). Tune: Sidney Nicholson (1874-1947) R/Lift high the Cross, the love of Christ proclaim, Till all the world adore His sacred name.
1 Come, Christians, follow where our Savior trod, Our King victorious, Christ, the Son of God. R/
2 Led on their way by this triumphant sign, The hosts of God in conqu'ring ranks combine. R/
3 O Lord, once lifted on the glorious Tree, As Thou hast promised, draw men unto Thee. R/
4 Set up Thy throne, that earth's despair may cease Beneath the shadow of its healing peace. R/
5 For Thy blest Cross which doth for all atone, Creation's praises rise before Thy throne. R/ MEDITATION This hymn was the “hit” of the LBW. People who had never heard of the hymn before were immediately taken by it and it became the processional anthem of choice at many celebratory services, synod conventions and the like. It fits this Sunday’s text when Jesus tells his disciples, especially Peter, that the cross stands right at the center of his ministry and will be certain at the end of his journey to Jerusalem. The hymn, a mission hymn, recalls the cross that Constantine saw before him, in 312, before the battle of Milvian Bridge, in hoc signes, In this sign you shall conquer. His victory resulted in the Edict of Milan declaring Christianity was not to be persecuted. And some ten years later he declared it the official religion of the empire. The hymn was written for a celebration of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel so it has a strong mission theme. Some people objected to its triumphalism and wanted more of the scandal of the cross in it. I was asked to provide an alternate text or at least a couple of alternate stanzas which I did. The first stanza was “As Moses lifted up the brazen sign, so will we lift this rose of Jesse’s line.” At least I think that was the way it went. The poetry is a bit better, but it sounds different from the rest of the hymn. It has been used in one hymnal, Worship Supplement II. Michael Newbolt changed stanza 3 to a baptismal image: “All newborn soldiers of the Crucified/Bear on their brows the seal of him who died.” More and more I have come to see that going into a hymn text and making it fit our theology or time simply does violence to the original and creates a strange being. Just write a completely new version. The revision did raise another issue. One editor rejected my version because people would not know what Moses and the brazen sign were doing in the hymn. I found it incredible that a Christian hymn could not speak of the brass serpent which Jesus refers to in John 3: 17! If biblical allusions are not allowed in hymns, then where are we? As I have noted elsewhere, hymn writers of today have abandoned such allusions and begun simply retelling the biblical accounts in their hymns so that people can learn the Bible stories and remember them. I have no objection to that at all—the evangelical impulse is fundamental by my lights. But it was a moment that marked a change for hymnody, I think. It is interesting to note, too, that the use of the hymn in hymnals has declined since the 1980s. Why that is I cannot say, but hymnal editors—who are not the same as those who use them!—may have agreed with the accusation that the text was too triumphal. Despite that, it is certainly of a piece with the thrilling processionals that mark big church events; it has that big Anglican sound that we all love. In the text, which is very biblical, we hear the words of Christ in John 12—when I am lifted up I will draw all people to me. John does show us that the glory of God is seen most powerfully when Jesus is dying on the cross. That seems as counter intuitive as anything, but it is how faith works. We can see the opposite of what the world thinks in this scene. And Scripture is quite clear on this. Just as the world thinks it is ridding itself of this interloper, he is showing to believers that he is conquering the greatest of our enemies, sin, death and the devil. It takes faith to see that. I had an old colleague who would ask, with great emotion, who could look at the crucified Christ on Calvary and not suffer a broken heart? Through the power of the Holy Spirit, who works to bring us to Christ, our faith is born or renewed as we gaze on our dying Lord and this cosmic event. And marvel, this took place for you and me. All we can do is sing praise! HYMN INFO Kitchin wrote the text for a celebration in 1887 of the Society for the Propogation of the Gospel, (SPG), the mission arm of the English church, at Winchester Cathedral where he was dean. Kitchin served mostly in academia. He attended Christ Church at Oxford and ended his career as Chancellor at Durham Cathedral. A scholar, he wrote a biography of Pope Pius II and a history of France. Michael Newbolt revised Kitchin’s version for the 1916 supplemental edition of Hymns: Ancient and Modern. It is his version that was used in the LBW 1978. Newbolt was also a cleric and scholar. Educated at St. John’s College, Oxford, he served several parishes before ending his career as canon of Chester Cathedral. Sidney Nicholson was one of the great forces in English hymnody during the last century. An organist and well regarded composer, he established what became the Royal School of Church Music in 1945 and worked to further knowledge and excellence in hymnody throughout his entire life. He edited the 1916 Supplement to Hymns: Ancient and Modern and continued to contribute his expertise to the work throughout his life. He was knighted in 1938 for his work with church music. LINKS The choirs of Southwest Baptist Seminary, Texas First Plymouth Church, Lincoln Nebraska Islington Baptist Chris Rupp and acapella choir
Psalm 119 Text: Amy Grant Tune: Michael W. Smith R/Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path 1. When I feel afraid Think I've lost my way Still you're there right beside me And nothing will I fear As long as you are near Please be near me to the end R/Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path 2. I will not forget Your love for me and yet My heart forever is wandering Jesus be my guide And hold me to your side I will love you to the end Nothing will I fear as long as you are near Please be near me to the end R/Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path And a light unto my path You're the light unto my path. MEDITATION This is among the signature songs of contemporary Christian music in its first generation. Written by Amy Grant with Michael W. Smith, it is of a piece with the Wattsian tradition of using the language of the psalm and then riffing a bit on it, not worrying about paraphrasing Scripture exactly as the early Calvinist psalmists did. Calvin had urged hymn writers to paraphrase the psalms exactly because it was in the psalms where God taught us how to praise him. That means nothing extraneous would creep into the language of prayer and corrupt it. That notion kept the writers of the Calvinists working to provide singeable versions of the psalms for a long time. From 1542 until Watts, there was little wavering from that. The Bay Psalm book, 1640, the first book published in America, was prepared by Puritan divines like Richard Mather, (1596-1669) grandfather of Cotton Mather—a remarkable achievement when one thinks of their small libraries and busy times working in the colony to provide pastoral care for their widespread parishes. Watts thought the restrictions of that form were too strict and also not Christian enough—he shrank from some of the sentiments of the psalms, such as the last verse of Psalm 137, about dashing the babies of the Babylonians against the rocks. Furthermore, he wanted to use images from the Gospels, such as his great hymn "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross." His innovations became the standard form of the English hymn until the 19th century and the Oxford Revival brought hymns from the early and medieval church into English. Still he remains the English standard—if you ask a kid who has been a church goer to write a song, chances are high that he or she will write one in the meter of a standard Watts ballad form. That is also the most popular form of English poesy. When the contemporary Christian music movement began, it followed in the Watts’ tradition. This song is clear evidence of that. Grant and Smith used the language of Psalm 119. Their text and music, while using the conventions of Watts, and even the traditional language of the King James Version, also used conventions from contemporary pop music like its frequent repetitions. We remember mostly the refrain “Thy Word is a Lamp until my Feet.” That repetition teaches us the essence of Psalm 119, the longest psalm in the psalter. The tune is also what we would call an ear worm. Once you hear it, it runs through your mind for a long time. I am an admirer of the Calvinist psalter and its enormous influence on the American mind. Every Calvinist tradition brought to the American shores one version or another of the psalter, from the Huguenots, to the Dutch, the Scots, the Irish, the English—their music became the music of the American church. Most any early American drenched in Biblical language would have known when they heard "Thy Word is a Lamp unto my feet" that they were hearing Psalm 119. Now that language is not so widely shared. Sometimes the language paraphrasing Scripture today may sound like the creation of the singer. That means to me the people hearing it, while hearing the Word of God, may not realize it is Scripture. While that may not be crucial, Grant and Smith with their riffs on the psalm, “Sometimes I feel afraid,“ made the language of Scripture understandable to their audience by showing how they used it in their lives. We believe that God’s Word creates faith. And this song has done that. It is interesting to think a bit about how a tradition can inform and influence a new movement. The Spirit is always breaking and remaking traditions to cause faith to be renewed again and again. Even though their work was opposed by the mainline, they had far more success in teaching the faith than the main line appeared to have.Their songs certainly are among the most popular on Youtube and people who write in response to the song have been greatly helped by it over the years. For that we can praise God! One bit of evidence for the work of the Spirit that we must be alert to as we pray for revival. HYMN INFO This hymn by Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith was first published in 1984 and became one of the hit Christian contemporary songs. Both Grant and Smith were deeply committed Christians and worked to bring the Gospel to their generation. Grant and Smith have rafts of hit songs and awards in honor of their work. Grant, known as the Queen of Christian pop, sang with the Gaithers and many others. Her collaboration with Smith was very fruitful. She has successfully crossed over into general pop music, but her fans are always happy when they hear her do new Christian music, something she has done very successfully. She has sold over 30 million albums. Smith has been one of the greats in the Contemporary Christian movement. This has now been included in hymnals and also an anthem that choirs in the mainline sing. LINKS Amy Grant and Michael Smith singing the song Choral rendition. Presbyterian Church in Plano, Texas Amazing Grace Christian Fellowship Maranatha singers
Psalm 23 Text: African American Spiritual. Tune: African American Spiritual, arranged by Moses Hogan (1957-2003) 1 I want Jesus to walk with me. I want Jesus to walk with me. All along my pilgrim journey, Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me. 2 In my trials, Lord, walk with me. In my trials, Lord, walk with me. When my heart is almost breaking, Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me. 3 When I’m in trouble, Lord, walk with me. When I’m in trouble, Lord, walk with me. When my head is bowed in sorrow, Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me. MEDITATION Lent is a time when we speak of our walk with the Lord. Sometimes we call it our Lenten journey, but the emphasis is on the wrong syllable there to me. It is not our journey, it is with the Lord as we follow along and contemplate what he has done for us and accept his gift of salvation. While we will suffer for our faith as we take up our cross, that is not what we are to focus on. What these contemplations should bring us to is an understanding and acceptance of our dire need. Jesus does not want us to feel sorry for him, but to feel sorry for our sins. We, like the disciples, watch with horror from the sidelines. After Gethsemane the disciples have fled and we only see Peter and Judas, neither of whom acquit themselves very well. Jesus also rebukes the daughters of Jerusalem who are weeping along side him. The Roman church observes it as the Eighth Station of the Cross, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed! Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us, and to the hills, Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” My sense that we are living in apocalyptic times responds to this language. What is Jesus talking about? It often does seem like things are falling apart. But Jesus tells us we need to look into our own hearts and see what is there. What he is doing now does not require our pity, but our repentance. There are so many ways we can go wrong on this story. Do we feel good because we are sorry for Jesus and the way they are treating him? It has a way of putting us outside of the story. We need to admit that we are in it big time. He says, look into your own hearts. We are the reason for his suffering and death. For our Bible study group, which is studying Matthew 4:1-11 this week, I have been rereading The Grand Inquisitor from Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, one of the great novels of all time. If you remember it, it tells the story of Jesus returning while the Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition is trying to rub out heresy. He sees that Christ is the worst heretic of all because he gave us freedom when he resisted Satan’s temptations. For that he wants to burn him at the stake. He thinks it unchristian of Christ not to have agreed to feed everyone, (turn the stones to bread) or prove by miracles that God exists (fall from the highest mountain and expect the angels to save him), or take control of the government and give universal happiness. Our freedom is too much, the Grand Inquisitor thinks. It causes suffering. For Christian reasons, the Grand Inquisitor wants to kill Christ. It's shocking. Suffering is a mark of the Christian life. Jesus tells us we must take up our cross and follow him. Would we want it any other way? I don't think so. But in our suffering, trials and troubles, we can pray to Christ to walk with us through the valley of the shadow, as per Psalm 23, not walk it for us. He walks with us through our tribulations; he does not take over; he wants us to live an abundant life, freed from the power of sin and death. He died so we can live life to the full, in all its sorrows and joys. We are not robots. He wants us to choose life and live! HYMN INFO Once again, we know little about this text or tune. It is less a demand that Christ do something for the singer, than a cry from the heart that he is needed. That puts the emphasis on the right syllable. Moses Hogan has arranged it. Hogan was born in New Orleans to a musical family and by the age of nine was impressing people with his gifts as a pianist. He studied at music Xavier University Junior School of Music. From there he went to the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, then to Juliard and later to Vienna to study classical music. He started a choir and established the Moses Hogan Chorale and began arranging music for choirs. He died of a brain tumor when he was only forty-five. A great loss. LINKS Fisk Jubilee Singers/featuring Ruby Amanfu Alex Boye and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir arranged by Moses Hogan Eric Bibbs Noah Stewart with Adventist Vocal Ensemble/Songs of Praise BBC Fountainview Academy Benediction College Choir with arrangement by Moses Hogan
Norwegian: Se, vi går opp til Jerusalem Swedish: Se, vi går upp til Jerusalem Luke 17:31 Text: Lars Johan Paulinus “Paul” Nilsson ((1866-1952). Tune: Anders Arrebo Psalter (1587-1637) 1. Come, let us go to Jerusalem And take now this Lenten journey, To see how our Savior, God’s only Son Will die in the place of all sinners. 2. Come, let us go to Jerusalem— Who goes with him to the garden To do as his heavenly Father wills And drinks of the cup for our pardon. 3. Come, let us go to Jerusalem-- To stand at the cross of Jesus, The Lamb who was offered to save the world To die for our sins and to free us. 4. Come, let us go to Jerusalem— The beautiful gate of heaven— For Jesus once told us that where he is There we will be with him forever. Tr. Gracia Grindal MEDITATION This hymn has become almost obligatory in the Norwegian/Swedish tradition for the Sunday before Lent or the First Sunday in Lent. It treats the determination of Jesus when he announces that they are on the way to Jerusalem where he will meet his death. Stig Holter in his dictionary of Norwegian hymnody notes that there are three stations on the way, so to speak, the first, when the announcement is made, Gethsemane, Calvary, ending at the New Jerusalem. The Prophet Isaiah has a phrase, I have set my face like flint, (50:7) which is what can be said of Jesus as he goes up to Jerusalem—up does not mean north, but up the mountain where the city is built. Flint is a very hard stone, which was used for tools or even to make a spark for fire. The disciples never quite get this as they follow along. As Jesus goes along, he preaches, heals, feeds and casts out demons. Naturally people follow him on this journey hoping first of all to be healed or freed of demons, but also simply to hear this man speaking. I have often wondered whether I would have followed. His voice and his words must have been so compelling that many simply had to follow, like the disciples. I have wondered if that was because they heard in some part of their being the voice of their creator and could not resist it. The record, too, of the multitudes who marvel at his sayings, is persuasive. Even the educated elite hear at once that he has something to say which they have never heard before. They recognize that he knows what they know, but knows it more deeply than they do, in fact, well enough to give it new interpretation that they cannot argue with, nor oppose. Clearly some want to know more, like Nicodemus, who visits Jesus by night, seeking to know the truth. After Jesus reveals himself and predicts his own crucifixion, we don’t really see what Nicodemus decides. He is left in the dark in that story as Jesus goes on to speak of himself as the light. But he does reappear at the end of the gospel of John with seventy pounds of myrrh and aloes for Jesus’ burial. Far more than one would need. It is always a mystery—something the Gospel of John delights in. Why on earth does he bring such an excess for the burial? Great love? Wanting Jesus to really be dead? We do not know, but obviously Nicodemus was responding to his first encounter with this one, this voice, this teacher who had something to give that he had never heard before. We have heard it so many times that the surprise and mystery of it may have gone flat. But the Holy Spirit is always with us, enlightening us and opening us to the mystery as we watch Jesus fulfilling the prophecies in Scripture and bringing us, through his death and resurrection, to the gates of the Holy City. HYMN INFO Paul Nilsson was a Swedish pastor born in Längjums parish in Västergötland. He served several parishes in the Skara diocese, and served as Court Preacher from 1908. He was a force in the renewal of Swedish hymnody of the first part of the twentieth century. This hymn was first printed in his Återljud från Tämplet in 1895. He went on to publish a book of hymns and songs for the morning service, Psalmer och sanger till högmässer (1905) and a supplement to the Wallin hymnal of 1819 still the official Swedish church hymnal at the time. He continued to do so for the revised hymnal which came out in 1937. He was also a musician who led many choirs, especially youth choirs. The composer is unknown, although the tune has been credited to Arrebo, who is known for his compositions, but now most people say it appeared in his collection of metrical psalms, Davids Psalter in 1627. At the age of 31, Arrebo was named bishop of Trondheim. He loved Norway but was removed from his office because his impolitic behavior caused him to make enemies. He cooled his heels in his wife's home town in Denmark until he got a small parish again in Vordingborg about the time the psalter came out. LINKS Swedish congregation singing it SKRUK Sondre Bratland and Nils Petter Molvær on trumpet Göteborg choir and Ola Höglund organist. Motet by Sven-Erik Bäck, the Stockholm Chamber Choir, Bäck directing
Romans 5:6-11 Text: Samuel Crossman (1623-1683). Tune: John Ireland (1879-1962) 1. My song is love unknown, My Saviour’s love to me; Love to the loveless shown, That they might lovely be. O who am I, That for my sake My Lord should take Frail flesh and die? 2. He came from His blest throne Salvation to bestow; But men made strange, and none The longed-for Christ would know: But O! my Friend, My Friend indeed, Who at my need His life did spend. 3. Sometimes they strew His way, And His sweet praises sing; Resounding all the day Hosannas to their King: Then “Crucify!” is all their breath, And for His death they thirst and cry. 4. Why, what hath my Lord done? What makes this rage and spite? He made the lame to run, He gave the blind their sight, Sweet injuries! Yet they at these Themselves displease, and ’gainst Him rise. 5. They rise and needs will have My dear Lord made away; A murderer they save, The Prince of life they slay, Yet cheerful He to suffering goes, That He His foes from thence might free. 6. In life no house, no home, My Lord on earth might have; In death no friendly tomb, But what a stranger gave. What may I say? Heav'n was his home; But mine the tomb Wherein he lay. 7. Here might I stay and sing, No story so divine; Never was love, dear King! Never was grief like Thine. This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise I all my days could gladly spend. MEDITATION This hymn is unusual in that it has a voice, we would say in English class, a point of view, that is unique. Many hymns with an I are usually from what we might call a universal I—it can easily become the song of most anyone singing it. This one is peculiar. The speaker in the poem is a naïve observer of Jesus’ passion. He doesn’t seem to understand the story, but reports on what he sees innocently. Children on hearing the story of Jesus for the first time frequently will ask why on being told that this one who loves them is being hurt by the people around him. It is a way of getting at the scandal of the cross. The singer notes the shocking story of Jesus being repaid evil for good. The first stanza notes that he does this for me, but it is in the sixth stanza that the story applies especially to the singer. Jesus is laid in the tomb where I should be. For that the singer sings praise using language from George Herbert’s collection of poems, “The Temple.” Its high quality as a poem makes it one that appears in anthologies of English poetry. As I have noted before that does not prevent it from being used as a hymn, but sometimes the language may be too complicated for a hymn that everyone can sing. This hymn has suffered at the hands of the hymnal editors who haven’t liked the phrase, “But men made strange.” Will the people in the pew understand that locution? So then they change it, but most anybody gets the idea. People estranged themselves from the Lord. Or acted strangely. The sixth stanza is crucial. Without it the hymn could be taken to say that others are guilty and the singer is not. That is a bad move. Blaming others for the death of Jesus is the beginning of all sorts of hateful things, like Anti-Semitism. No one can fully understand the crucifixion and the sacrifice of Jesus if they don’t understand that if they had been there they might well have joined in the persecution and death of our Lord. I as a seminary professor could well have been chief of the persecutors. Here comes an upstart, without an education, from a backwater, who does all the things we have been praying for and he drives us crazy. We have to get rid of him. He scandalizes us. The hymn may work something like Nathan telling King David the story of the poor man with the lamb. David identifies with the poor man in the story, not the rich man, and Nathan has him where he wants him: Thou art the man! We sing this hymn which points out all the good things Jesus does and then are forced to ponder the way he is treated. And then we are hit with the notion that Christ is doing this all for us, for me. While we were enemies as Paul notes in Romans 5, We are not very attractive in this picture. The hard truth is that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners! Which brings us to praise. He did this for us while we were opposing him. And now we see it. Our Friend whom we can spend all our days in sweet praise. Amen. HYMN INFO Samuel Crossman was an Anglican clergyman. He was born in Suffolk and received his BA in theology from Pembroke College at Cambridge. Serving both Anglican and Puritan congregations, he worked to bring about a compromise on the theology of the ministry in the Anglican church, opposing the Act of Uniformity of 1662 which required all clergymen in the Anglican communion to be ordained by bishops in the historic episcopate. That failed and he was expelled from the clergy along with 2000 other Puritans. Three years later he relented and was ordained. This was a rough time for dissenters in England, but it gave us some of our greatest literature. John Bunyan was thrown into jail because he would not go along with the Act and while in prison wrote his classic Pilgrim’s Progress. John Ireland, whose tune is the most common, was an English musician who composed and played the organ in Chelsea for many years. He wrote works for chamber groups and art songs. The story goes he wrote this quickly during a lunch. It is also sung to the Welsh tune Rhosymedre. LINKS Kings College Choir Dom Kelly and Emily Ogilvie from Songs of Praise St. Andrew’s Cathedral Choir, Sydney Australia Keswick Convention
German: Herzlich Lieb Hab ich dich, O Herr Text: Martin Schalling (1532-1608) Tune: B. Schmid 1577 1 Lord, Thee I love with all my heart; I pray Thee, ne'er from me depart, With tender mercy cheer me. Earth has no pleasure I would share, Yea, heav'n itself were void and bare If Thou, Lord, wert not near me. And should my heart for sorrow break, My trust in Thee can nothing shake. Thou art the portion I have sought; Thy precious blood my soul has bought. Lord Jesus Christ, My God and Lord, my God and Lord, Forsake me not! I trust Thy Word. 2 Yea, Lord, 'twas Thy rich bounty gave My body, soul, and all I have In this poor life of labor. Lord, grant that I in ev'ry place May glorify Thy lavish grace And help and serve my neighbor. Let no false doctrine me beguile; And Satan not my soul defile. Give strength and patience unto me To bear my cross and follow Thee. Lord Jesus Christ, My God and Lord, my God and Lord, In death Thy comfort still afford. 3 Lord, let at last Thine angels come, To Abram's bosom bear me home, That I may die unfearing; And in its narrow chamber keep My body safe in peaceful sleep Until Thy reappearing. And then from death awaken me, That these mine eyes with joy may see, O Son of God, Thy glorious face, My Savior and my fount of grace. Lord Jesus Christ, my prayer attend, my prayer attend, And I will praise Thee without end. Tr. Catherine Winkworth MEDITATION She closed her book after singing this hymn probably for the first time and said, “I want this sung at my funeral.” Many have wanted it sung at their funerals. This is one of the great, but somewhat unknown, chorales of the Reformation period. Among its greatest features is its prayer that one might die “unfearful.” As I noted yesterday, we do die alone. By that I mean, we have to cross the river alone, knowing we will be met by Jesus, but no one can make the journey for us. So good Christians I have known say they are not afraid of being dead, they fear the process of dying. John Bunyan in his classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, shows us Christian, the pilgrim, fearing the passage over the river toward the City of God. He titles the chapter where the pilgrims are seeing that they must go through, “Death is not welcome to nature, though by it we pass out of the world into glory.” He is frightened as he passes over by “troublesome thoughts of the sins he had committed” but keeps going forward, encouraged by Hopeful, his companion. He continues on because he has seen what is on the other side, taking comfort in the promises of Scripture, especially Isaiah 43:2, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.” Soon, they find ground to stand on and are greeted by Two Shining Men, the ministering spirits who point them “toward the Paradise of God.” The ardor of this hymn in its love for the Lord is so pure and joyful it is no wonder Johann Sebastian Bach used its last stanza in his great St. John’s Passion when Jesus is being buried. It expresses for us the natural fear we have of dying, and prays that we will be comforted and accompanied by angels, or the two shining ones per Bunyan over the waters. I really don’t care or won’t care what hymns they sing at my funeral, I hope those planning my funeral will pick hymns that comfort them. I will be beyond that. But I have made it clear to those who will be with me in those last hours that among the songs that will bring comfort will be this one. In the arrangement by Bach. I have a list of others too, but most of all I would cherish hearing them to sing it themselves, not play it on a CD. When my father was dying, we sang several hymns for him as a family and his face was wreathed in joy. "Beautiful, beautiful," he exclaimed as best he could. And then he sang back to us the tune of a hymn he loved and which I saw he had written out in his wavering hand, memorizing it, not long before he had landed in the hospital--I think he did it wanting to be ready for this last moment-- "My Song is Love Unknown," “Here might I stay and sing—No story so divine! Never was love, dear King, Never was grief like thine. This is my friend, in whose sweet praise/I all my days could gladly spend, I all my days could gladly spend!” It was his benediction on us, and a confession of his faith in the Lord Jesus, his friend whom he had spent his life proclaiming and praising, as Schalling has it, without end. HYMN INFO Schalling was the son of an early follower of the Reformation in Strassbourg. He became a pastor, studying at Wittenberg University after Luther’s death. Philip Melancthon, Luther’s colleague, was his tutor. He worked with him on the Book of Concord, although later withdrew. He ran into trouble with the rulers of his day for his theological convictions. After some difficulties with Frederick III in Amberg, he left, but returned to serve as Court Preacher and Superintendent for his son, Louis VI. He ended up serving the congregation in Nürnberg for twenty years until his death. The writer of the tune is not clear. Some attribute it to Balthazaar Schmid, others to one whose history is unknown. It usually is attributed to a source from 1577. The hymn, however, was beloved and set by Buxtehude, Schütz and Bach. LINKS English, Concordia Publishing House Bach’s setting BWV 340 the last stanza of the hymn in Bach's St. John's Passion Jossa Congregation Choir/not professional but it shows how people love it Buxtehude’s Cantata on the hymn/lovely BuxWV 41 Heinrich Schütz Motet 387
Hebrews 4:17 Text: African American Spiritual Tune: American folk/maybe a spiritual? 1 Jesus walked this lonesome valley; He had to walk it by himself. Oh, nobody else could walk it for him; He had to walk it by himself. 2 We must walk this lonesome valley; We have to walk it by ourselves. Oh, nobody else can walk it for us; We have to walk it by ourselves. 3 You must go and stand your trial; You have to stand it by yourself. Oh, nobody else can stand it for you; You have to stand it by yourself.
NB: NOTE TO READERS In thirty days I will have been doing the hymnblog for a year. I intend to be done with the daily meditations then. It has been a wonderful journey and a great blessing for me to share my knowledge, experiences and passions with others. I am thinking of continuing by doing only one a week, exploring new and old (often unfortunately forgotten) treasures for my readers. If you have any suggestions or ideas about what you would like me to do, please contact me. Blessings to you all. G MEDITATION It must have been in the late 1950s. We had it in our Luther League meetings. A little booklet, with a canary yellow cover, which I cannot find in the seminary library. If I remember it was 5 1/2 inches by 8 inches, folded in two, so the songs were small and the notes and texts were free hand. This was years before computers or programs like Finale. But it was a sign of something breaking in, something new coming. I can't remember any other songs in it, but I can see "Jesus Walked this Lonesome Valley" clearly in my memory. Some readers might still have the booklet, but in my downsizing, etc., I have lost track of that one so this is pure memory. As with all spirituals, the history is unclear. The text shows how "anonymous" creates texts: there is a structure that repeats and then someone in the group adds a similar kind of phrase that can be sung with the refrain, or the stanza. One can be sure, too, that the group hones the phrase down making it better. It could be secular or sacred as our various versions of it on Youtube show. It was an old practice, from forever, to parody old hymns, like "The Sweet Bye and Bye" and make it into another kind of song, like a labor protest song, as Joe Hill did. "There'll be pie in the sky, bye and bye." Lonesome Valley, as many might remember, was used in the folk revivals and protests of the 1960s with secular words for the situation, as per Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and Mary Travers. It is very likely there are many other additions to the song that have been sung to meet various situations. The version with Jesus in it--and here there are added stanzas too--is suggested as a hymn for the First Sunday in Lent. It could refer to the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. For certain, Psalm 23 informs the text. the valley of the shadow of death. The word "valley" resonates in our minds as we sing it and we think of Psalm 23. Jesus knew that he was completely alone as he cried out on the cross, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me." Nobody else could walk it for him as no. one can walk it for us. The song really calls us to account. No one else can repent for us or face our ending for us. Nobody else can do that for us. We do die alone, no matter how many are with us at the time. It is a sobering song. The Christian imagination is steeped in Scripture, and has an archive of images in mind that don’t need to be explained or footnoted. Such talk between those who know the language of Canaan can go deep and wide between them. Hymns can refer to such imagery without explanation—Here I raise my Ebenezer. Put out the fleece. Or Jimmy Carter saying that he had committed adultery with women in his heart. Well versed Christians knew what he was saying. The press went nuts, however, showing how little they knew of biblical language. It is also true that while we can use useful codes with each other, they can’t be used in conversations with those who are not fluent in Christian talk. Apologists, or missionaries, are aware of that and spend a lot of time learning the language of the ones to whom they are talking so they can communicate. This also means that hymn writers have to assess who their audience is. Insiders don’t need elaboration on images; outsiders do. Which is why many hymns today tell the biblical stories rather than allude to them. Sometimes, however, the language is general enough to communicate both inside and outside. People know what a valley is whether they know Psalm 23 or not. Those who do know the biblical references are more richly rewarded by the image than others, but the language communicates to both. The Christian versions of this song, the first two on the links, are more explicit, telling the story of Jesus death, his dying alone, maybe because people need that. The last stanza in the Birmingham Boys Choir version saying that we do not have to walk alone into the valley of death because Jesus goes with us is an innovation which makes sense. As the faith becomes less generally known hymn writers need to be more explicit. Christians have more work to do as missionaries than ever before. Their songs should work on both sides now! HYMN INFO Once again, we have no idea about this song. It is called a spiritual, but some are not sure. Some have thought it could be among those known as white spirituals, and used on both sides of the color line, but we don't know. We do know that it became popular in the 1950s and has continued to have a place in the song of Christians who are facing death or a dark time. The movie O Brother Where Art Thou? with the Fairfield Four has a religious version with a variant on the text. LINKS Jesus Walked the Lonesome Valley Birmingham Boys Choir Folk singer hymn version from O Brother Where Art Thou? Joan Baez and Mary Travers singing secular version