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Posts Tagged ‘Lutheran Hymnody’

 

It has not been widely reported that the French satirical magazine, “Charlie Hebdo” has also published offensive cartoons about Christianity.  One in particular is lurid and can be found here.  This is their equivalency for the cartoons about Mohammed.  They are against all and any religion.  We should be shocked but the difference is that Christians did not surround Hebdo offices and  killed the writers. As Anthony Sacramone  wrote in his acute observations about this satirical magazine:

There is no right not to be offended, a lesson many in the United States have yet to learn. But there is a right to be offended,  nevertheless,  whether by ideas that do not reflect back to you a precious self-conception or by sloppy or creepy satire. But ideas you find wanting should be countered with better ideas, and sloppy or creepy satire, especially sloppy or creepy satire, should be met with better and more pointed satire. Not with violence, not with threats of violence, and not with threats to one’s livelihood.

 My goal, though, in this article is not to  reiterate the many keen observations about this sad event, and build upon them, but it is historical on nature.

In looking at the Hebdo anti-Christian cartoon the other evening,  I remembered another cartoon, actually a graffito.  This 3rd century graffito was found in the ruins of a soldiers’ room in a building used for training  imperial guards, on the Palatine Hill, in Rome.  It shows a man in front of a crucified man with the head of jackass and the inscription reads:  “Alexamenos worships his god”.

This graffito clearly indicates the historical veracity of Christ’s crucifixion, and continuing from the Lord’s Cross and Resurrection, His crucifixion was central for Christians, as the Apostle Paul wrote a 2 centuries  before this cartoon:  “We preach Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 1: 23).  Alexamenos had heard this Gospel and came to faith by the work of the Holy Spirit and he was mocked for worshiping this crucified god.   I find this graffito as crude and offensive as the Charlie Hebdo cartoon which  depicts the God who is love, as perverted love. Obviously, the graffito’s  artist is mocking Alexamenos’ faith for laughs, as is part of the intent of the French 21st century cartoonist.  

I came across a research paper on this graffito and it will be the basis of this historical article which is worth the read in its entirety:  The Palatine Graffito: A Mimic Interpretation” by L. L. Welborn (Fordham University,  Macquarie University”  All the quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from this paper.

First:  In the second century, the Roman Empire was severely persecuting Christians.  It is known that there were many Roman soldiers who were Christians.  In a persecution of this magnitude, a Roman Christian soldier would have been one of the first to be singled out and mocked…maybe more.  Alexamenos was probably such a soldier and a Christian.  

Secondly,it was also quite common to denigrate people by comparing them to a jackass. especially, “… the ass-man was a theme featured in ancient mimes.” This is still prevalent today as in the slur, You’re nothing but a jackass.

Thirdly, extant plays and writings of that time have the theme mocking Christians and their practices and belief, even the  crucifixion of Christ or of crucifixion in general for its comedic possibilities, especially in mime theater.

“…“the Christian” became the newest type of the mimic fool upon the popular stage. Gregory of Nazianzus complains: “The Christians now serve as a theater-act, not before angels and men, as Paul did, but before the lowest level of the populace.”26 Christian baptism was a favorite subject of ridicule in the mime, as we learn from the Martyrdom of Porphyrius.”  (Note:  Gregory of Nazianzus was one of the Church Fathers)

“The soldier who sketched the Palatine graffito had probably seen such mimes, and had seen Christians, if not Christ himself, upon a stage-cross”

In one such play a known actor  Genesius, a mime, a pagan,  confessed his faith in Jesus Christ  in a play mocking the Christian faith!  He was eventually horribly tortured and killed.

 The  depiction of crucifixion upon the stage was not specific to the persecution of Christianity in that time period of the Empire. Rather, the crucifixion was a well-established subject of the mime. Evidently, in one such popular  1st century play, Laureolus, about the crucifixion of a runaway slave who becomes the leader of a band of thieves, acted on stage, the Jewish historian Josephus reports,

““a great quantity of artificial blood flowed down from the one crucified.”

In one production of this play,

” Suetonius notes that the performance was immediately followed by a humorous afterpiece in which “several mimic fools so vied with one another in giving evidence of their proficiency at dying that the stage swam in blood.”

Again, this was done for laughs.  Wellborn then has some interesting speculations about the reason for such gallows humor.  And he concluded that the graffito’s artist and Alexamenos’ fellow soldier, was doing this as well for laughs: a crucified god, indeed!

Prof. Wellborn concludes his paper and I quote it, almost in full, because it is cogent and powerful in the discussion about the mocking of the Christian faith in our day as we see in Charlie Hebdo and around the world (emphases my own):

The crucifixion of an unfortunate fool, one who was socially inferior or physically defective, was a welcome reminder of what it was like to be a fully human part of society, and thus invulnerable to such cruel punishment. For such persons as our imperial guard, the representation of the crucifixion of a misfit in an artistic medium, such as a graffito or the mime, must have been especially pleasurable…

Our conclusion with respect to the Palatine graffito may take the form of an argument a minori ad maius (note: “from the lesser to the greater): if the crucifixion of a slave or a poor man provoked humor, for the reasons given above, then how much more the faith in a crucified god. That one who had suffered the death of a slave and had experienced the extreme limit of human misery, an ass-man, should be worshipped as a god—this was surely the purest folly! That a piece of human trash, one of those whom life had demolished, should be hailed as “god”—was the most laughable scenario imaginable.

Thus, in the Palatine graffito, the central mystery of the Christian faith is parodied as a scene from the mime, in which the crucified god of the Christians is mocked as a grotesque, much-slapped ass.

Then Professor Wellborn asks an important question:

And what of that central mystery—the message about the cross—and its appeal to Alexamenos? On the principle that an effective parody must always preserve the thing parodied, may we venture to ask why Alexamenos worships a crucified figure with an ass’s head as his god? In the mime, and in other literature written from “the grotesque perspective,” we discover that the fate of the fool is the source of a “laughter of liberation”…The fool in the mime is ugly, deformed, and beaten. Yet, for the common people who delighted in the mime, the fool was a locus of value and meaning.  This psycho-social dynamic explains the extraordinary popularity of the Laureolus mime (Note:  the 1st century mime, I talked about above) , in which a runaway slave was crucified on stage.

Alexamenos’ faith in a crucified god builds upon this dynamic and supersedes it. In the message that the Son of God had died the contemptible death of a fool, a little man like Alexamenos heard that he had been “chosen” by God. Paul explained the mysterious “calling” of the crucified God two centuries before Alexamenos believed:

“Consider your calling, brothers and sisters, that not many of you were wise in a human sense, not many powerful, not many well-born; but God chose the foolish of the world,…and God chose the weak of the world,… and God chose the low-born of the world and the despised, mere nothings” (1 Cor. 1:26-28).

Or, to put it the other way around, the message that a piece of human garbage, a half-man and half-ass, one of those whom life had demolished, and who had touched bottom, has been vindicated by God and is now “the Lord of glory”—this message was a power capable of rescuing those who trusted in it from despair over the nothingness of their lives. So that, even if they live in the shadow of the cross and die a bit every day, and even if the cross should be their tomb, as it was  of their fathers and grandfathers, even there life would have value and meaning, because the One who died in this contemptible way was the Son of God.”

He still is the Son of God.  Alexamenos knew by faith that Jesus is Lord.  This is the work of the Holy Spirit and so it was for Alexamenos to hang in there.  I think the Hebdo cartoon above  depicts that it is laughable for a god to so  love that His love is poured out through His beloved Son for us all for a people as contemptible as Alexamenos, the graffito artist, you and me. 

In a Roman age as our own, when love is so perverted, a cartoonist makes fun of that love by the only love he knows, perverted love, though he would defend that perverted ‘love’ and its expression,  anal intercourse as a secular sacred right.

In an article in the 1/10-1/11, 2015 Weekend Wall Street Journal, “The Mocking Tradition Behind Charlie Hebdo”,  the writer, Dr. Weber, professor of French at Barnard College,  points out that in France the mocking of Christianity beginning with the philosophes, such as Voltaire, has a long pedigree.  She thinks that this 500 years of French anti-clericalism, anti-Catholicism and anti-religion of any of sort (especially Judaism), the desired result has been,

“…Catholicism has finally become “banalized” (that is, lost its status as a taboo subject), in a neologism coined by Charb himself (note: the murdered editor of CharlieHebdo) in 2012. He went on to say, “We have to keep at until Islam is as banalized as Catholicism.”  

In other words, it’s open season on any religion, but Charb got it wrong. “Banal” means  “lacking force or originality; trite; common place”. For a faith that is trite and unoriginal he sure kept going after  Catholicism and Christianity.  As a Christian and a pastor, let Charb’s followers continue on. It’s been going on since a soldier scraped into a stone wall a crude drawing mocking Alexamenos’ faith.   The faith has lasted and so will the mocking.  Did not our Lord say that His Church built upon the Rock will last and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it?  Did He not say we would be maligned, persecuted, and even martyred?  As Lutheran Satire put it (probably by Pr. Hans Fiene):  

“When the devil is mocked, he sheds the blood of the mockers. When God was mocked, He shed His blood on the mockers.”

I wonder what Alexamenos did when he may have found out who did the graffito…he probably did not burn out his home, killing his family,  nor kill his fellow soldier.  Not even hit him because Jesus said to turn the other cheek.  I would guess he prayed for his fellow soldier because Jesus said pray for your enemies, and He did so from the Cross that would be mocked…right there at the foot of His Cross, see St. Matthew 27:  39ff.

A Facebook friend, Dave Carlin, pointed out that in the Roman Catholic Church in the ’50s, they would end every Mass with a prayer for the conversion of Russia.  Maybe we should be so praying for the conversion of Islamic nations, for the neo-pagan European nations…and our own.

 

1. Lord Jesus Christ, with us abide,
For round us falls the eventide;
Nor let Thy Word, that heavenly light,
For us be ever veiled in night.

2. In these last days of sore distress
Grant us, dear Lord, true steadfastness
That pure we keep, till life is spent,
Thy holy Word and Sacrament.

3. Lord Jesus, help, Thy Church uphold,
For we are sluggish, thoughtless, cold.
Oh, prosper well Thy Word of grace
And spread its truth in every place!

4. Oh, keep us in Thy Word, we pray;
The guile and rage of Satan stay!
Oh, may Thy mercy never cease!
Give concord, patience, courage, peace.

5. O God, how sin’s dread works abound!
Throughout the earth no rest is found,
And falsehood’s spirit wide has spread,
And error boldly rears its head.

6. The haughty spirits, Lord, restrain
Who o’er Thy Church with might would reign
And always set forth something new,
Devised to change Thy doctrine true.

7. And since the cause and glory, Lord,
Are Thine, not ours, to us afford
Thy help and strength and constancy.
With all our heart we trust in Thee.

8. A trusty weapon is Thy Word,
Thy Church’s buckler, shield and sword.
Oh, let us in its power confide
That we may seek no other guide!

9. Oh, grant that in Thy holy Word
We here may live and die, dear Lord;
And when our journey endeth here,
Receive us into glory there.

“Lord Jesus Christ, With Us Abide”
by Nikolaus Selnecker, 1532-1592
Translated by composite

The Lutheran Hymnal
Hymn #292

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1. Lord, to Thee I make confession;

I have sinned and gone astray,
I have multiplied transgression,
Chosen for myself my way,
Led by Thee to see my errors,
Lord, I tremble at Thy terrors.

2. Yet, though conscience’ voice appall me,
Father, I will seek Thy face;
Though Thy child I dare not call me,
Yet receive me to Thy grace.
Do not for my sins forsake me;
Do not let Thy wrath o’ertake me.

3. For Thy Son did suffer for me,
Gave Himself to rescue me,
Died to heal me and restore me,
Reconciled me unto Thee.
‘Tis alone His cross can vanquish
These dark fears and soothe this anguish.

4. Then on Him I cast my burden,
Sink it in the depths below.
Let me know Thy gracious pardon,
Wash me, make me white as snow.
Let Thy Spirit leave me never;
Make me only Thine forever.

Hymn #326
The Lutheran Hymnal
Text: Ps 139: 7-10
Author: Johann Franck, 1649, cento
Translated by: Catherine Winkworth, 1863, alt.
Titled: “Herr, ich habe missgehandelt”
Composer: Johann Crueger, 1649
Tune: “Herr, ich habe missgehandelt”

Note:  this hymn study is not of the music since I am musically illiterate!  This is a study of the hymn’s words as they reflect confessionally the Scriptures for our edification.

About Johann Franck:  He ranks second only to Paul Gerhardt (Lutheran Service Book, LSB, #334, # 360, etc) as a hymnwriter, was one of the writers who marked the transition from the objective German “church song” to a more personal and mystical kind of poetry, yet Franck’s hymns  are based on  the solid rock of God’s  Word of Law and Promise, as we can read and sing in his hymn above. He was also a writer of secular poetry of some renown during his time, but it is his hymns, finished in form and of earnest faith and simplicity, that have survived. Of these he wrote 110. Franck’s most known  hymns are both in  Lutheran Service Book (LSB):   #636, “Soul, Adorn Thyself with Gladness and #743, “Jesus, Priceless Treasure”.  

Born June 1, 1618, at Guben, Brandenburg, Germany, Franck was two years old when his father died and he was adopted by an uncle. He received his education at the University of Konigsberg, the only German university not disrupted by the Thirty Years’ War. There he formed a friendship with Simon Dach and Heinrich Held (LSB #352). He became a lawyer, as was his father, and after some travel, returned to Guben, where he became a councillor, a mayor, and finally a representative of the province to the Diet of Lower Lusatia. He died June 18, 1677. (adapted from Hymnal Companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship, Augsburg-Fortress Publishing).

LSB lists these Scripture passages as the basis of “Lord, to You I Make Confession’:

  • Psalm 51: 5-11
  • 2 Corinthians 5: 18-20
  • Isaiah 59: 12
  • Psalm 32: 5

The Lutheran Confessions summarize Confession and Absolution,as taught in the Scriptures and the texts above:

 Now, repentance consists properly of these   two parts:  One is contrition, that is,  terrors smiting the conscience through the knowledge of sin; the other is faith, which is born of  the Gospel, or of absolution, and believes that for Christ’s sake, sins are forgiven, comforts  the conscience, and delivers it from terrors. Then good works are bound to follow, which are the fruits of repentance. (Augsburg Confession, Article XII: Of Repentence)

 Franck’s hymn is precisely what every Christian knows:  contrition, sorrow over sin leads the Christian to seek in faith in Christ to  taking hold of His forgiveness, the Absolution, the Word of promise, by Christ’s Work and Word, after the terror over sin from God’s just judgment:

 “Led by Thee to see my errors,
Lord, I tremble at Thy terrors”.

We do not know what Franck’s precise sin(s) that prompted him to write this hymn.  Does it matter?  He did not make his confession, as many do today in the courts of public opinion to be accepted by  sinful suspect culture.  This kind of ‘confession’ is simply a continuation into sin:  

I have multiplied transgression,
Chosen for myself my way.

It is man seeking his own way. There is only One who can forgive and  to be forgiven in the courts of the Lord’s House:  Christ.  Absolution does not come from the Gallup polls but by God’s promise alone fulfilled in His Son.  “I can’t forgive myself”:  that’s right.  Advising someone to forgive themselves is choosing one’s own way, going the wrong way, back into the sinful heart, not outward to the Lord and the only Way of mercy.  Johann’s  confession was between himself and his confessor. The confessor would have been  authorized by Christ to be Johann’s pastor to speak God’s Word of freedom into his ears into his fearful heart.  Johann Franck did not even claim to be God’s child with proprietary rights supposedly entitling him to forgiveness:

Though Thy child I dare not call me,
Yet receive me to Thy grace.

Implied in that stanza that it was the Lord Himself who so claimed him as a child and you as well, by His grace alone.  He did so for all to see, and for thee  upon the Cross.  

For Thy Son did suffer for me,
Gave Himself to rescue me,
Died to heal me and restore me,
Reconciled me unto Thee.
‘Tis alone His cross can vanquish
These dark fears and soothe this anguish.

 Then on Him I cast my burden,
Sink it in the depths below.
Let me know Thy gracious pardon,
Wash me, make me white as snow.
Let Thy Spirit leave me never;
Make me only Thine forever.

It is a shame that  our hymnals no longer include the sung Amen as they once did. Nevertheless:

♫Amen♫

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The world seeks to be praised
And honored by the mighty,
Yet never once reflects
That they are frail and flighty.
But what I truly prize
Above all things is He,
My Jesus, He alone,
What is the world to me!

Above is the second stanza of  “What is the World to Me”, #730, Lutheran Service Book.  A longer and older version of this hymn can be found here.

The Lutheran Service Book includes on the bottom right hand the Scripture passages which are reflected in each hymn.  This hymn’s Bible basis are these linked passages:

John 2: 15-17

Philippians 3: 7-9

Psalm 73: 25

Romans 12: 2

We sang “What is the World to Me” this past Sunday and when we came to today’s stanza , and the phrase regarding the world as “frail and flighty”, I had to suppress a chuckle.  “Frail and flighty” are last words used to describe the world by the unregenerate Old Adam in it. It is usually “strong and mighty”.  

I think it is the word “flighty” that tickled my funny bone. “Flighty”   as in flitting about from one thing to another, always looking for something else;  synonyms are:    fickle, inconstant, mercurial, whimsical, capricious, skittish, volatile,impulsive.  What makes one laugh is the ironic truth behind any kind of joke or humor.  The world thinks it is strong and mighty, stable,  and never once reflects it is frail and flighty.  It seeks, “…to be praised”.  The Lutheran Book of Worship was begun in 1965 and then published in 1978.  “What is the World to Me” was not included in it.  Why?  My speculation is that this hymn was too much on target because the Lutheran churches were trying to be more acceptable to the world and note the time era of the construction of the LBW:  the 60s.  When a church tries to emulate the world then it too is flighty, that is,  in flight from God’s Word. 

The flightiness of the world is seen in the very medium with which I am communicating to you.  The internet is one thing after another, latest meme, update, important article, status update, all faster than a hummingbird going from flower to flower. Now this can be fun, but like any of men’s tools it can be a tool of devil to conform us to the world and continue in slavery.  A hummingbird is flighty in order to eat, while we are flighty in filling ourselves with world’s junk food of self-centered ‘wisdom’ to always be looking out for number #1. As it is written in the cited 1 John passage above, the world is, “…is passing away along with its desires”, yet the world and it’s rulers, both elected and non-elected, all the omni-competent elite, think the world centered on the world is going to last forever.  It won’t.  “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”  Yet this very world is the one the Lord so loved He gave His only-begotten Son (John 3:16) The will of God is to believe the One He has sent to save us from the world and to serve the Lord and our neighbor in the world .

For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.”  Idolatry is always worshiping what is seen, “the desires of the eyes”   while faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard is the Word of Christ (see Romans 10:17).  We can not hold a sound of a word, or the Word, in our hands, but instead the sound of the word comes into us. The Lord by His Word puts this struggle of the Word with the world in our hearts, souls and minds, that we are not conformed to the world, but are transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2), which is yours in the crucified and risen the Lord (cf. Philippians 2:5 ff).

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Intro:  I am choosing hymns this morning and I ‘discovered’ this hymn and in my opinion, a gem: “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It”, #594, Lutheran Service Book.   On a Monday morning, this is a good thing to remember and sing: “I am baptized”! In fact, this is meet, right and salutary to do  so everyday as we pray, Our Father who art in heaven.  

After the video, there is more information about the hymn, including the lyrics,  from Witness, Mercy, Life Together.  The full article is found here.

The tune was written by Johann Caspar Bachofen and first published in 1727. He studied theology but served the church and community as a musician, teacher, music director and composer his whole life. Johann, who grew up in Zurich, Switzerland, served in the Reformed Church and he published several collections of hymns that were very popular in his day.

The lyrics were written by Edmann Neumeister (also LSB #587, #609) and published in 1718. Neumeister was a German Lutheran theologian, poet, hymn writer, and strong opponent of Pietism and is best known for writing the texts for five of Bach’s cantatas.

“The main ideas of the hymn are taken directly from the section on Holy Baptism in Luther’s Small Catechism, which, in answer to the question “What benefits does Baptism give? says: “It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare”[ii].

The hymn was translated … in 1991 by an LCMS pastor, Rev. Robert E. Voelker who was a graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary Fort Wayne (1984) and, according to the LCMS church worker directory, currently is a pastor at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Windsor, Ontario.

God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It

Stanza 1

God’s own child, I gladly say it: I am baptized into Christ!

He, because I could not pay it, gave my full redemption price.

Do I need earth’s treasures many?  I have one worth more than any

That brought me salvation free, Lasting to eternity!

Stanza 2

Sin, disturb my soul no longer: I am baptized into Christ!

I have comfort even stronger: Jesus’ cleansing sacrifice.

Should a guilty conscience seize me, since my baptism did release me

In a dear forgiving flood, sprinkling me with Jesus’ blood?

Stanza 3

Satan, hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ!

Drop your ugly accusation; I am not so soon enticed.

Now that to the font I’ve traveled, all your might has come unraveled,

And, against your tyranny, God, my Lord, unites with me!

Stanza 4

Death, you cannot end my gladness: I am baptized into Christ!

When I die, I leave all sadness to inherit paradise!

Though I lie in dust and ashes faith’s assurance brightly flashes:

Baptism has the strength divine to make life immortal mine.

Stanza 5

There is nothing worth comparing to this lifelong comfort sure!

Open-eyed my grave is staring: Even there I’ll sleep secure.

Though my flesh awaits its raising, still my soul continues praising:

I am baptized into Christ; I’m a child of paradise!

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Almighty God, the apostle Paul taught us to praise You in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. We thank You this day for those who have given to Your Church great hymns, especially Your servants Philipp Nicolai, Johann Heermann, and Paul Gerhardt. May Your Church never lack hymnwriters who through their words and music give You praise. Fill us with the desire to praise and thank You for Your great goodness; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Bio: Philipp Nicolai (1556–1608) was a pastor in Germany during the Great Plague, which took the lives of 1,300 of his parishioners during a sixth-month period. In addition to his heroic pastoral ministry during that time of stress and sorrow, he wrote the texts for “Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying” and “O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright,” known, respectively, as the king and queen of the Lutheran chorales. Johann Heermann (1585–1647), also a German pastor, suffered from poor health as well as from the ravages of the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648). His hymn texts are noted for their tenderness and depth of feeling. Paul Gerhardt (1607–1676) was another Lutheran pastor who endured the horrors of the Thirty Years’ War. By 1668 he lost his pastoral position in Berlin (for refusing to compromise his Lutheran convictions), and endured the death of four of his five children and his wife. He nevertheless managed to write 133 hymns, all of which reflect his firm faith. Along with Martin Luther he is regarded as one of Lutheranism’s finest hymn writers.

(From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  The last fad in congregational music was “Christian music”.  My response was, Yes, I love Christian music,written and composed by Heerman, Nicolai and Gerhardt!  On this day we sing to the Lord in the words and music by the 3 great Lutheran hymn writers commemorated  and it is all thoroughgoing Christian and Biblical music.

Now the latest buzz phrase has been: “praise songs”.  Both my wife and a colleague  responded to “praise songs”:   ‘We sing praise music every Sunday!”  Listen to the hymns below!  As friend and colleague once would say:  “Lutheran hymnody is my glossasalia.” Just think: these hymn writers and pastors were probably not paid a cent for their hymns, fought false doctrine  and disease and the devil, and in the midst of all that, in the Lord they had joy to sing and pray and write hymns.

The other criticism is that Lutheran hymnody is not personal enough and expressive of ‘my’ feelings.  Can anyone, if you will, top, the sheer intimacy, poetry and passion of Paul Gerhardt in O Sacred Head, Now Wounded?

What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee, dearest Friend,
For this, Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
Oh, make me thine forever!
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never,
Outlive my love for Thee.

What sustained these men through such turmoil?  The rock of salvation, Jesus Christ.  Faith can only have something or someone to seize for salvation and this is the justification of the sinner by Christ’s Atonement, once and for all from the Cross, preached and taught into our ears and hearts, by sermons, yes!  But also by hymnody.  In the Service Book and Hymnal (1958), the former worship book of the ELCA’s predecessor Lutheran denominations,  the forward states that they wanted the hymns to be more “devotional” and have a less of  a “didactic” content.  They were so wrong!  The didactic or teaching content of Lutheran hymnody is so important because it is the objective Word of God written in Scripture sung in words and music. Consider “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying”:  this hymn is the Parable of the Foolish and Wise Virgins (Matthew 25: 1-13) set to music. It is usually sung in Advent, pointing to the time on earth when the Bridegroom arrived and the time to come when those who are eager for His appearing, He will come again.  It is didactic and so instructional.  Dispensationalist and millenialist false doctrine is shown for what it is in that magnificent hymn of Scripture by the true and correct doctrine of our Lord’s parousia, in Scripture, correctly taught.  At Concordia Junior College, I took a one credit course on hymnody.  Professor “Ollie” Rupprecht pointed out that J.S. Bach had some 80 volumes in his library (quite an expensive acquisition in that day) and 60 volumes were on Lutheran Doctrine. This doctrine has been derided as too “sterile”.  It is not.  Like Jack Webb in Dragnet said: “The facts, ma’am, just the facts.” The objective justification by the life, word and work of Jesus Christ is the reason to sing.

We give thanks to the Lord, the Conductor of the  “choir immortal” (from “Wake, Awake”),   for all church organists (underpaid and being squeezed out by contemporary worship), church musicians, choirs and the Lord’s people who sing their praise of their Lord through hymns replete with the Scripture, that is, the Word of God and so the Holy Spirit.  Pray for your organist, choir director, choir members and church musicians in petition and  praise to the Lord and tell them all this  Sunday:  thanks!

Philip Nicolai:

Johann Heerman:

Paul Gerhardt:

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Almighty God, the apostle Paul taught us to praise You in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. We thank You this day for those who have given to Your Church great hymns, especially Your servants Philipp Nicolai, Johann Heermann, and Paul Gerhardt. May Your Church never lack hymnwriters who through their words and music give You praise. Fill us with the desire to praise and thank You for Your great goodness; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Bio: Philipp Nicolai (1556–1608) was a pastor in Germany during the Great Plague, which took the lives of 1,300 of his parishioners during a sixth-month period. In addition to his heroic pastoral ministry during that time of stress and sorrow, he wrote the texts for “Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying” and “O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright,” known, respectively, as the king and queen of the Lutheran chorales. Johann Heermann (1585–1647), also a German pastor, suffered from poor health as well as from the ravages of the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648). His hymn texts are noted for their tenderness and depth of feeling. Paul Gerhardt (1607–1676) was another Lutheran pastor who endured the horrors of the Thirty Years’ War. By 1668 he lost his pastoral position in Berlin (for refusing to compromise his Lutheran convictions), and endured the death of four of his five children and his wife. He nevertheless managed to write 133 hymns, all of which reflect his firm faith. Along with Martin Luther he is regarded as one of Lutheranism’s finest hymn writers.

(From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  The last fad in music for a congregation was “Christian music”.  My response was, Yes, I love Christian music, like Bach!  And on this day we sing to the Lord in the words and music by the 3 great Lutheran hymn writers commemorated today and it is all thoroughgoing Christian and Biblical music.

Now the latest buzz phrase has been: “praise songs”.  A colleague reminded me yesterday of his response which is also my wife the organist’s:  ‘We sing praise music every Sunday!”  Listen to the hymns below!  As friend and colleague once would say:  “Lutheran hymnody is my glossasalia.” Just think: these hymn writers and pastors were probably not paid a cent for their hymns, fought false doctrine  and disease and the devil, and in the midst of all that, in the Lord they had joy to sing and pray.

The other criticism is that Lutheran hymnody is not personal enough and expressive of ‘my’ feelings.  Can anyone, if you will, top, the sheer intimacy, poetry and passion of Paul Gerhardt in O Sacred Head, Now Wounded?

What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee, dearest Friend,
For this, Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
Oh, make me thine forever!
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never,
Outlive my love for Thee.

We give thanks to the Lord, the Conductor of the  “choir immortal” (from “Wake, Awake”),  also for all church organists (underpaid and being squeezed out by contemporary worship), church musicians, choirs and the Lord’s people who sing their praise of their Lord through hymns replete with the Scripture, that is, the Word of God and so the Holy Spirit.  Pray for your organist, choir director, choir members and church musicians in petition and  praise to the Lord and tell them all this  Sunday:  thanks!

Philip Nicolai:

Johann Heerman:

Paul Gerhardt:

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