Evening and Morning

In our congregation’s hymnody, we’re trying to make an effort to sing hymns from the Trust and the Hope and Comfort sections in Lutheran Service Book. Last month we learned Paul Gerhardt’s hymn Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me. It’s surprising how many of these hymns are unfamiliar to our congregations, especially when you consider what wonderful hymns these really are. This Sunday, we get to sing Evening and Morning, also by the great Lutheran hymn-writer Paul Gerhardt. It’s a short, simple hymn of faith and trust and uses imagery that can be traced back to the Psalms.

 

Stanza 1:

Evening and morning, 

Sunset and dawning, 

Wealth, peace, and gladness, 

Comfort in sadness:
These are Thy works; all the glory be Thine!

Times without number, 

Awake or in slumber, 

Thine eye observes us, 

From danger preserves us, 

Causing Thy mercy upon us to shine.

 

The footnotes of Lutheran Service Book suggest Psalm 145 as a counterpart for this hymn, and we will start there:

8The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9The LORD is good to all,
and his mercy is over all that he has made.

[The LORD is faithful in all his words
and kind in all his works.]
14The LORD upholds all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down.
15The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
16You open your hand;
you satisfy the desire of every living thing.
17The LORD is righteous in all his ways
and kind in all his works.
18The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
he also hears their cry and saves them.
20The LORD preserves all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.

21My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD,
and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.

The Lord, our Father, provides us with all that we need to support this body and life (as we confess in the Small Catechism).  As we see in verse 8 of the Psalm, this is out of God’s mercy and love for us. He not only provides for us, He constantly watches over us to see that no harm befalls us, as Jesus says in Luke 12:

6Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

 

Stanza 2:
Father, O hear me, 

Pardon and spare me; 

Calm all my terrors, 

Blot out my errors

That by Thine eyes they may no more be scanned. 

Order my goings, 

Direct all my doings;

As it may please Thee

Retain or release me; 

All I commit to Thy fatherly hand. 

 

We are fragile, sinful, weak, and easily frightened. Gerhardt here directs us to take our fears and worries to our Father.  God does calm our terrors, as we hear in 1 Peter 5:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

He also removes our sins that so that He can no longer see them, as is says in Psalm 103:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
14For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.

God guides, directs, sustains, and forgives us out of love. There is simply nothing left to worry about concerning this life or the next. The confidence and trust this gives us is expressed in stanza 3.

Ills that still grieve me

Soon are to leave me;

Though billows tower, 

And winds gain power, 

After the storms the fair sun shows its face. 

Joys e’er increasing

And peace never ceasing;

These shall I treasure

And share in full measure

When in His mansions God grants me a place. 

 

Stanza 4:
To God in heaven

All praise be given!

Come, let us offer

And gladly proffer

To the Creator the gifts He doth prize. 

He well receiveth 

A heart that believeth; 

Hymns that adore Him

Are precious before Him

And to His throne like sweet incense arise. 

Our response to God’s gracious goodness to us is to praise Him, to say thank you, to shout the loud “Amen!” He is ready to receive a believing heart, and makes all believers His own children, as it says in John 1:

2But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Our praise does rise as a sweet incense to our God, as we pray in Psalm 141:

2Let my prayer be counted as incense before you,

   and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!

What wonderful comfort from another great Gerhardt hymn! Thanks be to God!


Lord Jesus Christ, We Humbly Pray

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have to admit that I’ve always thought this hymn was about 300 years older and from a different continent than it actually is. It has such great, straightforward teaching of the Lutheran theology of Holy Communion that I always assumed that it was a German Lutheran reformation hymn when it fact it’s an American hymn written in 1910. In my defense, we do sing it to a German Lutheran tune from 1628. The author, Henry Jacobs was born in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in 1844. He attended Gettysburg-Lutheran seminary and later became a dean of the Evangelical Lutheran Seminary at Philadelphia.

One of the things I love about the Lutheran theology of the Lord’s Supper is its simplicity. We simply believe what Jesus says. Our Lord says, “This is my body” and we agree. Perhaps this is part of what it means to have a child-like faith.

Let’s start with the actual words of Jesus, from Matthew 26:

26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Now let’s compare this with stanza 1 and stanza 2:

Lord Jesus Christ, we humbly pray

That we may feast on You today;

Beneath these forms of bread and wine

Enrich us with Your grace divine. 

Give us, who share this wondrous food, 

Your body broken and your blood, 

The grateful peace of sins forgiv’n, 

The certain joys of heirs of heav’n. 

Why do we begin the hymn with humility? Because the Lord’s Supper is a meal for sinners in need of forgiveness. We need his pardon, peace, and forgiveness, and these are only given to us by His grace. We use the term “Means of Grace” for the sacraments, because in them God has attached His Word and promise to physical things such as simple bread and wine in order to give His grace and forgiveness to us. Because of the promise, we know that the second stanza is answered with a definite yes from our Lord. This wondrous food is His body and blood, we are forgiven, and we are heirs of heaven. We look forward to the day when we will feast with our Lord in the “Father’s kingdom”.

Stanza 3:

By faith Your Word has made us bold

To seize the gift of love retold;

All that You are we here receive, 

And all we are to You we give. 

What does it mean that we give Him all we are and receive all the He is? We could interpret this to mean that we just want to really give God all of our love and affection and praise during worship. But I think Jacobs is referencing what we call the “great exchange”.  This quote from Luther (from The Freedom of A Christian) helps to flesh out this idea:

Faith unites the soul with Christ as a bride is united with her bridegroom. By this mystery, as the Apostle teaches, Christ and the soul become one flesh [Eph. 5:31-32]. And if they are one flesh and there is between them a true marriage – indeed the most perfect of all marriages, since human marriages are but poor examples of this one true marriage – it follows that everything they have they hold in common, the good as well as the evil. 

Accordingly the believing soul can boast of and glory in whatever Christ has as though it were its own, and whatever the soul has Christ claims as his own. Let us compare these and we shall see inestimable benefits. Christ is full of grace, life, and salvation. The soul is full of sins, death, and damnation. Now let faith come between them and sins, death, and damnation will be Christ’s, while grace, life, and salvation will be the soul’s; for if Christ is a bridegroom, he must take upon himself the things which are his bride’s and bestow upon her the things that are his. If he gives her his body and very self, how shall he not give her all that is his? And if he takes the body of the bride, how shall he not take all that is hers? 

In Holy Communion we are united with Christ. He takes our sin, death, and damnation, and we receive His grace, life, and salvation.  We have nothing to give, we only receive His gifts.

Stanza 4:

One bread, one cup, one body, we, 

Rejoicing in our unity, 

Proclaim Your love until You come

To bring Your scattered loved ones home. 

This stanza comes from two places in 1 Corinthians. First, from 1 Corinthians 10:
16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

And secondly, from 1 Corinthians 11:

Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

We saw in the previous stanza that we are united with Christ. In this stanza, we see that this unity in Christ is also shared with one another, for we are the body of Christ. By participating in his holy sacrament together, we boldly proclaim His death and wait for Him to return and take us to the marriage feast.

 Stanza 5:

Lord Jesus Christ, we humbly pray;

O keep us steadfast till that day

When each will be Your welcomed guest

In heaven’s high and holy feast. 

The idea of the wedding feast is used in a couple of Jesus’ parables as well as the book of Revelation. The meal that we share together in this age is only a taste of the incredible feast that is to come. We pray something similar to stanza 5 in our communion liturgy. It’s the prayer of thanksgiving, and it’s a very dense prayer, but only because it is so full of riches. This is the second part.

Gathered in the name and the remembrance of Jesus, we beg You, O Lord, to forgive, renew, and strengthen us with Your Word and Spirit. Grant us faithfully to eat His body and drink His blood as He bids us do in His own testament. Gather us together, we pray, from the ends of the earth to celebrate with all the faithful the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end. Graciously receive our prayers; deliver and preserve us. To You alone, O Father, be all glory, honor, and worship, with the Son and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen 

To recap our five short stanzas; we poor sinners come to God’s sacrament of Holy Communion, we give Him our sin and death and receive His life and salvation through His true body and true blood, we are united with Him and with the body of Christ, and we are strengthened to continue, looking forward to the day when all will be united with Christ at His great wedding feast.  Amen.

Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me?

At our congregation, we get the great privilege of learning Paul Gerhadt’s hymn Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me during the month of September. Some background on Paul Gerhardt can add more meaning to this text. Gerhardt was a German Lutheran pastor in the 17th century. He survived the horrors of the Thirty Year’s War, four out of his five children did not survive childhood, and his wife died when his surviving child was only 6 years old. As a pastor, he remained steadfast against the pressures of his day and this cost him his position at St. Nicholas’ Church in Berlin. He refused to sign a document agreeing not to teach on subjects where Calvinists and Lutherans disagreed, and he was fired for this.

Out of this great suffering, Gerhardt emerges as one of the great writers of Christian hymnody. His hymns are comforting and personal, yet they remain biblically literate hymns that proclaim solid Scriptural teaching.

Stanza 1:
Why should cross and trial grieve me?

Christ is near 

With His cheer;

Never will He leave me. 

Who can rob me of the heaven

That God’s Son

For me won

When His life was given?

What is a cross? Jesus told us to take up our crosses and follow Him, after all. A cross is when we suffer in this life. More precisely, it is when we suffer as a consequence of living out the Christian faith. God allows these sufferings into our lives in order to refine our faith in much the same way as precious metal is refined in the fire. Peter speaks of these things in 1st Peter chapter 1. This is a longer section, but it is worth reading:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

As St. Peter says, we have a living hope because of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and the inheritance that is in heaven for us. God allows various difficult periods, challenges, and events into our lives that test our faith, prove it to be genuine, and lead us to rejoice with a joy that is inexpressible. Nothing can rob us of this great treasure.

 

Stanza 2:
When life’s troubles rise to meet me, 

Though their weight

May be great, 

They will not defeat me. 

God, my loving Savior, sends them; 

He who knows 

All my woes

Knows how best to end them. 

Yes, this stanza does say that God, our Savior, sends our troubles into our life. How can this be? First of all, remember that God is not the ultimate source of evil and trouble; that is the result of sin, death, and the devil. If you look into the book of Job, however, you will see that God does allow Satan to bring various trials into our lives. What are we to do, then? Are we to fear God and ask Him to leave us alone so that these trials will also cease? No! God cares for you! Jesus died for you to reconcile you to Himself! He cares for you as a Father. Rather, bring all your cares and anxieties to Him, because He cares for you, loves you, and will only bring suffering into your life for your own good. Remember, the last line of stanza 2 and know that God will also bring an end to your sufferings.

8And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

9And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11)

29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11)

Stanza 3:
God gives me my days of gladness, 

And I will 

Trust Him still

When He sends me sadness. 

God is good; His love attends me

Day by day

Come what may, 

Guides me and defends me. 

With the assurance of the promises of the first two stanzas well in hand, we can boldly join in this proclamation of faith in stanza 3.  God is good. When the sadness of life comes, remember that God is good, He loves you, defends you, and guides you. We can rejoice at all times, as James exhorts us to do in James 1:

2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

 

Stanza 4:
From God’s joy can nothing sever, 

For I am 

His dear lamb, 

He, my Shepherd ever. 

I am His because He gave me

His own blood

For my good, 

By His death to save me. 

 

The faith and comfort springing from this stanza are absolutely incredible. It gives us a reason why we can trust that God will never fail us. It’s because our Savior, our Shepherd, has saved us and made us His own by His death! Jesus says as much in John 10:

11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Paul says much the same in Romans 8:
31What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

 

Stanza 5:

Now in Christ, death cannot slay me, 

Though it might, 

Day and night, 

Trouble and dismay me. 

Christ has made my death a portal

From the strife

Of this life

To His joy immortal!

Having battled the sorrows and trials of this life, we now come face to face with death itself. This great enemy can do nothing to hurt us, for Christ has already won the victory.  We are now blessed to know that when we die we enter into eternal joy, where there will be no more trials, no more crosses to bear, nor more sin, and no more sorrow.

42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.

56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15)

Yes, thanks be to God!

 Full audio of the hymn