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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When in the Hour of Deepest Need

This week’s hymn is When in the Hour of Deepest Need by Paul Eber, who was a contemporary of Luther. Paul Eber was a student at the university of Wittenberg and later joined the faculty as professor of Latin. He was a friend of Phillip Melanchthon and stuck by Melanchthon throughout the controversies that followed Luther’s death. This hymn is based on an earlier Latin hymn by Eber’s teacher, Joachim Camerarius. When in the hour of Deepest Need is wonderful for the way it takes the themes and imagery from several Psalms and Epistles and combines them in hymn form. In this hymn we fall on our knees and beg our Lord for mercy. We ask for deliverance from our sins and from the troubles that we face in this life.

Stanzas 1 and 2:
When in the hour of deepest need

We know not where to look for aid;

When days and nights of anxious thought

No help or counsel yet have brought, 

Then is our comfort this alone

That we may meet before Your throne;

To You, O faithful God, we cry

For rescue from our misery. 

The desperate pleading of stanza 1 brings to mind Psalm 102:

1 Hear my prayer, O LORD;let my cry come to you! 2 Do not hide your face from me

   in the day of my distress!

Incline your ear to me;

    answer me speedily in the day when I call

3For my days pass away like smoke,
and my bones burn like a furnace.
4My heart is struck down like grass and has withered;
I forget to eat my bread.
5Because of my loud groaning
my bones cling to my flesh.

The troubles of this life have a way of taking away every false god that we look to for help. As life becomes more and more difficult and troubles increase, we see everything in which we had trusted break down and fail us. This can lead us to realize that only our God can help us. This can lead us to realize that we are all poor sinners who need to flee to God for refuge, forgiveness, and help. This is where we turn in stanza 2. We cry to God for help. This was also the plight of the Caananite woman, who we hear about in the Gospel reading for this Sunday. This comes from Matthew 15:
21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

In the Gospels you will never see Jesus refuse those who come pleading for mercy, even when He has every reason to refuse.  Jesus is not obligated to have mercy on us but He does so out of His great love and compassion. He came to be our advocate before the Father and to make atonement for us, as we sing in the next stanza.

Stanza 3:

For You have promised, Lord, to heed

Your children’s cries in time of need

Through Him whose name alone is great, 

Our Savior and our advocate. 

I think Eber was most likely thinking of 1 John 2 when he wrote this:

1My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

And also Matthew 7:

7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Our Father in heaven has promised to hear our prayers. Not only do we have this great promise, but we also know that we have an advocate, Jesus Christ, who has made atonement for all of our sins so that we may approach our Father without fear. We know that our cries for help will be heard.

Stanza 4:
And so we come, O God, today

And all our woes before You lay;

For sorely tried, cast down, we stand, 

Perplexed by fears on ev’ry hand. 

This stanza brings us back to the Psalms with Psalm 25:

16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
17The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
bring me out of my distresses.
18 Consider my affliction and my trouble,
and forgive all my sins.

Again, we know that we have nothing to offer to God. We need Him to rescue us from every evil and trouble, but most importantly we need Him to rescue us from our sins. All the trouble in the world is the direct result of our sinfulness. We are broken, sinful people in a fallen world and the consequences of that are always with us. Our only hope is to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil by our gracious Lord. The next stanza brings us to confession.

Stanza 5:
O from our sins, Lord, turn Your face;

Absolve us through Your boundless grace. 

Be with us in our anguish still;

Free us at last from ev’ry ill. 

 

That delivery from sin is ultimately our delivery from all our woes is brought out in Psalm 130:

1Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!

 2O Lord, hear my voice!

Let your ears be attentive

   to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

3If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
4But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.

5I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

7O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
8And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.

 

We know that God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins (1 John 1:). We know that He will not turn us away and that He forgives us for Jesus’ sake. We rejoice in this great deliverance and forgiveness and seek to serve our Lord with thanksgiving and obedience.

Stanza 6:

So we with all our hearts each day

To You our glad thanksgiving pay, 

Then walk obedient to Your Word, 

And now and ever praise You, Lord. 

We looked at a few verse from 1 John 2 earlier. Now let’s finish that paragraph:

3And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

In response to God’s great mercy we seek to serve Him with our lives. We do, however, often fail and falter along the way. We come regularly to confession and absolution, always seeking His grace and mercy. His mercies are new every morning and we rejoice and gladly give Him thanksgiving, and honor, and praise forever and ever.  We’ll end with the words of Psalm 103:

1 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
   and all that is within me,
   bless his holy name!
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
   and forget not all his benefits,
3who forgives all your iniquity,
   who heals all your diseases,
4who redeems your life from the pit,
   who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5who satisfies you with good
   so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Full audio of the hymn


For All the Saints

I usually pick the hymn studies based on the upcoming Sunday, but this week I’m basing it on a hymn for a memorial service. It is the great hymn For All the Saints, with text by William Walsham How and music by Ralph Vaughan Williams. William W. How (1823-1897) was an Anglican priest best known for his work among the poor. He was known at the time as the “poor man’s bishop”. The hymn itself is a wonderful proclamation of the life and salvation that is ours in Christ Jesus. It’s a hymn of the church triumphant and uses the imagery of the Christian church as an army of soldiers. This text and tune is a treasure of our Christian hymnody. As we go through it, pay special attention to the way the hymn takes us from the present into the future.

Stanza 1:

For all the saints who from their labors rest, 

Who Thee by faith before the world confessed, 

Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest. 

Alleluia! Alleluia!

Jesus deserves all glory and thanks for the saints who are given eternal life. We are redeemed by our Lord and strengthened by Him in this life. Stanza 1 echoes Revelation 14:13:

13And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”

What wonderful words! Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord! Death has no sting or victory, for we belong to a resurrected and victorious Lord and King.

Stanza 2:

Thou wast their rock, their fortress, and their might:

Thou, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight;

Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true light. 

Alleluia! Alleluia!

This stanza summarizes much of Psalm 27. Here are a few parts of that Psalm:

1The LORD is my light and my salvation;

    whom shall I fear?

The LORD is the stronghold of my life;

   of whom shall I be afraid?

 5For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will lift me high upon a rock.

Notice who is doing the action in both the Psalm and the hymn stanza. The Lord is our strength, our salvation, our light, and our rock. This was true when David wrote Psalm 27, it was true when William How wrote the hymn text, and it is true for us today.

Stanza 3:

Oh, may Thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold, 

Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old

And win with them the victor’s crown of gold!

Alleluia! Alleluia! 

In the first two stanzas, we praised our Lord for His work in the lives of the saints. Now we pray that He would continue that work today in our lives and in the lives of all believers.  We pray that we may persevere to the end, as we are told in Revelation 2:

10Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’

Stanza 4:

Oh, blest communion, fellowship divine!

We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;

Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine. 

Alleluia! Alleluia!

We are reminded in this stanza that we are not in this life alone. We have communion and fellowship with the other members of the body of Christ. Jesus prayed in His high priestly prayer in John 17 that this would be so:

10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.

We know from Colossians 1 that we are part of body of Christ:

18And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

We have life together in the body of Christ, which is the church. We teach one another, forgive one another and encourage one another; yet we do sometimes grow weary along the way. This leads us into the next stanza.

 

Stanza 5

And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long, 

Steals on the ear the distant triumph song, 

And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong. 

Alleluia! Alleluia!

This stanza is wonderful for the imagery. This hymn works chronologically, and as we sing in stanza 5 we are beginning to approach the fulfillment of all things.  What is the triumph song? It is the song of salvation that runs through all scripture. The triumph song is God’s deliverance at the Red Sea, from the Fiery Furnace, from the flood, from the tomb, and at last the victory against death itself. The Lamb will triumph, as we hear in Revelation 17:

14They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”

The Lamb will conquer. Let this be our triumph song!

Stanza 6

The golden evening brightens in the west;

Soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest; 

Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest. 

Alleluia! Alleluia!

The cycle of the sun has often been used to speak of death and resurrection. The prayer service of Compline focuses on these themes. Just as we lie down and rest in the evening and awake in the morning so we will also lie down and rest in the Lord to be awakened at the last day. We pray that our Lord Jesus will come soon. Paul uses this imagery in Romans 13:

12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

The sweet calm of stanza 6 refers to the rest that we have in death. We do not fear death because we rest in the Lord.

Stanza 7

But, lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day:

The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of Glory passes on His way. 

Alleluia! Alleluia!

Now we have reached the second coming of Christ and the new heavens and new earth, where we will see Him face to face. Having rested in Christ at our death, we are raised to everlasting life and worship Him in the splendor of holiness forever and ever. What a glorious sight it will be when our King passes before us and the new heavens and new earth all join in singing the praises of our Triune God! These last two stanzas are a glimpse of heaven after the resurrection and the imagery comes from Revelation 21:

“Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.

21And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass.

22And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 

Knowing our salvation is secure, we praise our Triune God with stanza 8:

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast, 

Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host, 

Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost:

Alleluia! Alleluia!

 

 

 

 

Your Kingdom, O God, Is My Glorious Treasure

After a couple months off from this blog to allow me to adjust to a new job and move to a new part of the great state of Texas, I think I finally have time to write on our wonderful hymnody again! The hymn of the day for this next Sunday, the sixth Sunday after Pentecost, is the great contemporary hymn Your Kingdom, O God, Is My Glorious Treasure by David Rogner, professor of English at Concordia University – Chicago.  It is set to a very sing-able and accessible tune by Joe Herl, music professor at Concordia University – Nebraska.  This hymn simply takes the biblical text and gives it to us in hymn form. It feels as though you are singing right out of your Bible.  I picked this hymn for this Sunday because it ties together the parables from Matthew 13 on the kingdom of God that we have heard in the Divine Service over the past several weeks.

Here’s stanza 1:
Your kingdom, O God, is my glorious treasure,

My pearl of incomp’rable worth.

Its value exceeds ev’ry standard of measure,

Surpassing the wealth of the earth.

Lord, give me Your grace and the pow’r of the Spirit

To value this treasure aright

That, never allured by the world, I inherit

Your kingdom of glory and light.

 

This stanza is based on two of Jesus’ shortest parables – from Matthew 13:44-46

44“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

 45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

We can clearly see in these two parables that the kingdom of heaven is worth more than anything else that we could ever possess. You will want to notice that in the first parable the man goes out “with joy” and sells everything he has to buy the field. The kingdom is so valuable that, even if we should lose every earthly possession, we still have joy. We pray in this first stanza that we would see the value of the kingdom and not fall into the trap of valuing the world’s possessions and pleasures.

But, you may be asking, what exactly is the kingdom of heaven? These parables do shed some light on the kingdom. For a clear definition, we’ll go to Luther’s Large Catechism, where he is explaining the petition “Thy kingdom come” in the Lord’s Prayer.

“But what is God’s kingdom?”

Answer, “Nothing other than what we learned in the Creed: God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, into the world to redeem and deliver us from the devils’ power (1 John 3:8). He sent Him to bring us to Himself and to govern us as a King of righteousness, life, and salvation against sin, death, and an evil conscience. For this reason He has also given His Holy Spirit, who is to bring these things home to us by His holy Word and to illumine and strengthen us in the faith by His power.”

I know it’s not the shortest answer, but it is I think the most clear and precise definition of God’s kingdom that you will find.

Stanza 2:

Your kingdom, O God is alive with the power

Your Word and Your Spirit bestow.

Like yeast, they affect the whole measure of flower, ___

Enabling Your kingdom to grow.

Empower me, Lord, as I live Your commission,

Though humble my service may be,

And bring e’vry planting to perfect fruition,

A mustard seed grown to a tree.

 

The first half of this stanza is based on a parable that I think is rarely heard, from Matthew 13:33

33He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

In only a few words, Jesus explains how the kingdom grows and spreads throughout the entire world. Jesus sent out His disciples, who were few in number, and God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, allowed that small amount of “yeast” to bring God’s kingdom to fruition all over the world. We pray in this stanza that God would empower us to live out His commission to make disciples, to live in the Word and Sacraments, and to obey all the He has taught us.  We end the stanza with a reference to another related parable, from Matthew 13:31-32

31He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

The Gospel is spread throughout the world, and this is not our doing, it is by the power of the Holy Spirit, who creates and sustains faith.

Stanza 3:

Your kingdom, O God, is a field for the growing

Of seeds that Your mercy has sown;

But still in our midst is the enemy sowing

The weeds that imperil Your own.

Sustain me, O Lord, till Your day of returning

And harvest me homeward at last,

To shine in the homeland that quiets all yearning,

Where sorrow and danger are past.

 

This last stanza uses the parable that was the Gospel reading for this past Sunday, from Matthew 13:24-30:

24He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'”

In the first stanza, we heard that the Gospel is worth more than any earthly treasure. In the second stanza, we heard how God, through Word and Spirit, sends out that Gospel into all the world. In the third stanza, we heard how the devil fights against the kingdom of God, sowing weeds among the wheat. We pray in this stanza that God would sustain us and keep us in the one true faith and that, on the last day, He would harvest us as His wheat and take us to heaven, our homeland, to be with Him.  Amen.

 

 

 

At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing

The hymn of the day for the Fifth Sunday of Easter is my favorite Easter hymn – At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing. This hymn ties together the Passover Feast and the sacrifice of Jesus, our paschal lamb. Because Jesus is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity, we can rejoice that we have the feast of heaven awaiting us. We receive what our liturgy calls a “foretaste of the feast to come” in the Divine Service, when Christ feeds us with His own body and blood, shed for us when He was slain once and for all to wash away our sins.

This hymn dates from somewhere between the 5th and 10th centuries. It was commonly sung throughout Europe and was the hymn for Vespers during the Easter season. It continues to be sung throughout the Christian church today because it is a true gem of our hymnody.

The image of heaven as a banquet, or feast, is common in the parables of Jesus, but I want to focus on the images of the victorious Lamb in Revelation. Let’s starts with Revelation 5:

5And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

 6And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. . 9And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”

And also from Revelation 7:
9After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

 13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

The Lamb of God was slain, but He has risen and conquered death and He is our victorious King. All who are washed in His blood are cleansed from their sins and will receive the eternal joys of heaven.

Here’s how we sing that in stanza 1:

At the Lamb’s high feast we sing

Praise to our victorious King,

Who has washed us in the tide

Flowing from His pierced side.

Alleluia!

 

Stanza 2:
Praise we Him, whose love divine

Gives His sacred blood for wine,

Gives His body for the feast-

Christ the victim, Christ the priest.

Alleluia!

 

We gather in the Divine Service for a foretaste of the feast to come. What do we eat and drink at this feast? We eat and drink the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is also the host of the meal. Our resurrected Lord gathers us, feeds us, forgives us, and loves us. It’s no wonder, then, that this hymn comes only one week after Good Shepherd Sunday. He is also our high priest, who intercedes for us before the Father in heaven.  Jesus gave us this sacred meal in this famous passage 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.

Stanza 3:

Where the paschal blood is poured,

Death’s dread angel sheathes the sword;

Israel’s hosts triumphant go

Through the wave that drowns the foe.

Alleluia!

 

For this stanza, we should get some background on the Passover (paschal means Passover). This account comes from Exodus chapter 12:

 21Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. 22Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. 23 For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you. 24You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. 25And when you come to the land that the LORD will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. 26And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.'” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.

As the last plague against Egypt, the angel of death was sent to kill every firstborn. Where the blood of the paschal lamb was placed on the doorpost, the angel would “pass over” that house and leave the firstborn unharmed. The firstborn of Israel were saved by the blood of the lamb. The Israelites were then led to the Red Sea, where they passed through the waters unharmed, but all of Egypt’s army was swallowed up and drowned. This story is not just the story of ancient Israel; it is our story as well. We have been saved from death and judgment by the blood of our Lamb, Jesus, and we have passed through the waters of Holy Baptism and into new life. We see this in the next stanza.

Stanza 4:
Praise we Christ, whose blood was shed,

Paschal victim, paschal bread;

With sincerity and love

Eat we manna from above.

Alleluia!

God redeemed His people by the blood of the lamb and led them through the waters. He then fed them with bread from heaven (manna) for the duration of their journey. The Lord’s Supper is our manna from above, as we are fed and nourished in the faith until we reach life everlasting. Jesus talks about this in John chapter 6:

28Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” 32Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

Stanza 5:

Mighty Victim from the sky,

Hell’s fierce pow’rs beneath You lie;

You have conquered in the fight,

You have brought us life and light.

Alleluia!

We have already seen from Revelation that Christ has conquered death and lives forever. He brings light and immortality to light through the Gospel (2 Timothy 1:10). This victory is for us!

Stanzas 6 and 7:
Now no more can death appall,

Now no more the grave enthrall;

You have opened paradise,

And Your saints in You shall rise.

Alleluia!

 

Easter triumph, Easter joy!

This alone can sin destroy;

From sin’s pow’r, Lord, set us free,

Newborn souls in You to be.

Alleluia!

A quick note on stanza 7; the second line would probably read better as “This can sin alone destroy.” That line confused me for a long time as I thought the stanza was saying that, although Christ had won the victory, sin was still going to destroy the triumph of Easter. I knew that couldn’t be right!  Rather, we pray in stanza 7 that God would give us the final victory over sin and death. These two stanzas relate closely to 1 Corinthians 15:

50I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

 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.

The final stanza will give us a glorious doxological ending, praising each person of the Trinity for the blessings He gives us. What a joy to sing the song of salvation with this glorious hymn!

Stanza 8

Father, who the crown shall give,

Savior, by whose death we live,

Spirit, guide through all our days:

Three in One, Your name we praise.

Alleluia!