Commemoration of George Herbert

george_herbertToday, the Anglican church commemorates my favourite poet, George Herbert. To mark the occasion, I share one of his fine creations:

IESU

IESU is in my heart, his sacred name
Is deeply carved there: but th’other week
A great affliction broke the little frame,
Ev’n all to pieces: which I went to seek:
And first I found the corner, where was I,
After, where ES, and next where U was graved,
When I had got these parcels, instantly
I sat me down to spell them, and perceived
That to my broken heart he was I ease you,
And to the whole is I E S U.

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Jesus, My Husband?

Song-of-SolomonAnother story of a hymn ‘improved’ by hymnal editors.

John Newton, of ‘Amazing Grace’ fame, wrote another well-known, and a far better, hymn on the name of Jesus. It was published as part of Olney Hymns, a collaboration between Newton and William Cowper.

The original text of this hymn is given below. I have put in bold the parts that will be unfamiliar to almost anyone who will have learned this hymn from a hymnal other than Olney Hymns.

How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds
In a believer’s ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear.

It makes the wounded spirit whole,
And calms the troubled breast;
’Tis manna to the hungry soul,
And to the weary, rest.

Dear Name, the Rock on which I build,
My Shield and Hiding Place,
My never failing treasury, filled
With boundless stores of grace!

By Thee my prayers acceptance gain,
Although with sin defiled;
Satan accuses me in vain,
And I am owned a child.

Jesus! my Shepherd, Husband, Friend,
O Prophet, Priest and King,
My Lord, my Life, my Way, my End,
Accept the praise I bring.

Weak is the effort of my heart,
And cold my warmest thought;
But when I see Thee as Thou art,
I’ll praise Thee as I ought.

Till then I would Thy love proclaim
With every fleeting breath,
And may the music of Thy Name
Refresh my soul in death!

Why might the fourth verse have been almost universally omitted? It’s not fantastic poetry—in the Olney partnership, Cowper was the poet while Newton’s verse tends to be wooden at the best of times—but it’s good enough theology. You choose.

Far more glaring is the other change, the replacement of just one word in the fifth verse. The most commonly published and known versions have the first line either  thus:

“Jesus! my Shepherd, Brother, Friend, …”

or thus:

“Jesus! my Shepherd, Guardian, Friend, …”

(Some substitute the word “Saviour” as well.)

While there’s nothing wrong with claiming Jesus as our brother or our guardian—not to mention Saviour—that isn’t what Newton wrote.

In fact, the change makes little sense of Newton’s original. In Olney Hymns, this hymn is placed in a section called “On Select Texts of Scripture”, with the Bible reference in question given at the top of each hymn. The text of Scripture in question here was Song of Songs 1:3, which reads,

Because of the savour of thy good ointments
thy name is as ointment poured forth,
therefore do the virgins love thee.

This reference is clear in the opening stanza of the hymn. But the wider context is equally important: these are the words of the Bride in the Song of Songs, addressed to the Bridegroom. In typological terms, it’s the voice of the Church addressing Christ (Eph. 5:31–32).

To substitute ‘Brother’ or ‘Guardian’ for ‘Husband’ is to miss this point altogether. So why was it?

I can only guess. First, a quick comparison of hymnal versions on Hymnary.org (which only seems to include hymnals published in the USA) shows that whereas in the early 1800s, the text was left unchanged, by the middle of the 19th century the change was widespread (though the first edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern, 1861, still kept the original text). Is this a case of Victorian prudishness, preferring a more distant ‘Guardian’ or ‘Brother’ to the all-too-intimate ‘Husband’?

Of course, the other possibility is that hymnal editors found that the first-person approach was an illegitimate application of bridal mysticism to the individual believer, rather than to the church as a whole. While misguided, this could be understandable. Within Lutheran circles one might think of a reaction to the popularity of this theme in many forms of Pietism—but this shift didn’t take place in Lutheran circles. Since Methodism broke away permanently from the Church of England, Anglicans didn’t have a pietist problem, while presumably the pietists themselves (i.e. Methodists) wouldn’t object. I’m not convinced.

The third possibility is that such portrayals of the believer’s (and, by extension, the whole church’s) intimate relationship with Jesus were unfashionable because the theology underpinning them was unfashionable. Not only among Anglican and other Protestant hymn editors but seemingly across the churches of the Reformation.

For example, one of the notable features of The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) is the consistency with which bridal mysticism has been obscured or even removed from the translations of Lutheran hymns—all of which pre-date the heyday of Pietism (as I have complained here and here). There seems to have been a general disdain for this biblical theme which has an extremely good pedigree in theology and piety throughout the Church’s history.

The fact is, the Church is the bride of Christ. The husband’s body is no longer his but belongs to his wife, and the wife’s body is not hers but belongs to the husband (1 Cor. 7:4). And so, not only the Church as a whole but individual members of the Church belong to Christ as His bride, just as His body is given not only to the whole Church, but to each individual member.

Jesus is my brother and friend, but he is also my husband—or else, I’m not his at all.

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Holding Forth Jesus

A sermon for Ash Wednesday, preached at Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Fareham (typos and all)

And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

“When you fast …” When do you fast? Do you fast?

Jesus certainly seems to assume that you will, and speaks of rewards that we will receive from our Father in heaven if we do. And the Small Catechism likewise commends fasting as fine outward training as part of our preparation to receive the blessed sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. Throughout the history of the church, the whole church, Christians have marked times and seasons of fasting. Except of course in our time, and perhaps for a few generations before us. We don’t have to do that, do we? Isn’t that a Catholic works-righteousness thing. After all, we are not saved by what we do, and external actions are just that. What matters is the faith of the heart, the life of the spirit.

And so we don’t fast.

Or we follow the world’s lead in using Lent as a useful time to regain some self-control—or exercise a bit of self-discipline or just take up a tough challenge—in the matter of eating chocolate, or drinking wine, or getting exercise. Forty days without the excess sugar or unnecessary alcohol makes us feel more in control of our lives and gives us more of an incentive for a more considered approach to diet, or exercise, or whatever aspect of our lives we decide to subject to such discipline.

And so we do fast, but only for earthly reward.

But here we are now, at the start of our forty-day journey to Easter, at the start of the season of Lent, also know by the ancient title ’The Great Fast’; here we are, bearing on our foreheads the mark of death, with the words of the great penitential Psalm, and the call to repentance, still ringing in our ears. What are we to do with these days, and for what purpose?

Jesus calls us to walk the narrow way to the narrow gate that leads to life. Part of the trouble with narrow ways is that you are never far from the ditches on either side. In a fallen world, where death rules through sin and the law, the perverted human heart wants to take every gift of God, turn it into a law and then either reject it or manipulate it. So also with the good gift of fasting and other bodily preparation for receiving God’s gifts.

As he turned his face towards Jerusalem, Jesus proclaimed that if anyone wants to be his disciples, he must take up his cross and follow him. It’s easy to over-spiritualise this proclamation into some general message about self-denial and willingness to make sacrifices. This is not the point of Jesus’ message, however. His point is much simpler: if you are to be Jesus’ disciple, you must follow him into death. You shall die with Jesus, or else you will have no part in him.

To untrained ears, this sounds like a terrible marketing strategy, a project doomed to fail. Who would heed such an invitation. Certainly, the disciples on the night when Jesus’ final plunge into the ignominious death of the cross began, were unwilling to follow him and scattered.

But living on this side of both Good Friday and Easter, and having received the Pentecost gift of the Holy Spirit to open to us the Scriptures, we know better: the invitation to die with Jesus is not an invitation to destruction, but a rescue from certain destruction. Unless you die with Jesus, you will die without Jesus! And I you die with him, you will certainly also be resurrected with him.

And so we must learn to die to ourselves, so that the life of Christ may take shape in us. So much is clear from Scripture. But since this is a gift of God, rather than an odious burden, it comes freely given, and given in freedom. It isn’t a matter of setting up hoops through which the church is to jump, but a matter of setting forth Christ, and the church in each place and in each generation fixing their eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

And so we have Lent, not as a time for earthly or spiritual achievement, but as a time when we work with renewed vigour for the reward our Father in heaven has prepared for us.

And that reward is the reward won for us by Jesus, who accomplished all that the Law demands for us, to break the stranglehold of death over us by his death once for all.

Our life in this flesh, while we await the day of resurrection and our entry into God’s eternal kingdom, consists in the daily putting away of the old Adam, and the daily clearing away of anything that obscures Christ, so that he may be all in all for us.

And so we fast and deny ourselves, and we cross ourselves, and we bow and we kneel, to remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return; to remember that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord; to remember that to eat and drink is necessary but ultimately futile postponement of death, whereas to eat the body of Christ and to drink His blood is hope-filled partaking of eternal food and drink and a foretaste of the everlasting feast in the kingdom that is to come; to remember that just as Christ came not to be served but to serve, we too are called to serve our neighbour in need, and so it does us good to cut economise on luxuries so that we might be able more freely to give; to have our face set towards Jerusalem and the cross and empty tomb of Jesus Christ, so that the fruits of his passion and death, and the reward of his victorious resurrection, may grow in us and we learn to set our face towards the heavenly Jerusalem, where he has gone ahead of us to prepare a place in his father’s roomy mansions.

Dear saints in Christ, don’t look or feel gloomy at the thought of the forty days of the Great Fast. Fast away, but with anointed head and washed face, full of the joy of the resurrection life which Christ has won for us and already delivered to us in the washing of the new birth and anointing with the Holy Spirit in the Holy Baptism. The Lord has been jealous for his land, he has had pity on his people, and has sent us the grain, wine and oil of gladness.

See, the fruits of Calvary are set before us, and the first offerings of the heavenly feast are being prepared for us to receive tonight. Let us set aside every thought that hinders, and fix our eyes on Jesus, who is here with forgiveness, life and salvation. Come, you who are dying, and eat that you may live and not die.

In the holy name of ✠ Jesus.

Amen.

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What Is the Christian Life?

These two are the first elements of Christian life: Repentance or contrition and grief, and faith through which we receive the forgiveness of sins and are righteous before God. Both should grow and increase in us. The third element of Christian life is the doing of good works: To be chaste, to love and help the neighbor, to refrain from lying, from deceit, from stealing, from murder, from vengefulness, and avenging oneself, etc.

Philip Melanchthon & Martin Luther, Instructions for the Visitors of Parish Pastors in Electoral Saxony (LW 40)

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The Journey Of The Magi

One of my favourite Epiphany poems, by T.S. Eliot. I learned last night from John Drury that its famous opening lines are lifted virtually verbatim from this sermon by the great Lancelot Andrewes.

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kiking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Source: http://allpoetry.com/The-Journey-Of-The-Magi

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A Carol Treat

Wow!

For the first time, Our Saviour Lutheran Church and the “little church”, St. Francis’, Funtley, joined forces for a carol service. Not quite 9 lessons and carols—but we did have 6 of the traditional nine.

The church is little, so with a tad fewer than 60 people in attendance, there was standing room only for the last half-dozen arrivals. The roof very nearly lifted off with the singing.

And then there was the choir.

Formed especially for this occasion, the children’s choir—12 children between the ages of 6 and 12 from our local Junior and Infant schools—sang their three numbers beautifully and confidently. “The Angel Gabriel”, “The Calypso Carol” and “In Dulci Jubilo”. Despite only having had four rehearsals, the children managed to get their mouths round the Latin and the Thees and Thous very well indeed.

I do hope this was the first instalment of a long and happy tradition!

P.S. I have no pictures of the occasion, but here is what St. Francis looks like.

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True worship and heathen worship

This is as true today as it was in the Old Testament and in the first century.

The church of Jesus Christ embraces people who were Jews and people who were heathen. Until the apocalyptic dawn of the last things heathen-Christianity will typify the church of Jesus Christ. Israel was elected from the midst of heathendom. The heathen-Christians came into the church of Jesus Christ directly from heathendom. Membership in the people of God always implies a rupture with the heathen past and the heathen cultus. The relationship between heathen cultus and the church’s worship can never be defined as a transition from a preliminary stage to a crowning maturity. There is an unbridgeable gulf fixed at all levels between the heathen cultus and the church’s worship. There is nothing whatsoever to join them. They are as different as God and devil (2. Cor. 6:14–18). Therefore the conversion from heathenism to the church rightfully involves a renunciation of the devil, which as such is simultaneously a renunciation of the pagan cultus.

Peter Brunner, Worship in the Name of Jesus (St. Louis: CPH, 1968), 49.

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Chants for the Reformation Lessons

After the lecture on Music and the Reformation last Friday, we celebrated choral vespers. To get a sense of an earlier time in the Lutheran church, the readings (Epistle & Gospel for Reformation Day) were chanted according to Luther’s directions in Die Deutsche Messe. Here’s the music (text from ESV®).

The Epistle:

image

 

The Gospel:

image

 

Click here for a PDF version

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Seven theses on church music

From a presentation I was honoured to give yesterday at Luther-Tyndale Memorial Church in London, as part of their annual Reformation Festival.

I. Music is the chief vehicle for the proclamation of the Word of God in the Church.
II. Therefore, the task of church music is to proclaim the Word of God.
III. As such, the music used to proclaim the Word must be appropriate for the task of proclamation.
IV. There is no one kind of music that is appropriate for the proclamation of the Word.
V. By the same token, not all music is appropriate for proclaiming the Word of God.
VI. What is appropriate at a certain time in a certain place is not necessarily appropriate at all times and in all places. But all times and places should be heard in the Church.
VII. Therefore, church music in all its forms must be judged, and used, in such a way as best to communicate God’s Word to those who hear it—including those who make music.

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Sinai, the Land and Liturgy

Profound words from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (as was). This forms the foundation for his discussion of the ‘spirit of the Liturgy’.

Now it becomes clear that what took place on Sinai, in the period of rest after the wandering through the wilderness, is what gives meaning to the taking of the land. Sinai is not a halfway house, kind of stop for refreshment on the road to what really matters. No, Sinai gives Israel, so to speak, its interior land without which the exterior one would be a cheerless prospect. Israel is constituted as a people through the covenant and the divine law it contains. This and this alone is what makes the land a real gift. Sinai remains present in the Promised Land.

Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press), 19.

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