How to sing the faith, and how not

Have I told you lately that I’m no great fan of ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’?

What strikes me about that, and some other famous and very popular hymns by Cecil Alexander, is that they were written to help her young godchildren to understand the Creed. A laudable goal indeed. Setting anything to rhyme, rhythm and music is going to be a great way to teach it. And if you are going to teach only one thing to a child, the creed is that one thing.

But it has to be done well. And I don’t think Mrs. Alexander did it all that well. What she produced was frequently trite, often moralistic, and occasionally plain false (but in fairness, not always).

Another British hymn writer of the same era, the Rev. Samuel Stone, also gave himself the task of expounding the creed through hymn, though this time in response to a theological controversy. Let’s compare and contrast their efforts.

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth”

C. AlexanderS. Stone
1. All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

2. Each little flower that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colours,
He made their tiny wings.

All things bright ...

3. The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.

All things bright ...

4. The purple headed mountain,
The river running by,
The sunset and the morning,
That brightens up the sky;−

All things bright ...

5. The cold wind in the winter,
The pleasant summer sun,
The ripe fruits in the garden,−
He made them every one:

All things bright ...

6. The tall trees in the greenwood,
The meadows where we play,
The rushes by the water,
We gather every day;−

All things bright ...

7. He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell,
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well.

All things bright ...
None else but Thee, for evermore,
One, All, we dread, believe, adore:
Great Earth and Heaven shall have their day
And worn and old shall pass away,
But Thou remainest, on Thy throne
Eternal, changeless, and alone!

None else we praise! in every form,
In peace of calm and power of storm,
In simple flower and mystic star,
In all around and all afar,
In Grandeur, Beauty, Truth, but Thee
None else we hear, None else we see.

None else we love! for sweeter grace
That made anew a ruined race:
The heirs of life, the lords of death,
With earliest voice and latest breath,
When days begin, when days are done,
Bless we the Father for the Son!

None else we trust! our flesh may fail,
Our heart may sink when foes assail,
But Thou art strength to be our stay,
And Glory not to pass away:
None else in life and death have we,
But we have all in all with Thee!

Yea, None but Thee all worlds confess,
And those redeemed ones numberless:
None else, from everlasting One,
And evermore beside Thee none.
Of all that is, has been, shall be,
Father of Life, None else but Thee!

“I believe in Jesus Christ … who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the  Virgin Mary …”

C. AlexanderS. Stone
1. Once in royal David's city
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her Baby
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little Child.

2. He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall;
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Savior holy.

3. And through all His wondrous childhood
He would honor and obey,
Love and watch the lowly maiden,
In whose gentle arms He lay:
Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as He.

4. For he is our childhood's pattern;
Day by day, like us He grew;
He was little, weak and helpless,
Tears and smiles like us He knew;
And He feeleth for our sadness,
And He shareth in our gladness.

5. And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love;
For that Child so dear and gentle
Is our Lord in heaven above,
And He leads His children on
To the place where He is gone.

6. Not in that poor lowly stable,
With the oxen standing by,
We shall see Him; but in heaven,
Set at God's right hand on high;
Where like stars His children crowned
All in white shall wait around.
THE Son forsook the Father's home
For mercy to lost man,
And did not scorn the Virgin's womb
To bear the sinner's ban.

Meekly the Maiden pure believed
The great Archangel's word,
And by the Holy Ghost conceived
The Saviour Christ the Lord.

The Word made flesh creation sees,
Its mighty God in Man:
Great mystery of mysteries
Since ever time began!

That we might gain a second birth
The Holy Son was given:
T'was God Himself came down to earth
To win us back to heaven.

Lord! we believe with love and praise
This wondrous truth of Thee:
Thereby in all our troublous days
How strong henceforth are we!

So near art Thou, so strong are we,
For now, if we are Thine,
Our Brother in humanity,
Thou makest us divine!

We see with peace in times of fear
Serene Thy human Form
Thy human Voice with joy we hear,
Sweet-toned above the storm.

So dread we not the deathly strife,
Knowing that Thou hast died:
It can but bear us into life,
Since nearer to Thy side!

“I believe in … the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints …”

C. AlexanderS. Stone
LITTLE children must be quiet,
When to Holy Church they go,
They must sit with serious faces,
Must not play or whisper low.

For the Church is GOD'S Own Temple,
Where men go for praise and prayer,
And the Great GOD will not love them,
Who forget His Presence there.

They were little Jewish children,
Who within the temple cried,
" Honour to the Son of David,"
Standing at our SAVIOUR'S side.

How much more should Christian children
Know His Name and praise Him too,
Who of His Own Church are members,
Sons of GOD, and born anew.

They must walk in reverent order,
Stand for praise and kneel for prayer,
For the Church is GOD'S Own Temple,
And His Presence dwelleth there.
The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.

She is from every nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth;
Her charter of salvation,
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy Name she blesses,
Partakes one Holy Food,
And to one Hope she presses,
With every grace endued.

The Church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
To guide, sustain, and cherish,
Is with her to the end:
Though there be those who hate her,
And false sons in her pale,
Against or foe or traitor
She ever shall prevail.

Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed:
Yet saints their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song!

’Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.

Yet she on earth hath union
With God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won,
With all her sons and daughters
Who, by the Master’s Hand
Led through the deathly waters,
Repose in Eden land.

O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
Like them, the meek and lowly,
On high may dwell with Thee:
There, past the border mountains,
Where in sweet vales the Bride
With Thee by living fountains
Forever shall abide!

Now, this isn’t entirely fair. Mrs. Alexander wrote for little children, Mr. Stone for adults. All the same, as I have suggested before, what children learn to sing as children has a very profound influence on their whole lives.

So here’s my advice for hymn writers: if you are going to set the creed as a series of hymns, you do well. But please can you make sure that the hymns are worthy of the creed they paraphrase!

And here’s my advice for teachers of little children: there aren’t better resources than Luther’s Small Catechism.

Finally, justice demands that I add also that Mrs. Alexander was quite capable of writing a good hymn. Here’s one:

1. When, wounded sore, the stricken soul
Lies bleeding and unbound,
One only hand, a piercèd hand,
Can heal the sinner’s wound.

2. When sorrow swells the laden breast,
And tears of anguish flow,
One only heart, a broken heart,
Can feel the sinner’s woe.

3. When penitence has wept in vain
Over some foul, dark spot,
One only stream, a stream of blood,
Can wash away the blot.

4. ‘T is Jesus’ blood that washes white,
His hand that brings relief,
His heart that’s touch’d with all our joys,
And feeleth for our grief.

5. Lift up Thy bleeding hand, O Lord!
Unseal that cleansing tide;
We have no shelter from our sin
But in Thy wounded side.

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Forgiveness: the end of regret

Today, I have had cause again to dwell on the nature and the destructive power of regret. Lives lived facing backwards, full of what-if and if-only, are at best deprived of freedom and sapped of the fullness of joy.

For all of which the Gospel offers a simple alternative: forgiveness. God takes your sins to one end of an infinitely long straight line in an eastwardly direction, and your life to the opposite, western end of the same line. Or drops the lot into the bottom of the sea. Drowned in the blood of Jesus, they vanish, disappear. If you say to omniscient God, remember that sin I confessed last week, He replies, “What sin?”

And so, freed to live forward-wise, we go from opportunity to opportunity, promise to promise, until the fulfilment of every promise appears, with the fulness of joy.

I wrote on the subject at greater length and from another angle some time ago here: Non, je ne regrette

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For the children’s funeral

HT: The following thought process was triggered by a series of tweets by Kathryn

Because the church I serve is very small and not very well known, and it’s part of a denomination that no one in this country has ever heard of, my ministry has a slightly unusual shape. Unlike my CofE colleagues, I do baptisms once in a blue moon, weddings never, and funerals only occasionally. In fact, most of the ‘Official Acts’ I do carry out are funerals, so if I have any expertise in the baptisms-weddings-and-funerals line of clergy life, it’s with funerals.

Thankfully, most of the funerals I have taken have not been of members of my congregation. Rather, I get called on mostly either because the deceased had some sort of link to Lutheranism (say, Nordic or German background) or because of the work our church does in local nursing homes. And so I find myself often planning funerals of people I have never met, with family members whom I haven’t previously met.

Again, given the circumstances, frequently these are people with limited personal contact with the church, any church. Which gives me considerable freedom in suggesting what ought to, or has to, be included and what ought not, or cannot.

But the real fun starts when it comes to hymns. Now, if you are planning a funeral for a loved one who grew up in England in the last 100 years and you don’t go to church much and they didn’t either, let me put you straight out of your misery: we will sing All Things Bright and Beautiful and Abide with Me. No, seriously, no need to discuss. That is what we will end up singing.

Because if you don’t know many hymns, and love even fewer, I will suggest Abide with Me as one that you will know (from watching the FA cup final at least, as well as funerals in TV dramas), and because it’s a fantastic Christian hymn to sing at every opportunity,  especially at funerals.

And we will sing All Things Bright and Beautiful, not only because everyone knows it, but because it’s Granny’s or Grandpa’s, or Mum’s or Dad’s, or your, favourite hymn.

Why? Because they/you sang it loads at school (and possibly Sunday school), and so you learned to love it as a child. Every time you sing it now, it takes you right back, like the smell of roast turkey or a Christmas tree on fire takes you back to the memory of childhood Christmas (for me, it’s walnuts and tangerines).

Which would be OK if All Things Bright and Beautiful wasn’t such an inept piece of Christian hymnody. There’s nothing as such wrong with it—no obvious heresy or anything really offensive after you have left out that stanza, as everyone since the 1890s has done. The problem is that it says nothing much, and still manages to say it in a twee, shallow and trite fashion. And I don’t think much of the tune either. Or the other tune.

I’m also quite convinced that no adult who likes All Things Bright and Beautiful likes it because they appreciate the theology, or the art in the poetry and music. They like it chiefly because they sang it as children. And why not? I still like ‘The Wise Man Built His House Upon a Rock’, especially in Finnish, plus a whole host of Sunday school songs. And the Finnish folk songs we sang in primary school, accompanied on a wheezy old harmonium (which is probably why I’m so fond of Dvořák’s Bagatelles). Because I sang them as a kid, and they take me right back.

Nostalgia rules (though not like it used to when I was young).

Which brings me to Kathryn’s point, one I would like to shout from the rooftops. It really matters what songs our children sing as children. Because the songs they sing now—at home, at school, in Sunday school, in church—are the songs that will be sung at their funeral.

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Not until their taste improves

George W. Briggs (1875–1959) was an Anglican priest and hymn-writer, one of the founders of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland. His best-known hymn is ‘God Hath Spoken by the Prophets’, although my personal favourite is ‘Now Is Eternal Life’.

It turns out that he was a man of good judgement, too. In the bulletin of the Hymn Society, he wrote a review article dealing with criticisms that had been raised against Songs of Praise, a hymnal published in 1925 and edited by Percy Dearmer with the composers Ralph Vaughan Williams and Martin Shaw.

Here are a couple of delicious extracts:

“… a great deal has been said about the omission from the hymn ‘There is a green hill far away,’ [a much over-loved hymn! TS] of the verse

‘There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin.’

This omission was not made to weaken the doctrine of the cross; for that doctrine is fully expressed in other lines of the hymn … . The reason for the omission was that the verse is a quite unworthy description of the Atonement. ‘There was no other good enough,’ is surely inadequate; and there is no ‘price of sin.’ There is a penalty of sin, and a price of redemption; but the ‘price of sin’ would only fit the gentleman who went up and down Europe peddling indulgences.”

* * *

“My correspondent writes [about hymn no. 396 in Songs of Praise]: ‘It surely takes First Prize for the world’s worst hymn.’ I am not so sure of that. There is a good deal of competition for that First Prize in every hymn book.”

* * *

“Of the tunes there is little that I need to say. People whose taste is for ‘sugar and spice and all that’s nice,’ will certainly not care for them; at any rate, not until their taste improves … .”

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Abide with Me—some notes and original text

As a sort of follow-up to a past post on bad things done to good hymns (and more so), a positive story about how a great hymn came about.

Abide with Me, by Henry Francis Lyte, is, by one measure, the most popular English hymn in the world (according to this table [PDF] from Christianity Today—online version here, behind a paywall). I first learnt it as a child—in the 1933 Finnish hymnal. It was so popular that when the new hymnal came out in 1986, the editors decided to (or were made to, who knows?) keep it as hymn number 555. That’s a testament to popularity if ever there was one.

But both the CT statistics and my little anecdote attest to a particular facet of this hymn’s popularity: that it has remained well-loved pretty much since its original publication. It has lasted.

And hardly anything will ever last unless it has substance.

Abide with me has substance.

However, there is more to this well-loved and well-known hymn than is known. I recently downloaded the first edition of Remains of the Late Henry Francis Lyte, M.A., a collection first published in 1850, three years after the author’s death. It would seem that the popularity of the hymn mushroomed as a result of its inclusion in this collection, which came with a Prefatory Memoir by his daughter.

I was not surprised to discover that there were more stanzas in the original work than there are in modern usage. Alas, we have become impatient with long hymns.

The text of the poem wasn’t immediately fixed however. The version of ‘Abide with Me’ given in Poetical Works (pub. 1907) is transcribed from Lyte’s own manuscript (a facsimile of which is produced in the book itself), and varies somewhat from the one given in Remains. Perhaps Lyte himself worked on the text on his ill-fated final journey to Nice, in the vain hope of improvement in his poor health.

Even then, some of the lines that have become obsolete are weaker poetically than the more popular ones. “Familiar, condescending, patient, free,”—had Lyte lived longer, he may have improved on this. The final line of the fourth stanza has one too many syllables in the manuscript version, which Remains fixes by changing ‘abide’ to ‘bide’. The later alternative of removing ‘thus’ seems to be a better judgement.

Yet, whatever criticisms one may have, this hymn is Lyte’s final work, presented to his daughter on the evening after his final sermon to his congregation, before his ill-fated journey to the Mediterranean coast in the vain hope of improved health. Therefore, it’s worth hearing the words of this dying man of God in the form he gave them.

So  here it is, in its original glory:

Abide with Me
Henry Francis Lyte (–)
“Abide with us: for it is towards evening, and the day is far spent.” —Luke xxiv.

Abide with me ! Fast falls the Eventide ;
The darkness deepens. Lord, with me abide. [Manuscript: "The darkness thickens"]
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee ,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me !

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day ;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away :
Change and decay in all around I see.
O Thou who changest not, abide with me !

Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word ;
But as Thou dwellst with thy disciples, Lord ;
Familiar, condescending, patient, free,—
Come, not to sojourn, but abide with me.

Come not in terrors, as the King of kings ;
But kind and good with healing in Thy wings,
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea.
Come, Friend of sinners, and thus bide with me.
[Manuscript: "and thus abide with me", mistranscribed in Poetical Works as "then abide with me"]

Thou on my head in early youth didst smile ;
And though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee.
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me !

I need thy presence every passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the Tempter’s power ?
Who like Thyself my guide and stay can be ?
Through cloud and sunshine, O, abide with me !

I fear no foe with thee at hand to bless :
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is Death’s sting? Where, Grave, thy victory ?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold then Thy cross before my closing eyes,
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies ; [Manuscript: "Speak through the gloom"—an allusion to Sinai?]
Heaven’s morning breaks, and Earth’s vain shadows flee !
In life and death, O Lord, abide with me ! [Manuscript: "For life, in death"]

P.S. According to his daughter, Lyte also gave “an air of his own composing adapted to the words” with the text. That tune has not fared well. However, at a time of great personal sorrow, the English organist and hymn composer William H. Monk composed ‘Eventide’, apparently in 10 minutes, and that melody has become indelibly associated with Lyte’s poignant words.

Here is the manuscript of (click for full version):

page 1: Abide-with-Me_1
page 2:Abide-with-Me_2

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Maundy Thursday: Eating and Drinking Life

Preached at Our Saviour Lutheran Church on 17 February 2014. You can listen to a recording of the sermon here.
Text: 1 Corinthians 11:23–32

We have heard read tonight the institution of the Holy Supper of our Lord, as narrated by St. Paul to the church in Corinth, and with our own mouths we have confessed what this Sacrament is, does and signifies. Let us spend a few moments longer contemplating the great divine mystery, which we will not only study but receive before we leave this place.

It is not an exaggeration to say that God in the Holy Scriptures is extraordinarily focused on our eating. The first thing we are told about the Garden in Eden, the home of the first man and his wife, is that “out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” The very first commandment had to do with eating:

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

In the middle of the Garden was the Tree of Life, which was the source of eternal life. For after the Fall, in order to prevent from fallen mankind to live forever under the curse, God placed cherubim with flaming swords to guard the Tree of Life and to keep man from eating from it.

And since man is what he eats, death began its reign. Cultivating a cursed ground for his food, he remained under the curse. Eating dead food, he himself was destined to be consumed by death.

But since God was determined to remain true to His loving purposes and be faithful even when we were faithless, He continued to provide life-giving food for the people.

When Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek, the priest of God Almighty and the king of Salem who foreshadowed the true High Priest of God and the King of Peace, our Lord Jesus Christ, Melchizedek blessed Abraham and gave him bread and wine.

When the Lord redeemed Israel from the yoke of slavery in Egypt, He sent the people into their freedom fed with the meat of the Passover lamb and the unleavened bread.

In the wilderness, when the people were perishing for want of faith when food and water were scarce, God sent them bread from heaven and water from a rock.

When the Lord gave Moses the Law, He provided a sacred meal, the peace offering, so that the worshippers gathered in the tabernacle might sit down and eat the meat of the sacrifice in table fellowship with God Himself.

Through His prophets, God promised a time of restoration when there would no longer be a curse on the ground, when creation would be freed from its bondage to sin, when death would die. The people would once again eat the fruit of the land in all its abundance. “Open your mouth wide,” says the Lord, “and I will fill it.” (Ps. :)

* * *

However, not everything was suitable to eat. There was food that was unclean: food that came from things that had been distorted by the fall, and perpetuated the fallenness of creation—such as beasts that ate not the grass of the field but one another.

But there was one eating prohibition that stood above all others. Unlike the laws about clean and unclean food, which were given to Israel through Moses at Sinai, this prohibition was given through Noah to all mankind: “you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Gen. :)

This commandment was repeated when the Law was given through Moses, not once but six times, and the whole of chapter  of Leviticus is devoted to it. Why was it such a terrible thing to eat blood? Because the blood was the life: eating the blood was to eat the life. Israel’s pagan neighbours would eat and drink blood, or pour it over their crops, to benefit from the life-force of another, whether an animal or a human.

To Israel God said,

If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people.

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.

Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood. (Lev. :–)

Life comes from God and it returns to God. You are not to take what is God’s for yourself. Nor should you seek to gain anything for your life, except from God, who has created you and numbered your days. The only use of another’s life is for the sake of atonement, one life for the sins of another, as commanded by God: hence the Passover Lamb and the sacrifices of atonement.

* * *

Today, we share the condition of Adam and Eve, of Noah, Abraham, Moses and the Israelites. Today, we still live off a cursed ground, in mortal bodies, eating dead food and being consumed by death. Our sins and the sins of others are still destroying us, until the wages of sin is paid out to us.

But today, we too are fed by God. Like Melchizedek, Christ brings us bread and wine and His blessing. But the bread and wine are not mere bread and wine, mere signs and symbols without a power of their own.

No, this bread and wine are combined with the all-powerful words of Christ. By the power of Christ’s words, the words of institution, we are given the flesh of Christ to eat and His blood to drink, hidden in, with and under the bread and wine. That’s right: we eat flesh and we drink blood. Only now the drinking of blood brings with it not punishment but blessing. Why? Because the blood is the life. The blood of atonement that was made once for all, the blood of the Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world, is now given to us so that our sins might be covered, that the angel of death may pass over us, and that we might have in us the life of Christ, who overcame death and hell and lives forever.

Jesus said,

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. (John 6:53–57)

We eat Christ and we drink His life—the flesh with its blood. Not dead food that nourishes a dying body for a moment, but living food that nourishes the body and soul to life everlasting. Really and truly—hidden but undoubtedly present.

The tree of the cross is for us the new tree of life, from whose fruit we eat so that we might live eternally in an imperishable Paradise. The blood shed on that cross brings us atonement, covering our sin and washing us so that our scarlet sins are made white as snow. Our garments, soiled by transgression, are purified and made white in the blood of the Lamb, and now we can stand with confidence before the throne of Almighty God, and His Son who will judge the living and the dead.

Thus though we don’t see our Bridegroom now as He is with our eyes, He is not far from us. Rather, He comes to us in a most intimate union, making Himself one flesh with His bride, the Church, and with each of her members. We are not left only to think about Him, whether in remembrance or in anticipation—no, He lives within us in His body and blood.

In this way, the miracle of the incarnation is echoed at Christian altars each time the words of institution are spoken over bread and wine: the Son of God makes His dwelling among us in the flesh of the Son of Mary. This is why Christians bow or kneel during at the consecration, to recognise and reverence the great mystery: that Jesus, our Immanuel, is with us. This is why Christians sing the Agnus Dei, the hymn to the Lamb of God, not to the backs of their eyelids, or up to the ceiling, but to the altar where the Lamb of God to whom we sing is present.

And this is why also the Church exercises great care in admitting people to this most holy meal: whoever eats such sacred food and drinks such sacred drink without recognising in faith what is being offered and for what purpose, profanes the holy mysteries and thereby incurs judgement rather than forgiveness, wrath rather than blessing.

And so, dear friends of Christ, we have come to the Holy of Holies, to the presence of יהוה of Sabaoth, the God of Israel. The benefits of the sacrifice of Golgotha are being delivered to us tonight, and Christ is giving us His immortal body and the blood of His eternal life to us to eat and to drink.

Examine yourselves, therefore: Are you a sinner in need of forgiveness? Are you weak, and in need of strength? Are you starving and in need of feeding, parched and in need of refreshment? Are you a sojourner, longing for your true home? Are you dying, in need of life?

Here is forgiveness and life; here is strength for the pilgrimage; here is food and drink; here is a foretaste from the banquet prepared for every prodigal son and daughter by the Father, a full token of Christ’s love for His beloved bride.

Come, open your mouth, and it will be filled!

Posted in Lord's Supper, Sermon | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Liturgical Titbits: The Idle Congregation

“Why don’t we get to do more in the service? Why does the pastor get to do (almost) everything? All that the congregation seems to do is to sing hymns and say ‘Amen’ a lot. Why? It makes it feel like the pastor is more special and important, and makes us feel devalued.”

This way of thinking is based on a misunderstanding of what happens in Christian worship. It assumes that in church, like in much of modern life, doing makes you important, so doing less means you are less important. It also assumes that what happens in worship is that we come to do things. The more we do, the more involved and important we are.

But that is not what worship is about. Lutherans often use the term ‘Divine Service’, a translation of the German term Gottesdienst. What happens at church is Divine Service: in worship, God serves us. He is the host, we are the guests.

And like at any great banquet, the host does his serving by means of servants. They do the laying of the table, the cooking, the cleaning, the distribution of food and drink, the clearing up. At a banquet, the more you do, the less important you are, and the more important you are, the less you have to do. The guest of honour only has to sit back and wait for food and drink to appear and for dirty dishes to disappear again.

And so it is in church. The congregation are the guests of honour at the heavenly banquet. God is the host, Jesus the food; the invitation comes from the Holy Spirit. And then there are servants (the pastor(s) and any lay members who assist him/them) who distribute the goodies from the host to the guests. The more you do, the less important you are. The more important you are, the less you do. All you have to do is sit and wait for God’s gifts to appear, and your dirty dishes to be taken away. The only thing left to do is to receive and to say ‘Thank you’.

Immediately after instituting the Lord’s Supper, Jesus taught this to His disciples:

For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. (Luke 22:27)

The Apology of the Augsburg Confession expresses the same truth thus:

The difference between this faith and the righteousness of the Law can be easily discerned. Faith is the divine service (latreia) that receives the benefits offered by God. The righteousness of the Law is the divine service (latreia) that offers to God our merits. God wants to be worshipped through faith so that we receive from Him those things He promises and offers. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, IV:29)

So, when in church, don’t do something: just sit there!

P.S. Yes, in many churches there is a lot more ‘lay activity’ in the service than in the Lutheran church. But that’s because frequently they have a very different view on what the nature worship is.

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A Year of God’s Grace

Our Saviour Lutheran Church

Annual General Meeting
20 March 2014
Pastor’s Report

Church SignOur Saviour Lutheran Church has enjoyed another year of God’s grace, receiving and sharing the love of God in Jesus Christ. There have been many joys, some deep sorrows—but above all, the constancy of God’s loving gifts.

Except on two of the Sundays when the pastor was away on holiday, Divine Service (service with Holy Communion) has been held “on every Lord’s Day and on [many of] the other festivals”, as enjoined by our Lutheran confessions (Apology of the Augsburg Confession XXIV.1). Sunday attendance by the members of the church has remained regular, with very many attending every Sunday unless they were away. In addition, a good number of members also attended services for Ascension and Ash Wednesday. I am very grateful to DL who, as the elder, led services during my annual leave—as he did faithfully during his whole long tenure as elder—as well as to Pr. GJ who led the service, preached and administered the Sacrament during the same period of leave. In addition, in February students from Westfield House assisted in the service by preaching and by assisting in the liturgy.

We have experienced greater variety in the liturgical life of the congregation than in the past. In addition to Settings III and IV, the Easter season, we used the Healey Willan setting of the Divine Service, and during Advent, an unaccompanied setting of the Divine Service, which is being prepared by the ELCE’s Committee on Worship.

Thanks to the faithful service of our Sunday school teachers and helpers, Sunday school has been held on almost every Sunday of the church year, and our children continue to grow in the knowledge of God’s word.

A whole new set of services came into being from September. In co-operation with the Parish of St. Peter & St. Paul, regular Daily Office services began to be held at St. Francis’, Funtley: Matins on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and Vespers on Wednesdays. Although members of the congregation have not begun to attend these services regularly, it is nevertheless an encouragement that there is regular prayer for the congregation and for the wider community. Moreover, some members of the local community who are not members of Our Saviour have attended some of the services from time to time.

In the traditional Advent Vespers, we studied the Epistle readings for the Sundays of Advent. In the current series of Lenten Vespers, we are taking a leaf out of Martin Luther’s book, and going back to being students of the Catechism (Introduction to the Large Catechism), with each week’s service focusing on one of the Chief Parts.

Bible study remains well-attended. This entire past year has been taken up by a close study of the chief confession of the Lutheran Church, the Augsburg Confession. Several adults and two children have been receiving instruction in the Church’s doctrine in preparation for full membership in the Lutheran Church.

There have been many joys. On Pentecost, H was received into communicant membership through the rite of Confirmation. As in past years, we have had the opportunity to serve the children of the local area through holiday clubs and the Drama Club. Since the autumn, a newly-formed youth club has met fortnightly, generously hosted by B (even while she was away in Australia!). We have been able to serve the elderly members of our community through ongoing care home visits, as well as regular visits to a newly-built care home. As a church family, we have met monthly over excellent food and drink at Saturday suppers. In January, the congregation was able to lend their pastor to extend God’s grace to a Finnish family in Galway, Ireland, to bring their newborn daughter S to the saving waters of Baptism. We hosted the LWLGB convention in November and a Westfield House weekend in February.

Amid the joys, we have also endured sorrows. The upheavals within the ELCE in the past year were and are felt painfully by all: when one member suffers, the whole body suffers. Our service of prayer for friends and strangers, which manifests itself in a long prayer list in the weekly bulletin, encapsulates many needs of loved ones and others. Some prayers have been answered with a ‘Yes’ through relief and healing, others with a ‘No’, as we have had to bid a final farewell to those for whom we have prayed. Above all, we lost from our visible fellowship our dear friend and sister in the faith, Forbes. She has gone to the promised glory ahead of time. We, who are left behind, grieve, yet not as those who have no hope but rather in the firm assurance of the resurrection of the body and our reunion with all the saints in God’s heavenly kingdom of glory.

Beyond Fareham, Brighton Lutheran Mission had its second anniversary in January. The work continues to grow and develop slowly and steadily. The monthly services and Sunday Bible studies are regularly attended by five to eight people, of whom three are receiving adult instruction with a view to Baptism or Confirmation. In addition, since last spring, there has been a regular Bible study on the afternoon of the fourth Friday of the month. In addition, I have had the opportunity twice now to share the Gospel with guests at the lunch club run by Holland Road Baptist Church, our generous hosts in Hove.

Our Saviour continues to serve the wider ELCE also by supporting the pastor’s regular visits to Oxford Mission, enabling that small but steadfast community to receive the same gifts of grace which God gives to us.

Finally, my thanks are due to all who have assisted me and served the church in various capacities: DL, who during his long tenure as Elder, which came to an end in August, was always exemplary in his concern for the welfare of the congregation, and who continues to serve as Treasurer; MC, as Chairman and as incoming Elder; to all the other office holders; to the Sunday school teachers; the musicians who make it possible for us to have accompanied services; those who make tea and coffee, the washer-uppers; all who cook; those who have hosted guests; those who give lifts to others; holiday club helpers; and to all for your prayers.

In human terms, the future of our church remains uncertain, all the more since we received the added financial burden of retrospective pension liability payments. Nevertheless, none of that needs to make us anxious: we are not a human society but a divine society, the body of Christ in Fareham and Southern England. Whatever is uncertain to us, whatever shortfalls we may be aware of: none of those are a concern to our Heavenly Father, from whom all blessings flow. Whether the future promises growth and greater resources, or decline and the reduction in worldly goods, we have the sure promises of Jesus. He will be with us always to the end of the world. The Church is His Church, and the gates of hell not prevail against it. So all is well, because all will end well!

Soli Deo Gloria: To God alone be all glory!

Respectfully submitted on the Thursday of Reminiscere Sunday,

Rev. Tapani Simojoki
Pastor

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Aaron

Holinesse on the head,
Light and perfections on the breast,
Harmonious bells below, raising the dead
To leade them unto life and rest.
Thus are true Aarons drest.

Profanenesse in my head,
Defect and darknesse in my breast,
A noise of passions ringing me for dead
Unto a place where is no rest,
Poore priest thus am I drest.

Onely another head
I have, another heart and breast,
Another musick, making live not dead,
Without whom I could have no rest:
In him I am well drest.

Christ is my onely head,
My alone onely heart and breast,
My onely musick, striking me ev’n dead;
That to the old man I may rest,
And be in him new drest.

So holy in my head,
Perfect and light in my deare breast,
My doctrine tun’d by Christ, (who is not dead,
but lives in me while I do rest)
Come people; Aaron’s drest.

George Herbert (1593–1633)

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The Lord Who Saves

Sermon preached at Our Saviour Lutheran Church on the 2nd Sunday after Christmas, 5 January 2014
Text: Matthew 2:13–23
You can listen to the sermon here.

La fuite en ÉgypteWhat’s in a name? For us moderns, not a lot. Names are labels chosen from a stock of traditional or (increasingly) non-traditional stock. We name children after relatives or celebrities, or we pick a name that we like the sound of. We avoid names that we dislike, or names that bring back bad memories. Yes, there are all sorts of more or less complicated reasons for our names, but in the end, it’s all about our preferences and tastes.

In the Bible, however, names have a far greater significance. Numerous times in the Old Testament, when a person is named, a little explanation is added to tell us the significance of that particular name. Adam called his wife Eve, which means life-giver, “because she was the mother of all living”. God took Abram, whose name meant ‘exalted father’, and re-named him Abraham, which means ‘father of a multitude’, “for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.” Likewise, God took Jacob, whose name meant ‘he deceives’, and gave him the new name Israel, ‘he strives with God’.

And this Israel, the man who strove with God, gave his name to all his descendants, to whom God promised to give all that He had promised to Abraham and Isaac, all the blessings He had intended for His creation. In Israel and through Israel, God would do His work of restoring the creation that had fallen when Adam and Eve disobeyed the Creator.

It didn’t take long, however, before it seemed that God’s promise to Israel would be snuffed out before it had even begun to manifest itself. Jacob and his sons were on the verge of extinction, because there was a great famine about to fall on the land. The curse on the land that their forefather Adam had earned for himself and all his descendants, was about to undo the promise to the woman’s seed, that the serpent’s head would be crushed and the curse lifted.

But God’s promises will not be thwarted. God turned the evil intentions of the ten older brothers for His own good purposes. When they plotted to destroy their younger brother Joseph, God used their evil plot to send him ahead of them to Egypt—so that he might feed them and their families there. And so it was. Joseph, the younger brother, rose to power in Egypt just in time to feed his father and his brothers when they ran out of food, and to give them a home in the rich land of Goshen. He who was the son and the younger brother to Jacob and his sons, became a father to them, and under his care and by God’s blessing, they were fruitful and multiplied. For his name was Joseph, which means, ‘he will add’.

In the fullness of time, God took Israel out of slavery in this foreign land and led them home to the land He had promised them, a land flowing with milk and honey. During their forty years of wandering in the wilderness, they proved to be an unworthy bearer of their forefather’s name. For they strove not with God but against Him, again and again.

Nor did their rebellion end when they were safely established in the Promised Land. Time and again, they contended against God and the prophets whom God sent them to call them back to His good and gracious care. They were busy forfeiting the promised redemption through their idolatry and disobedience. Judge after judge, things got worse, until God gave them kings to be shepherds of his people. But king after king, things degenerated yet further. The kingdom was split, brother against brother after the image of Cain and Abel, and then first one, then the other half of the kingdom was destroyed by their enemies—a just punishment for the rebellion of Israel, their insistent striving against God. The nation that had been called to be a kingdom of priests, to shine the light of God’s truth in a fallen world, instead left her God and went the idolatrous way of the world.

And so Israel embodied in her history the history of all humanity: a called, redeemed creation refusing to heed the call of Him who made and redeemed it. Insisting on its own way, the broad highway of death, over the narrow way that leads to life. Rejecting the wisdom of God, preferring instead the folly of this world. Heeding the siren-call of what our eyes see and ears hear, here and now, rather than receiving by faith what no eye has seen and what no ear has heard, what God has prepared for those who love Him.

Separated from the Lord, whose name is יהוה, ‘the one who is’, the world is rushing head-long into oblivion.

But this name, יהוה, tells us something more about God than a mere label would. He is the one who is, the being one. And as He is, so is His word. As the one who is, He will endure forever. As He is, so is His word: it will endure forever.

Therefore, once He has made a promise, He will by necessity keep His promise. Otherwise, His word of promise would fail to endure. And so in the fullness of time, God sent His Son, born of a woman, and gave Him a name that would change everything: Jesus.

The English name Jesus comes to us from the Greek transliteration of Jesus’ Hebrew name Yehoshua, or Joshua. This name is made up of two parts, God’s own name, יהוה, plus the verb, ישׁע , which means ‘he saves’. God sent His Son, and called Him, יהוה saves’, ‘the one who is saves’, ‘the Lord saves’—for, as the angel told Joseph, He was to save His people from their sins.

And in this Jesus, all the promises to Israel were to be fulfilled: the promise that Israel were to be His chosen people, that Israel were to be blessed through the keeping of God’s Law, that Israel were going to receive an eternal heritage from God in a land flowing with milk and honey, that Israel’s prayers were going to be pleasing to God, that Israel was going to have a means of atonement and God’s forgiveness forever—and that through Israel, all the nations of the world would be blessed.

And what Israel according to the flesh, Jacob and his offspring, failed to do, the Son of God undertook to do. And so God took the evil intentions of Herod who wanted to destroy the beloved Son, and used them to take Joseph to Egypt. There, Joseph became father to the one who was his creator and his elder brother, by taking care of his wife’s son, Jesus. And having been taken to Egypt, Jesus traced the way of the Israelites: from exile in Egypt back to the land of Canaan. There, he grew in Galilee, the land of the people living in darkness, obedient to His earthly parents and to His heavenly Father.

In the fullness of time, He took upon Himself the sins of the whole world by taking on the sinners’ baptism of repentance from John the Baptists. He faced the wilderness for forty days, but resisted the temptations of the evil one, repelling Him with the word which both Adam and the people of Israel disregarded to their own peril. Keeping the Law to the end, He strove with God in the Garden of Gethsemane, asking the cup of suffering to be taken from Him, but only if it was the Father’s will. Thus, having been obedient to the point of death, He was crucified and destroyed for all of Israel’s transgressions—and for the sins of the whole world. When the first Israel, Jacob strove with God at the brook of Jabbok, God relented and let Jacob go with His blessing and the new name. When the second Israel, Jesus, strove with God on the cross of Calvary, God did not relent but forsook His obedient Son, so that He might bless all the disobedient sons and daughters of Adam and Israel who had incurred His wrath by their disobedience. Thus, the cross of Christ was set up as the beacon for the world, where those weighed down by sin may leave their fatal burden and find a gracious God, and the crucified Saviour was the priest who brought the light of God’s truth to all the people.

But what has all this to do with you?

Everything. When you were baptised, you were truly Christened: you received the name of Christ and were made a Christian. Your incorporation into Him by the circumcision of the heart in baptism made you a member in Him—a member of Israel. Thus, all the promises of God to Israel throughout all of Scripture are His promises to you. He striven with God for you, so that you need not strive but to rest in His salvation. You have been brought from the Egypt of slavery to sin into the freedom of the Promised Land of God’s Kingdom, where you are not a slave but a son and heir. You, a member of His body, are as beloved as the head. He has defeated Satan, and all of Satan’s accusations and temptations, for you. He is your mighty fortress, to which God has gathered you from among the nations, as we sang in the  Gradual.

In short, יהוה, the Lord, has saved you. Now you are a member of that nation of priests, Israel, called to proclaim the excellences of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light. He who has done this, He who has promised all this, is the one who is and stands forever, whose word stands forever. Whatever temptations, anguish, discouragement, persecutions come your way, He will see His promise through as long as you stay in the One who has done all this and who has won the victory for you, Jesus, the Lord who saves.

May God give you His grace in this New Year to enjoy His great gift of salvation in Jesus Christ, seeking His kingdom in the joyful knowledge that all other things will be added to you as well.

In the holy name of ✠ Jesus. Amen.

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