Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
In the name of ✠ Jesus.
But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.
Throughout the Church’s history, there have been approaches to putting together the lectionary, the sequence of readings from one service to another. Often in the early church, they used a continuous lectionary: one one Sunday, the preacher would expound a part of a book of the Bible, and the following Sunday he would simply carry on from where he left off, until he got to the end of the book and start on another book.
It would seem that Luther’s decision to add the word ‘allein’ (alone) to Rom. 3:28, for which Roman Catholic apologists have pilloried him and his followers ever since, wasn’t quite such an innovation after all:
God is gone up with a triumphant shout!
The Lord with sounding Trumpets’ melodies:
Sing Praise, sing Praise, sing Praise, sing Praises out,
Unto our King sing praise seraphicwise!
Lift up your Heads, ye lasting Doors, they sing,
And let the King of Glory enter in.
Methinks I see Heaven’s sparkling courtiers fly,
In flakes of Glory down him to attend,
And hear Heart-cramping notes of Melody
Surround his Chariot as it did ascend;
Mixing their Music, making ev’ry string
More to enravish as they this tune sing.
Text: Edward Taylor (1646–1729)
Music: Gerald Finzi (1901–56)
Hymn singing in church is actually a fairly recent innovation: traditionally, hymns were mainly sung at Matins and Vespers, but not in the Sunday main (Communion) service. The practice of hymn-singing in the Communion service was a Lutheran innovation at the time of the Reformation. It serves a simple purpose: to put the word of God in the mouths and ears of the congregation. (Col 3:16).
Hence, the hymns are part of the day’s liturgy in the same way that the readings and prayers are, and for the same reason. The different hymns of the service have their own role in the service.
1. The opening hymn is usually either a hymn of invocation, asking for God to bless the congregation that has gathered to receive His gifts, or a hymn of confession, preparing them for the confession of sins.
2. The sermon hymn, or hymn of the day, is linked specifically to the day’s readings, and its main role is to teach the word to the congregation.
3. The communion hymn should really be a distribution hymn, sung during the Communion to assist the congregation to appreciate and rightly to receive the Sacrament.
4. The closing hymn is frequently a hymn of praise, thanking God for the gifts received, or a commissioning hymn, sending the congregation back into the world with the word of God on their lips as they prepare to serve God and neighbour in their daily lives.
Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
What starts as a piece of common-sense advice on good manners and a constructive attitude to conversation—essentially: speech is silver, silence is golden—very quickly turns to something a whole lot more serious. St. James, the brother of the Lord Jesus, is not writing a letter to the Christians of Asia Minor in order to improve their social skills or make them better learners. What he has in view is nothing less than the righteousness of God.
My researches for Sunday Cantata keep throwing up wonderful Lutheran chorales that never made it into English, or have been forgotten entirely. More distressing still is to find that hymns that have survived have been sadly mistreated by translators and/or hymnal editors.
The latest exhibit for this latter category, from BWV 166, Bach’s cantata for Cantate Sunday (5th of, or 4th after, Easter, depending on which way you like to count): Ämilie Juliane von Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt’s hymn Wer weiss wie nahe mir mein Ende.
Here’s how Bach gives us verse one in that cantata:
The original has 12 verses. TLH gave us 11 of them as Who Knows When Death May Overtake Me (TLH 598), a translation reproduced also in the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (ELH 483).
Question 1: If you’re willing to sing 11 verses, why not 12?
The missing verse is no. 7:
Ich weiß, in Jesu Blut und Wunden hab ich mir recht und wohl gebett ; da find ich Trost in Todesstunden, und alles, was ich gerne hätt. Mein Gott, ich bitt’ durch Christi Blut: Mach’s nur mit meinem Ende gut!
An English prose translation by Francis Browne (on the marvellous site bach-cantatas.com) reads as follows:
I know that in Jesus’ blood and wounds
It is right and good for me to make my bed;
There may I find consolation in the hour of death
And everything I would happily have.
My God, I pray through Christ’s blood:
Make sure my end is good.
Why would you want to leave that out? Makes me want to know:
Question 2: What’s wrong with the blood of Jesus?
You see, not only do they leave out the bloody verse. Jesus’ blood is veritably written out of the hymn.
If you know TLH (or ELH) well, you will know that there is a refrain at the end of each verse, which goes like this: “My God, for Jesus’ sake I pray / Thy peace may bless my dying day.”
Except that it doesn’t. The German reads:
Mein Gott, ich bitt’ durch Christi Blut: Mach’s nur mit meinem Ende gut!
That’s the blood of Christ. Something like, “My God, I pray through Jesus’ blood / Make Thou my life’s end only good.” (OK, so I’m no Shakespeare. Sorry.)
Verse11 (10 in TLH/ELH) declares in the original:
“I am and remain in his care,
fairly adorned with Christ’s blood.”
But the hymnal simply states:
“He grants the peace that stills all sorrow / Gives me a robe without a spot.”
The only blood the translators didn’t write out is the direct reference to the Lord’s Supper (verse 10/9). Which makes me wonder:
Question 3: Is it hard to tell the difference between cause and effect?
The translators seem to prefer translating Blut as ‘peace’. Now, as any well-catechised child will tell you, the blood of Christ does bring us peace with God. That’s why we have the Pax Domini in the liturgy, and that’s why we have it where we have it.
But the blood and the peace aren’t the same thing. The one brings about the other. They are not synonymous. So why on earth would you treat them as synonymous?
Which leads us to:
Question 4: Why would the editors of a conservative Lutheran hymnal go to such lengths to avoid talking about the blood of Jesus (except in the Lord’s Supper, when they can’t get away from it)? Could it be that they were crypto-Ritschlians, perhaps without realising it?
Question 5: Given that, even with such a deficient translation, this is a pretty stunning hymn (do read the whole of Browne’s translation, together with the original German, here), why would it be culled even further in the finest modern English-language Lutheran hymnbook, the Lutheran Service Book? All that remains of the 12 verses are 9, 10 and 12 in what has been re-cut as a baptismal hymn (‘Once in the Blessed Baptismal Waters’, LSB 598).
What on earth for? There are plenty of fine baptismal hymns in LSB as it is. No need to go a-butchering for another one, thus depriving the church of the opportunity to reflect on what gives us confidence on the edge of the grave.
And finally: You just heard the tune used in Bach’s time for this hymn: Georg Neumark’s Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten. Why would it be replaced by the later unremarkable creation used in TLH, ELH and LSB?
Jesus, Thy boundless love to me
No thought can reach, no tongue declare;
Unite my thankful heart to Thee,
And reign without a rival there!
Thine wholly, Thine alone I am;
Be Thou alone my constant flame.
O grant that nothing in my soul
May dwell, but Thy pure love alone!
Oh, may Thy love possess me whole,
My joy, my treasure, and my crown!
All coldness from my heart remove;
My ev’ry act, word, thought be love.
This love unwearied I pursue
And dauntlessly to Thee aspire.
Oh, may Thy love my hope renew,
Burn in my soul like heav’nly fire!
And day and night be all my care
To guard this sacred treasure there.
In suff’ring be Thy love my peace,
In weakness be Thy love my pow’r;
And when the storms of life shall cease,
O Jesus, in that final hour,
Be Thou my rod and staff and guide
And draw me safely to Thy side!