Hymns that Got My Attention Sunday
Yesterday in church, it was the hymns that spoke to me. This is not uncommon. Music is like blood to me, the life of my inner being. In worship, more often than not, it is in the hymns that I hear the gospel in wonderful poetry, striking metaphors, and surprising epiphanies. As we sing to God, God is speaking to us.
Here are a few of the ways I heard God speak yesterday.
How Firm a Foundation
Our gathering hymn was How Firm a Foundation, which originated in John Rippon’s 1787 hymn book, and which contains bracing imagery from Isaiah sung to a sturdy early American folk tune. This hymn is meant to infuse encouragement into the believer, to reassure the pilgrim that, wherever the pathway may lie, nothing can separate us from God’s love and care.
Throughout all their lifetime my people shall prove
My sov’reign, eternal, unchangeable love
But what struck me this time was the Lutheran editing of the hymn to put the focus directly on Christ. Most versions that I have sung have the first verse going like this:
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord
Is laid for your faith in his excellent Word!
This point was emphasized in the evangelical Bible churches I’ve attended and pastored, and whenever we were building a service around the theme of the scriptures, we turned to hymns like this one to reinforce the faithfulness of God in revealing himself to us through the words of the Bible.
However, this is how Lutherans sing that verse:
How firm a foundation, O saints of the Lord
Is laid for your faith in Christ Jesus, the Word!
When people think of the Lutheran tradition, it is “justification by faith” that comes first to mind in terms of doctrinal emphasis. But one thing I have learned on my Lutheran journey is that the real heart and center of the Lutheran focus is on Christ, and it is Christology that is primary. Many Lutheran scholars today would subsume “justification” under “union with Christ” as the main point Martin Luther made, especially in his early writings and sermons.
Jesus Christ is the Word of God, God’s full revelation of the divine to humankind. The Bible is a faithful testimony to Christ, but the true foundation of our faith is in the person of Christ himself.
Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus
The hymn we sang after the sermon was a fairly new one to me. Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus is a hymn from the Lutheran tradition, penned by 17th century Bohemian teacher and hymn-writer Sigmund von Birken. This hymn fit wonderfully with the message (see yesterday’s post), which emphasized living fully here in this world as we await the coming of Christ and the new creation.
It is one of the few hymns I’ve sung that gives clear voice to the idea of “dying with Christ.” That is, it speaks to the baptismal calling of the Christian, who has been “buried with Christ in baptism and raised to walk in newness of life.” Luther pointed out that our baptism calls us to die to sin and live in Christ’s resurrection power daily.
Let us gladly die with Jesus, since by death he conquered death
He will free us from destruction, give to us immortal breath
Let us mortify all passion that would lead us into sin
And the grave that shuts us in shall but prove the gate of heaven
Jesus, here with you I die, there to live with you on high
God of Tempest, God of Whirlwind
Our sending hymn at the conclusion of the service was this spirited cry to God to fill us and thrust us out to live and proclaim the good news of Christ. The text of God of Tempest, God of Whirlwind is from the 20th century, written by Rev. Dr. Herman G. Stuempfle, who was president of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, PA. We sang it to the tune CWM RHONDDA, which many recognize from Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah and God of Grace and God of Glory.
Listen to some of its fervent petitions for God to move among us and through us:
Drive us out from sheltered comfort
Past these walls your people send
God of blazing, God of burning
All that blocks your purpose, purge!
God of earthquake, God of thunder
Shake us loose from lethargy!
Break the chains of sin asunder
For earth’s healing set us free!
God of passion, God unsleeping
Stir in us love’s restlessness!
The vivid verbs in this hymn strike home again and again in this appeal for God to revive, renew, reform, and recommission us to go into our world each day with passionate purpose.