Sunday, September 12, 2010

Control Group 9

Here is a Lenten "twofer." The first hymn, which lends its first line in German to the title of its tune, is a beautiful sermon on Christ's Passion out of the period of the Lutheran Reformation. Its author is Sebald Heyden (1499-1561), a Lutheran schoolmaster and cantor who regularly associated with Hans Sachs and Albrecht Dürer and who taught Nikolaus Selnecker his three R's. He is mostly remembered for this hymn, comprising the first and last out of originally 23 stanzas. The present translation is by the same John Theodore Mueller whose one-volume Christian Dogmatics has saved generations of Missouri-Synod seminarians the trouble of reading all three volumes of Francis Pieper's ditto (hence its nickname, "Cheater-Pieper").

By the number of organ chorale-preludes on this hymn, written by many noteworthy Lutheran composers, I gather that it was historically a very important Lenten hymn in German Lutheran circles. Among these musical tributes is a decorated-chorale masterpiece in J.S. Bach's Orgelbüchlein which I consider it my joyful duty as a Lutheran organist to play at least once every Lenten season. The tune was appropriated from a Calvinist Psalter and wedded to this hymn by the 18th-century hymnal compiler J. A. Freylinghausen, whose contributions to Lutheran church music I am not ashamed to appreciate even though he was a leading Pietist. (See? I'm not a complete bigot!)

For some reason, however, this hymn has hardly flourished in the Anglophone world. I know of only one American hymnal that has it (the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary of 1996). Perhaps to my discredit, I'm the type of musical repristinator who thinks hymns like this should be taught to people, at least so that they understand what it means when such a richly-freighted musical symbol gets flashed at them. There are other reasons to revive it, of course. For example, it begins with the best possible opening gambit for Lent and Passiontide: a universal call to repentance. Then it ties up the whole Gospel, from Christ's incarnation to His death on the cross, in God's love toward sinners. Our guilt has been removed and laid on Jesus; by this substitution, He has laid salvation on us. And that's just Stanza 1! Stanza 2 writhes and revels in the paradox that the injustice and agony that Jesus suffered are the most glorious work of an almighty, merciful, righteous Lord whose sacrifice for us is worthy of everlasting praise.

The second hymn is, if anything, an even rarer treasure among American Lutherans; for my research to-date has only located it in one hymnal, and that in Australia. Nevertheless, its pedigree is even farther from the pietism I so delight in lampooning. Its author, Valentin Ernst Löscher (1673-1749), was a member of the "orthodox Lutheran" party that duked it out with the Pietists in the early 18th century. He himself wrote some of the most notable (not to say notorious) anti-pietistic polemics of his time.

Yet, interestingly, his hymn has many of characteristics that critics of Bach and Gerhardt foolishly label as symptoms of pietism. For example, in contrast to Heyden's hymn, Löscher expresses himself in the first-person singular. In a movingly personal testimony of faith, he responds to the Passion of Jesus, even going so far as to declare: "To Thee, O Lord, I yield my heart..." He takes care to describe faith as an active thing that one "holds" along the "way" that Christ's death has opened between us and Paradise: "The strength to dare and to endure, The faith to fail Thee never..." If I didn't know better, I would say that Löscher meant for these two stanzas to disprove every slander Pietists ever levied against orthodox Lutheranism. "Dead orthodoxy?" Nothing could be farther from it!

In passing I have already described whence the tune came. Now a word on whither it should go: With both of these hymns, into every congregation that loves the sung confession of the historic Lutheran faith. It's a beautiful, perfectly structured melody in the "bar form" of which I have previously spoken. Its "major" modality may be a little surprising in a Passion hymn, but you might find that some of the most touching moments in musical art happen when sorrow modulates into a major key. If "O MENSCH, BEWEIN" has one minor fault, it is the first phrase's accidental similarity to that of "LASST UNS ERFREUEN" ("A hymn of glory let us sing," etc.), a likeness that might trip up some singers who are familiar only with the latter. On the other hand, this might make it even more memorable. Also, the half-note rhythm at the beginning of each phrase is historically negotiable; I think the last three phrases especially could benefit from shortening those initial notes.

Negotiation is the name of the game. Negotiate with your choir about singing a simple arrangement of this hymn next Lent. Maybe a not-so-simple arrangement the Lent after that. Play the chorale preludes on it by J. S. Bach, Johann Pachelbel, J. P. Sweelinck, Max Reger, and Helmut Walcha, for starters. Print the lyrics in the service bulletin so the congregation can read along while you play. Sing it as a solo, accompanied by yourself, during the distribution of the Lord's Supper, if you have the voice for it. Negotiate a way to bring this beautiful tune, together with these two beautiful Lenten hymns, out of the minor leagues and into your Lutheran congregation's core repertoire, where they belong.

16 comments:

Libertas said...

Robbie,

Is the following a fair question to ask pastoral candidates? Why or why not? How would you answer the question? You can send the answer to my email smith_brody@yahoo.com if you would like.

When preaching a sermon do you a) include exhortation and urgings for Christians to increase in good works, sanctification, Christian maturity, and the wisdom to understand God’s will(law) and how it applies to our daily lives or b) do you tend to avoid imperative statements directed at Christians and preach law and gospel that consists mainly/solely of indicative statements of what we already have and do in Christ.

Libertas said...

I think that many Lutheran pastors are avoiding Christian imperatives. I have a hard time understanding this. As far as I can tell, the Christian imperative statement is the most commmon usage of the law in scripture. Even the giving of the ten commandments was preceeded with "I am a Lord your God who redeamed you out of the land of Egypt." Why do so many Lutherans restrict the law in sermons to calls of repentance, decleration of guild, explicit 2nd use only?

Robbie F. said...

Thanks for your comment, Brody. My longer answer is headed straight to you. Shorter answer: read Koeberle's "QUEST FOR HOLINESS."

Cuda said...

I have to wonder how many Lutheran Pastors Libertas has sampled, and how frequently, to make such sweeping judgments.

He also needs to define what a "Christian Imperative" is. The only one I am familiar with is "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ"

Libertas said...

Pastor Fish Sr,

Thank you for your criticism. I am ever forgetting to properly define my terms. By Christian imperative I mean any imperative statement, either in a sermon, or in scripture whose target is a Christian or the church as a whole.

As far as my sampling of Lutheran sermons, I admit it is somewhat limited. I have been in one Lutheran congregation or another nearly every Sunday for the last 7 years. Other than that, my exposure has been limited to the occasion blog, and the higher things conference. I do read the Fish Pond blog every now again, but haven't read many of your sermons, since I just now see that they are posted in a different website. I am pleased to see that your latest sermon has numerous exhortations/imperative statements.

If you click on the libertas link above, pause and think about it, then you will know who I am. We met and talked, last year I believe, at the MO district convention.

So you may forgive my pondering the possible result of Lutheran theology and practice on the life and death of American Lutheran congregations, the LCMS, and my household in particular.

Heb 13:7 “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”

I think this is a positive imperative that has negative implications as well. The LCMS synod, the LCMS pastors, and LCMS congregational life aren't necessarily the prettiest things. My question is why? Why are conservative pastors being run off by their congregations? Why are congregations and families rebellious and impious? Is this going to be good enough for my two babies in the womb. I love much of Lutheran theology, and the liturgy is beautiful, but is it enough. I think the failings may be in the practical theology of the the LCMS. I know the ultimate answer is SIN, but that is not an excuse. Something like Douglas Wilson's, James Jordan's, and Peter Leithart's reformed federal vision theology looks tempting when I consider life in the LCMS. Although, I have yet to read anything in the Book of Concord I explicitly disagree with. My main question is...what is the path to blessing for me and my family.... blessing both temporal and eternal. I know what our confessions say. Ultimate eternal blessings lay in the Gospel (without Christ civic righteousness is worthless), but blessings (both earthly and heavenly) are also found in obedience to the law. I'm just looking for a Lutheran Pastor who agrees with that last part of the confession in practice as well as in quia.

Sincerely,
Brody Smith
West Plains, MO

Robbie F. said...

I'm sending you another long reply offlist. My short answer in this space is: "Add Galatians 3 to your reading list."

Libertas said...

I am sorry I keep using your blog for this discussion. I have free time to consider theology at work, but my institution blocks email for security reasons. That being said, I have not read your latest email.

Libertas said...

Therefore:
A) Even though the law always accuses my conscious (fleshly nature), I am free to delight in God’s law, and desire to gain in the wisdom and application of it in my life.
B) Delighting in God’s law in the inner man is an act of the spirit….and Paul encourages us to walk by the spirit….therefore I ought to be encouraged by my Pastors to delight in that law, and meditate on God’s word (including law) day and night.
C) My fleshly nature needs….threats….clubs…and promises of reward delivered to it to help me to crucify the damb thing.
Personal anecdote….It is not until I actually try to live my life according to the exhortations in scripture that I actually experience the sting of the law and am driven to the gospel of Christ. Blanket indicative statements of personal/universal guilt are great for the intellect, but do forcibly drive me to the Gospel, Jesus, and gratitude the way exhortation and my own resulting failures do.

Libertas said...

I should have said accuses my conscience.

Robbie F. said...

I appreciate your anecdote. (I am also forgiving of typing errors, since I've committed more than my share of them.) The preacher may safely assume that some of his hearers have tried to live up to the law & recognize their own failure. He still has to proclaim the accusing, condemning Law because lots of others feel pretty secure in the level of holiness they (think they) have reached & need to be shaken out of it.

On the other hand, it has also been well said that the preacher should simply proclaim Law and Gospel, and leave to the Holy Spirit which "use of the Law" gets applied to a given hearer. Realistically, application is going to take place. I can't imagine a preacher who never uses the law to show how people should live. But when people fall short of it, as they always do, it is the Gospel that they need.

Robbie F. said...

Sorry, by "application will take place" I mean that the preacher is going to make a specific application of Law & Gospel to his people's lives, including the accusing use of the Law which must logically precede the Gospel.

Libertas said...

For some reason the premises to my therefor did not post.

Whereas:
(A) The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, article II ‘Free Will or Human Powers”, sentence 63 states: “But when man has been converted, and is thus enlightened, and his will is renewed, it is then that man wills what is good (so far as he is regenerate or a new man), and delights in the Law of God after the inward man, Rom. 7:22, and henceforth does good to such an extent and as long as he is impelled by God's Spirit….”
(B) And……. article VI “The Third Use of the Law”, sentence # 4 states: “we unanimously believe, teach, and confess that although the truly believing and truly converted to God and justified Christians are liberated and made free from the curse of the Law, yet they should daily exercise themselves in the Law of the Lord, as it is written, Ps. 1:2;119:1: Blessed is the man whose delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in His Law doth he meditate day and night. For the Law is a mirror in which the will of God, and what pleases Him, are exactly portrayed, and which should [therefore] be constantly held up to the believers and be diligently urged upon them without ceasing.”

Libertas said...

(C) And…. sentence #18, “ believers……….. delight indeed in God's Law according to the inner man…
(D) And…The Defense of the Augsburg Confession, article III, sentances 73-80: “Here also we add something concerning rewards and merits. We teach that rewards have been offered and promised to the works of believers. We teach that good works are meritorious, not for the remission of sins, for grace or justification (for these we obtain only by faith), but for other rewards, bodily and spiritual, in this life and after this life, because Paul 74] says, 1 Cor. 3:8: Every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labor. There will, therefore be different rewards according to different labors. But the remission of sins is alike and equal to all, just as Christ is one, and is offered freely to all who believe that for Christ's sake their sins are remitted. Therefore the remission of sins and justification are received only by faith, and not on account of any works, as is evident in the terrors of conscience, because none of our works can be opposed to God's wrath, as Paul clearly says, Rom. 5:1: Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom also we have access by faith, etc. 75] But because faith makes sons of God, it also makes coheirs with Christ. Therefore, because by our works we do not merit justification, through which we are made sons of God, and coheirs with Christ, we do not by our works merit eternal life; for faith obtains this, because faith justifies us and has a reconciled God. But eternal life is due the justified, according to the passage Rom. 8:30: Whom He justified, them He also glorified. 76] Paul, Eph. 6:2, commends to us the commandment concerning honoring parents, by mention of the reward which is added to that commandment, where he does not mean that obedience to parents justifies 77] us before God, but that, when it occurs in those who have been justified, it merits other great rewards. Yet God exercises His saints variously, and often defers the rewards of the righteousness of works in order that they may learn not to trust in their own righteousness, and may learn to seek the will of God rather than the rewards; as appears in Job, in Christ, and other saints. And of this, many psalms teach us, which console us against the happiness of the wicked, as Ps. 37:1: Neither be thou envious. And Christ says, Matt. 5:10: Blessed are they 78] which are persecuted for righteousness' sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. By these 79] praises of good works, believers are undoubtedly moved to do good works. Meanwhile, the doctrine of repentance is also proclaimed against the godless, whose works are wicked; and the wrath of God is displayed, 80] which He has threatened all who do not repent. We therefore praise and require good works, and show many reasons why they ought to be done.”

Robbie F. said...

Brody, I don't know why your "Whereases" keep refusing to post. Maybe it's a length issue? I received them anyway (via email) so I get the picture.

For anyone else reading this, prior to his "Therefores" Brody referenced Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, II.63; IV.4, 18; and Apology of the Augsburg Confession, III.73-80. Look them up!

Robbie F. said...

Whoops! Your whereases prevented me, in the KJV sense of the word.

Libertas said...

Sorry for the confrontation of whereases in your email.