Continuing to poke irreverent fun at the hymn selection in Evangelical Lutheran Worship/ELW (see previous posts in this thread for more details)...
Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, which, in turn, is well known at least among fans of the film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Actually, THIRD NOTE MELODY is by far the least tacky tune of the many to which I have known this hymn. It's a poignantly beautiful piece of Renaissance-era music, full of objective merit and all the more moving for it; whereas most of this hymn's other tunes are tacky little pieces of bland drivel, notable mostly for being among the two or three hymns in a given hymnal to switch from a minor key to a major key halfway through. The reason that type of tune so frequently pairs with this text is built into the hymn itself, in which each stanza begins with Bonar relating something he heard Jesus saying, and ends with him reporting what he (Bonar) did and the result. What makes this beloved hymn tacky, even when it isn't set to a particularly tacky tune, is the fact that what we're singing is essentially Bonar's testimony of his personal experience, and not a proclamation of God's promises or saving acts, except to the extent that the things Bonar "heard the voice of Jesus say" are valid interpretations of claims Jesus actually made in the gospels. If you want to push your interpretation of Bonar as far as he pushes his interpretation of the words of Jesus, you might conclude that the experience he reports is a valid and necessary outcome of receiving these promises of Christ by faith, and so they go some way towards being a proclamation of divine promises; yet still, in form, they are a narrative of what "I" (Horatius Bonar) heard, did, and experienced as a result. And so, formally at least, putting Horatius Bonar's words in the mouths of everyone at worship—good, bad, or indifferent—is a bit like encouraging people to confess a pious fiction. Just a bit.
333 "Jesus is a rock in a weary land," (a shelter in the time of storm) is an African-American spiritual, the type with a refrain marked off for "All" to sing, and three stanzas marked "Leader or All." The refrain is somewhat repetitive, but the stanzas deliver a surprising amount of content. The first stanza relates the raising of Lazarus from the dead (application: "No one can do like Jesus"). The second depicts the weakness of Jesus, as manifested in his washing of the disciples' feet. The third points out, "Yonder comes my Savior, him whom I love so well; he has the palm of victory and the keys of death and hell." So, not bad, all things considered. But the rhythm of the melody makes the "Leader" option much more feasible than "All," not just for the verses, but also for the refrain; unless by "all" we mean a select chorus with experience in singing this style of music.
By this point in the book, I have skipped a couple of songs by Fanny Crosby because I already poked fun at them in earlier posts on this thread. Please do not assume that all of the hymns I am skipping over are free of tackiness.
348 "Stay with me" is another Taizé Community/Jacques Berthier product: brief, primitively simple, and severely limited in its range of usefulness. Its full text, including repeats: "Stay with me, remain here with me, watch and pray. Watch and pray."
350 "They crucified my Lord" is the African-American spiritual in which every other line of all five stanzas is "and he never said a mumbalin' word." A helpful footnote explains that "mumbalin' = complaining." There is also a refrain that adds, "not a word," three times over. Apart from that and the opening line, the sum total of the song's content is: "They nailed him to a tree, they pierced him in the side, the blood came streamin' down, he hung his head and died." So, in broad strokes, it depicts Jesus' suffering and death. But it doesn't say anything about its significance. From this, the only application one gathers from Jesus' passion is an emotional response to it, emphasized by the reflection that he didn't complain through it all. For the gospel, however, you must shop elsewhere.
354 "Calvary" (stanza 1: "Every time I think about Jesus") is another African-American spiritual whose refrain, for sheer bloody-minded repetitiveness, beats everything I have seen so far into a cocked hat. "Calvary," it says, "Calvary, Calvary, Calvary, Calvary, Calvary"—and then at last—"surely he died on Calvary." Besides this refrain there are four stanzas, but you already know all the words to one of them; they all repeat one line of text three times before ending with, "Surely he died on Calvary." Stanza 2 asks, "Sinner, do you love my Jesus?" Stanza 3: "Don't you hear him say, 'It is finished!'" Stanza 4: "Jesus furnished my salvation." Based on these three lines, it actually proclaims more gospel than all five verses of "Were you there when they crucified my Lord" (hymn 353). But you really have to love this kind of thing to put up with it for the length of time it takes saying this much, especially when you factor in the refrain. I reckon that, in a full performance with all the repeats as marked in the book, you'll hear the word "Calvary" sung 35 times. Hear it, I say; because it's going to be sung not by the congregation, but by either a soloist or a select group of well-drilled singers.
364 "Christ has arisen, Alleluia" (Mfurahini, haleluya) is an Easter hymn with five long stanzas and an equally long refrain, translated from Bernard Kyamanywa's (b. 1938) original Swahili and set to a Tanzanian folk melody. Musically, it is very much the kind of thing that has to be sung in parts, preferably by a choir trained to sing the way African choristers do, which is quite a different method of sound production than they teach in America. The text is solid in a rugged, rough-and-ready way. What sets off my tackiness alarms is the single stanza gratuitously included in Swahili: yet another symbolic celebration of our multiculturalism.
374 "Day of arising," (Christ on the roadway) is another Susan Cherwien/Carl Schalk piece of mildly creative, moderately meaningful, modern devotional poetry, riffing on Christ's Easter-evening appearance to the Emmaus disciples. Stanza 2 takes this story's application into our own life-journey, where "Christ walks with us, ever awaiting our invitation: Stay, do not part." Oh, is that what he's waiting for? And that's up to us, is it? Stanza 3 does nicely confess that Jesus has promised to be with His church gathered, in bread and wine. Stanza 4 then relapses into banal cuteness with such lines as "Grant us your vision..."
376 "Thine is the glory," (risen, conqu'ring Son) is an Easter hymn whose French author and English translator both died in the 1930s, set to the tune JUDAS MACCABAEUS, which I believe was adapted from G. F. Handel's oratorio of the same name. Amazingly, I haven't heard that oratorio yet; but I've heard this tune played by electronic carillon systems whose selection of hymn tunes ran the full gamut from Lutheran chorales to "The Old Rugged Cross." So, in my mind, this hymn tune is indelibly marked by associations with vanilla Protestantism, riding a quaint tandem bicycle with the hymnographically dubious mania to baptize themes from classical music as hymn tunes. The third layer of association one finds, after peeling these first two back, is a strain of quintessentially British pomp and circumstance that makes this tune arguably the English counterpart to Haydn's Austrian Imperial Hymn (a.k.a. the Deutschlandlied). It makes one think of men wearing imperial mustaches and jackets bordered with gold lace, doing their bit for king and country.
379 "Now the green blade rises" is John MacLeod Campbell Crum's (1872-1958) Easter text, set to the French carol NOËL NOUVELET. Refrain: "Love is come again like wheat arising green." For four three-line stanzas, Crum struggles to use the biblical image of the dead seed sprouting to new life as a metaphor for Christ's resurrection. Yet he fails to make use of a prime opportunity to describe Christ as the "firstfruits from the dead," etc. In fact, the hymn applies Christ's resurrection to our lives not in the sense "because He lives, we will live also," but in a touchy-feely, psychological way: "When our hearts are heavy... your touch can call us back to life again," etc. Each time I re-read this hymn I hope to find more in it than is actually there.
388 "Be not afraid" is another brief Taizé/Berthier piece, running twice through the words: "Be not afraid, sing out for joy! Christ is risen, alleluia!" Kids' stuff, and not much of it.
396 "Spirit of gentleness" is a Pentecost hymn by James K. Manley (b. 1940). Stanza 1 tells the Spirit how He "moved on the waters... over the eons," suggesting a "theistic evolution" interpretation of Genesis 1 in which the second verse of the Bible describes an indefinite but vast length of time—contrary to the plain and simple sense of the words, "And the evening and the morning were the first day." In Stanzas 2 and 3 the hymn depicts the Spirit blowing through the Old and New Testament, in very general terms that stop short of, for example, naming Jesus. And then Stanza 4 rhapsodizes about the Spirit's present activity in the church: "Our women see visions, our men clear their eyes" (and that's why we have women's ordination); "With bold new decisions your people arise" (so ongoing inspiration is our excuse for rejecting the teachings of Scripture). It's a bizarre theology of the Holy Spirit, whose subject is not specifically breathed out by Jesus on the cross (a minor event in the scale of the hymn, compressed into half of a line), nor bound to work through divinely instituted means (which are never mentioned at all). It's as though anyone who chooses to feel inspired by the Spirit can teach or do whatever he wants, so long as it doesn't stand in the way of the bold new directions this church body's leadership wants to go.
So much for today's excerpt from ELW. Stand by for more hymnological bitchiness, coming up in the 400s range of hymns. Till then, Lutherans, resist the allure of tackiness wherever it may be found—but especially on holy ground!