Continuing with our ongoing cackle at the hymn selection in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW; Augsburg, 2006)...
451 "We are baptized in Christ Jesus" is a baptism hymn by John Ylvisaker that comes so close to being excellent that it hurts. I'm not one to criticize a poem for using slant-rhyme (e.g. rhyming "death" with "life"), because I often use it myself and wholeheartedly approve of it as an alternative to hackneyed and obvious rhymes. In my opinion, the first of this hymn's three stanzas does an excellent job of summarizing Paul's argument in the first half-dozen verses of Romans 6, only to let the concluding line fall flat: "And if we have been united in a dreadful death like his, we will all be reunited, for he lives." It was almost good, but it forgot to complete the thought specifically that we will be raised from the dead! Stanza 2 uses phrase "the water and the witness" as an acceptable but weak alternative to "water and the word"; and while it arguably makes a good case for the promise of forgiveness fizzing through the waters of baptism, again its concluding line wimps out: "In the losing and the winning we hold fast." Stanza 3 is a very appropriate Trinitarian doxology, which leaves only one more thing for me to complain about: Ylvisaker's tune OUIMETTE, which, for all its noble attractiveness, reminds me of the jingle for an insipidly nice 1970s propaganda piece promoting something like UNICEF or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
455 "Crashing waters at creation" is a baptism hymn by Sylvia Dunstan (1955-93), set to the well-known chorale STUTTGART. At first as I read it, I became quite excited by its great potential. Stanzas 1 to 3 echo Luther's Flood Prayer, drawing baptismal imagery from the waters at the creation of the world, the waters of the Red Sea that divided to let the children of Israel pass through, and the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan. Up to the end of Stanza 3, my only regret is that Dunstan did not include a stanza referencing the Flood, which the apostle Peter showed to be rich in baptismal significance. But the concluding Stanza 4 disappoints me. Without specifically naming baptism, it speaks only of "living water"—a choice certain to please people who deny the connection between baptism and God's promise to save us through water and the Spirit. And while this spiritual water is supposed to "quench the thirst and flood the soul... drench our dryness, make us whole," it also falls short of specifically offering forgiveness and creating faith. You can read these ideas into the text, if you want to. But why should your pious imagination do all the work? It's an especially pointed question when experience shows what strange ideas come forward when even seemingly obvious conclusions have been left for the reader to draw for himself.
458 "Praise and thanksgiving be to God," set to the fine worshipful tune CHRISTE SANCTORUM, is a collaboration between Francis Yardley (1911-90) and Frank Whiteley (b. 1914), with the added "alt." meaning that the hymnal committee stuck their own spoon into the stew-pot. The first thing that tripped me up when reading through it was a line in Stanza 1 which addresses God as "prodigal creator." I am aware that the word "prodigal" can mean "profuse, lavish" in a positive sense, but most people understand this word in either the negative sense of "extravagantly and wastefully profuse, lavish" or, through a fallacious analogy to the story of the Prodigal Son, as a description of one who selfishly runs away from his proper station and later repents. So although the hymn uses the word correctly, it fails to account for John Pew Public's ignorance. The hymn's second misstep is a metrical miscalculation that puts the word "and" on a strongly accented note ("with" falls on the same note in Stanza 2). This is a verse-making error that I must frequently watch for in my own hymn-writing. I won't be mean and point out any other flaws in this otherwise reasonably good baptism hymn. It just seems odd that after passing through the hands of two authors and an editorial entity whose blue-pencil activity merited a type of co-author credit, such easy-to-fix missteps made it into print.
460 "Now the silence" is a communion hymn by Jaroslav Vajda and Carl Schalk that I have mentioned before, though I'm not sure I've given it the full treatment yet. Let me start by repeating what I said about 459: "More is needed." The hymn asserts nothing. It does not complete a single thought. It does not deal in concrete realities. It does not attempt to teach or confess any proposition regarding the Lord's Supper. Instead, it gambols about like a newborn lamb, each bounce of its springy legs powered by hypnotic repetitions of the word "Now"—"Now the hearing Now the pow'r Now the vessel brimmed for pouring." This impressionistic flow of experiences in thin slices is so hard to grasp as language that the editors of ELW went against their policy of not capitalizing the first letter of poetic lines except to start a new sentence. There is no sentence, not even any punctuation, merely a succession of moments arranged like bullet-points, with the word "Now" as the bullet. And when it finally flat-lines with three consecutive repetitions of "Now," you sense that the bullet has penetrated the brain and done what in it lies.
hymn originally set to this tune, the phrase "holy manna" was used only as a euphemism for the immediate operation of the Holy Spirit, except in the last stanza when it looks forward to the feast that Christ will serve us in heaven. Evidently, there isn't anything of a meal-like persuasion that Christ serves us in this life... But never you mind. As to the merits of this hymn (apart from the tune's anti-sacramental associations of anxious-bench weeping and praying), I'm well satisfied at least with Stanza 1, where the words "You that yearn for days of fullness, all around us is our food" could be read as an admonition against abandoning Word and Sacrament in the desperate quest to make the church grow. But Stanza 2 spoils that impression with its line: "Seeker, be a welcome guest" (translation: We're not like those mean Missouri Sinners who won't give communion to anybody who shows up). From the stanza's further argument, it appears that this "seeker sensitivity" is a necessary consequence of the fact that we all "once were lost and scattered." Sure, this may be reading a bit too much between the lines. But the lines I'm reading between come from a church body whose most conservative rump-group wouldn't join the LCMS because (among other reasons) it couldn't accept closed communion.
462 "Now we join in celebration" continues the tackiness streak with a communion text by Joel Lundeen (1918-90) set to the fine chorale SCHMÜCKE DICH by Johann Crüger. Already in Stanza 1, Lundeen borrows the imagery of being "clothed...in joy and wonder" from the hymn most commonly associated with that tune, "Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness." Ordinarily, I would be in favor of such a hymnological cross-reference. But already in the next line, Lundeen begins to stray into some doubtful christology, characterizing Christ as "the Lord of all existence, putting off divine transcendence." Clothing it in flesh, yes; making less than full use of its powers and perquisites, certainly; but shedding it like a garment? I'm not so sure. Can we run this one past the department of systematic theology of a really solid Lutheran seminary? I'd like their opinion on this. For now, let's call it poetic license and move on to the third and last stanza (because Stanza 2 is actually quite good). After the first half of the stanza sets up the perfect premise for a confident prayer for forgiveness to be applied through Jesus' body and blood, the second half of Stanza 3 veers instead into another example of this hymnal's thematic emphasis on serving one another, seeking justice in this life, etc. In itself what it says is good and true; it's mostly the proportions, the weight of emphasis, that feels off to me. Plus, after such a convincing feint toward real gospel, this return to harping on the "third use of the law" could cheat some poor afflicted soul out of the comfort it craves.
466 "In the singing" is a communion hymn by Shirley Murray (b. 1931) with music by Carlton Young (b. 1926). Again, please note that in my ruthless witch-hunt to exploit any sign of weakness in hymnody, I passed over a poky little ditty by Ray Makeever and Rusty Edwards (464) and a Marty Haugen setting of lines from the second-century Didache (465), the latter of which misses most of the notes that I want to hear in a eucharistic hymn. But they simply don't meet my current criteria for tackiness, such as "Dear Lord, help me! I'm still 10 hymns away from 475 and I've been at this for two hours!" Nevertheless, I couldn't pass by this hymn, with its refrain: "Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, be the wine of grace; Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, be the bread of peace." It isn't that I object to what the refrain says or doesn't say, as such; what troubles me is that these are the best lines in the hymn. The rest of it—two short stanzas worth—reads as a pale imitation of "Now the silence": pale because not quite as single-mindedly committed to not committing itself. Stanza 1: "In the singing, in the silence, in the hands expectant, open," etc. Stanza 2: "In the question, in the answer, in the moment of acceptance," etc. You get the idea, or lack thereof. If I ever want a hymn that could make me nostalgic for "Now the silence" (where at least I can be somewhat sure of what the imagery is meant to suggest), I now have its address.
467 "We place upon your table, Lord" is the communion hymn by M. F. C. Wilson (1884-1944), set to the early American tune DISTRESS, in which this hymnal finally achieves the goal implicit in its liturgical portion: dialing up the sacrificial (versus sacramental) emphasis in Lutheranism's eucharistic thinking. In Stanza 1, we sing about the bread and wine of the eucharist in terms of gifts we bring to the Lord. In Stanza 2, we meditate on the significance of bread and wine for us (apart from their consecration in the Lord's Supper). Stanza 3 concludes with this tour-de-force of sacrificial thought: "Accept them, Lord; they come from you; we take them humbly from your hand; put these your gifts to higher use: the holy meal that you command." Hey presto! A Lord's Supper hymn with absolutely no gospel!
472 "Eat this bread" is a Taizé/Jacques Berthier communion hymn whose original text, in full, says: "Eat this bread, drink this cup, come to me and never be hungry. Eat this bread, drink this cup, trust in me and you will not thirst." I apologize in case this two-sentence quote of a copyrighted text exceeds fair use, but my purpose is two-fold. First, you have to see to believe how little there is to this hymn; and second, this puts in perspective how much is lost by using the alternate lyrics ELW provides: "Jesus Christ, bread of life, those who come to you will not hunger. Jesus Christ, risen Lord, those who trust in you will not thirst." Now, I ask you: why would the folks behind ELW want to change such a simple little hymn so radically? What do they gain that might be better served by not including the hymn in the book at all? Other than changing the conceptual direction of the words from "Christ speaking to us" to "us speaking to Christ," the only difference is that the ELW revised lyrics drop all reference to eating and drinking; i.e. everything that distinctly makes this a communion hymn. This is the classic case of hymnal editors' tampering with a hymn so that any incentive to use it is lost. And just to show what world-class asses they are, the ELW committee allows us to glimpse this "before and after" picture.
473 "Holy, holy, holy" (Santo, santo, santo) is the Argentine traditional ditty that says, in its entirety: "Holy, holy, holy, my heart adores you. My heart is glad to say the words: You are holy, God." And it says this in both English and Spanish, not because this hymnal could adequately serve a bilingual Hispanic church, but because, in the algebra of today's Lutheran worship culture, Cultural Diversity = Catholicity.