Resuming our snarky survey of the hymns in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW), numbers 475-499...
477 "I received the living God," with words and music by Anonymous, is really a nice little ditty. Its refrain boasts, "I received the living God, and my heart is full of joy." The four stanzas very simply and briefly apply Jesus' statements, "I am the bread of life," and, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." I have only two eensy-weensy quibbles with the text as such. In Stanza 1, the words "kneaded long" are really a strange thing to insert into Jesus' bread saying. If Anonymous tried a little harder, (s)he might come up with a more apposite image that fit the meter of the line. Quibble #2: in Stanza 2, where "Jesus said: I am the way," the stanza doesn't say anything that really touches the significance of Jesus' self-identification as the road that leads to God. "I come to bring you home" is as close as it gets—but strictly speaking, a road isn't known for coming to collect people; it just is. Be that as it may, there's nothing wrong with this song—except that it's in the Holy Communion section of the hymnal. As a communion hymn it has the merit of saying, yes, that "I received the living God" and of making use of Jesus' "I am the bread" sayings. But it has the demerit of not saying anything explicitly about the Lord's Supper. And what it says about receiving Jesus could be interpreted (like Jesus' bread of life discourse in John 6) as a spiritual reception that does not necessarily involve the bodily eating and drinking of the Lord's Supper.
484 "You satisfy the hungry heart" (Gift of Finest Wheat) is a communion hymn by Omer Westendorf (1916-97), set to Robert Kreutz's (1922-96) tune BICENTENNIAL. The opening refrain already sets my heart a-sinking: "You satisfy the hungry heart with gift of finest wheat. Come give to us, O saving Lord, the bread of life to eat." Again the emphasis is on bread; no commitment is made as to the presence of Christ's body. Do the hymn's five stanzas correct this impression? Stanza 1 doesn't; it talks about sheep hearing their shepherd's voice. Stanza 2 doesn't; it only thanks Christ for counting us worthy "to share this heav'nly food." Stanza 3 does, sort of (DING!) when it says, "Is not the cup we bless and share the blood of Christ outpoured?" But the second half of the stanza relapses into the Wren/Kendrick interpretation of communion: "Do not one cup, one loaf, declare our oneness in the Lord?" Stanza 4 mentions the mystery of Christ's presence, but rather than talking about his body and blood in the sacrament, it relates this to how he "comes in our hearts to dwell." Stanza 5 says, "You give yourself to us, O Lord" in a way that could as easily mean spiritual as oral reception, and without ever once relating the sacrament to the forgiveness of sins (i.e., the gospel), it goes directly back to law: "then selfless let us be, to serve each other" etc., etc. Is that what the heart is hungry for? Really?
nun named Suzanne Toolan (b. 1927). It consists of 5 stanzas to be sung by a soloist ("Leader or All," but let's be realistic; the text fits the tune so irregularly that it's only ever going to work as a solo) and a refrain to be sung by "All" in four-part harmony. The refrain says, "And I will raise you up, and I will raise you up, and I will raise you up on the last day." Just in case you want to start rehearsing your part now. Most of the hymn quotes or paraphrases Jesus speaking to us along the lines of his bread of life discourse. The last two stanzas paraphrase Jesus' words to Martha in John 11 ("I am the resurrection...") and her/our response ("Yes, Lord, I believe..."). It is awesome to see these texts applied so confidently to the Lord's Supper, although its use as a basis for the doctrine of the sacrament was shown to be very shaky by the eucharistic debates of the Reformation era. This is hardly the place to go into all that. I'm just going to call this hymn tacky because the music, though quite uninspired, requires expert singing that simply isn't to be expected of the average congregation. It won't be sung as a hymn, though it could be sung by the choir. So again, why should it be in the pew hymnal?
487 "What feast of love" (is offered here) is a three-stanza communion hymn by Benedictine Sister Delores Dufner, set to the English ballad GREENSLEEVES ("What child is this"). Supposing that a Catholic lady will have a high view of the Lord's Supper, I read the text looking for the usual signs thereof, such as specific mention of Christ's body and blood. Stanza 1 calls the sacrament a "feast of love," a "banquet...from heaven," "food of everlasting life," and a "gracious gift," and it speaks of Christ as "bread come down from heaven" and "sweet...manna." Stanza 2 repeats pretty much the same material with only slight changes: "light of truth... covenant from heaven... hope of everlasting life... wondrous word... sun come down from heaven... Word of God," etc. Stanza 3 then does it again with "wine of love... crimson drink from heaven... stream of everlasting life... precious blood"—AHA! Something you can actually recognize as relating to the cross!—"sweetest wine of heaven... Son of God," etc. So in 3 tediously similar stanzas, you get one brief glimmer of Jesus' sacrifice for sins, which the Lord's Supper was given to proclaim. What's sad is, this is actually an improvement over the past handful of hymns!
489 "Soul, adorn yourself with gladness" really shouldn't be on this list. But it's not my fault that it is. Hymn 488 broke the almost continuous streak of communion hymns by post-Lutheran-Orthodoxy hymn writers with another setting of this hymn, words translated from Johann Franck's (1618-77) original German, music a beautiful and well-known chorale by Johann Crüger; on the next page you find this version of the same hymn, set to a Hispanic tune, and with all three2 stanzas presented in both English and their Spanish translation. The way it is laid out on the page makes it abundantly clear that the editors had a realistic understanding of which language it was more likely to be sung in. So the question remains: Why did they bother printing the Spanish text? Oh! Of course! How could I forget?—Cultural Diversity!3
491 "Come, let us eat" (for now the feast is spread) is by a Liberian hymn-writer named Billema Kwillia. It is odd, therefore, that her text isn't given in its original Loma language; how multicultural that would be! Kwillia's tune A VA DE is patterned according to the "call and response" tradition of African music; which is to say, each line of text and music is sung first by a soloist ("Leader or All"), then repeated by the group ("All"). Even without the opportunity to try to sing it in an African language, it is still somewhat of a sop to cultural diversity. And yet, to the shame of many other modern communion hymns quoted up to this point, it actually does a reasonably good job of saying what should be said. Stanza 1 says, "Our Lord's body let us take together." Yes! In Stanza 2, where the wine is poured, it says, "Jesus' blood poured let us drink together." Awkward, but faithful! And so when stanza 3 says, "In Jesus' presence now we meet and rest," it is actually saying something of sacramental significance. And when stanza 4 tells us to "spread abroad God's mighty word," the part of that word that will make the most difference has just been given to us. Plus, it ends on a note of proclamation rather than exhortation: "Jesus risen will bring in the kingdom." Tacky by some standards (because of the whole cultural-diversity thing, which encourages parishioners to feel a warm glow of self-congratulation whenever they struggle lamely through a piece of cross-cultural hymnody), it is finally the hymn's comparative excellence that makes the tackiness of so many of the above-spoofed hymns stand out all the more. They didn't have to be that bad. It wasn't as though their authors were at such a socio-economic disadvantage that they couldn't be expected to do better. Here we have a Liberian convert to Christianity, constrained by a culturally-shaped form of poetry and music that drives toward simplicity and repetition, and yet writing circles around them!
John Foley (b. 1939), who teaches liturgics at SLU, right here in town. The opening refrain takes the Lord's Supper as its starting point, but moves from there to an interpretation of "communion" that abolishes all distinctions. Stanza 1: "Gentile or Jew, servant or free, woman or man, no more." That's the whole stanza! Stanza 2: "Many the gifts, many the works..." Stanza 3: "Grain for the fields," etc. Conclusion: "We are one body in this one Lord." Evidently one of the things the Jesuits (who now have a guy pretty high up in the church hierarchy) mean to do through their liturgical leadership is lead Catholics away from their church's old emphasis on blood and retribution and atoning sacrifice, and more toward something to do with human brotherhood and mutual sympathy. If that's really true, this song could be part of that strategy.
498 "United at the table" (Unidos en la fiesta) is another Hispanic hymn, with all three stanzas presented in both English and Spanish. So ditto all the ridicule I have heaped on similar misplaced anthems to our church's multicultural righteousness. The refrain describes communion as a joyful uniting in praise of God. Stanza 1 is a nice generic song of praise to God for His love. Stanza 2 calls communion "the bountiful table of life and grace" which grants us "communion with ev'ry race." Stanza 3 calls for rhythm instruments and dancing, but otherwise adds nothing. So again, concluding this 25-hymn chunk of ELW, we have a communion hymn that makes no explicit reference to Christ's self-offering on the cross, or the forgiveness of sins, or our communion with Him through his body and blood, which he gives us to eat and drink. It's just a nice piece of festive praise music with a Latin lilt.
At this point what depresses me about this hymnal is not so much the large amount of tackiness that it has paraded before my incredulous eyes, but the thin representation of historically and spiritually important Lutheran communion hymns, such as 499 "O Lord, we praise you," and only a handful of others. It has made me wonder, not for the first time, why the publishers thought it was worth the expense to include the word "Lutheran" in the title. I wouldn't expect to find fewer truly Lutheran hymns in a hymnal of any other denomination, Protestant or Catholic.
1A name, not originally mine, for a hypothetical entity that many pastors and church musicians have met in concrete reality: a being that sits in a pew during church services, more or less good-naturedly bemused by the intellectual banter flying high over its head. When perched on an organ bench, rather than a pew, I like to call this creature Grandma Wurlitzer. I don't think I mean anything disparaging by this—but if I do, it is not Grandmas Smurf and Wurlitzer I mean to demean, but those who talk over their heads. Including, at times, myself. God made them the way they are; we're not going to change them; but if we're going to serve them, we need to learn to communicate on a level they can understand. To the extent that we struggle to do this, they may actually be smarter than we are.
2Because nobody would ever, ever, ever want to sing, or even just read, all nine stanzas of this hymn!
3Note the capitalization of the divine name.
4Tune: OMNI DIE, a relatively simple 17th-century German chorale.