I continue to be amazed at the hymn selection in the 2006 Augsburg-Fortress publication Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW). It's as if there wasn't a vast and deep tradition of historic Lutheran hymnody to draw upon; it's almost as if there aren't a multitude of talented Lutheran hymn-writers working today. Almost anything in this book that isn't new to the literature of Lutheran hymnody, or included for inclusiveness's sake, is an "oldie" from a tradition other than Lutheranism. And many, perhaps most, of the new stuff comes from other spiritual orientations, as well. Behold what Lutheranism is being transformed into—at least the part of it represented by the largest Lutheran church bodies in Canada and the U.S. Whatever it is (and the full shape of it has yet to be seen), you may disagree with me as to whether it's tacky. But we might agree, sometime, that calling it "Lutheran" is tacky.
554 "Lord, your hands have formed this world" is a Filipino hymn, set to an interesting traditional tune. It eludes ridicule as a chit for cultural diversity by (1) being not bad, and (2) not including any lyrics in a language other than English, though it is a translated hymn. I only mention it here because it is an entirely First Article hymn, praising God for his ongoing creative work, and only lightly touching on anything specifically relevant to worship (i.e., the fact that houses of God are a "sign that you make all things new"). I regret that this hymn bypasses the opportunity to use the refrain just quoted to move beyond First Article matters. Mel Gibson put the words "Behold, I am making all things new" in the mouth of the crucified in his Passion of the Christ. Could the most embarrassing celebrity of the current moment be a deeper-thinking theologian than the authors and translators of this hymn?
555 "Oh, sing to God above" by Carlos Rosas is another First-Article hymn, with the added zest of a Latin-inflected rhythm and the option of singing both stanzas in their original Spanish.
561 "Joyous light of heavenly glory" is another ancient evening hymn, this time paraphrased from the 3rd century Greek Didache. Both the paraphrase and the tune JOYOUS LIGHT are by Marty Haugen (b. 1950). Both the text and the tune are effective in their way, though I say this grudgingly of a piece of music that sounds to me like an unholy fusion of Celtic folk song and a heart-string-tugging CoWo anthem; but I also happen to know and love the pure, unadulterated Phos hilaron as I have sung it in other, non-paraphrased translations. Haugen adds too many cute things to a venerable old hymn that is wonderful enough as it is, and whose integrity should be respected. Instead of simply saying, "You are worthy of being praised with pure voices forever, O Son of God, O Giver of light; the universe proclaims your glory," he pokes in some stuff about making us "shine with gentle justice" and "reflect your light." Can't we honor the light that comes from God, even for just a moment, without worrying about how we look in it?
566 "When twilight comes and the sun sets" is translated from a text by one Moises Andrade (b. 1948), and set to a nice folksy, minor-key tune by Francisco Feliciano (b. 1941). I'm no authority on this, but I think the hymn comes from a community of messianic Jews in the Philippines, or somewhere in that part of the world. Stanza 1 sets the scene with a long description of a mother hen cuddling with her chicks as the sun sets. Stanza 2 carries this imagery into an analogy of the way "the Rabbi, Lord Jesus" loved his disciples on the night of his last meal, when, "as the hen tends her young, so for them he spent himself to seek and to heal." Not altogether unscriptural, this gender-ambiguous description of Christ is nevertheless vaguely distracting. Oddly enough, even as the stanza continues to express the joy of that night when Jesus served His own, the hymn never specifies whether it is talking about the institution of the eucharist or the washing of the disciples' feet. Stanza 3 invites friends to gather around at evening, "and recount all our frail human hopes: the dreams of young and stories of old." It closes with the most blatant reference to the motherhood of the Triune God that I have ever seen (so far) in my lifelong study of Lutheran hymnals: "by a mother's love embraced in the blessed Trinity." I can't help twitching at the thought of how pleased the feminist theologians will be with this hymn.
Joseph Barnby's tune MERRIAL. Click that link to see what I thought of MERRIAL six years ago, and still think of it now. In spite of superior alternatives, ELW persisted in choosing the most obnoxiously dull and shmaltzy of the tunes associated with this hymn. Baring-Gould, who specialized in writing indigestibly precious hymns for little children, actually does well in this text. Except for a few touches of unnecessarily purple descriptiveness, it's basically the verse equivalent of Luther's evening prayer. I hope small children today are being taught to follow poetic diction, as they should; it would be a pity if, as I fear, this hymn goes over their heads. For it really is written in a way that can, should, and (in past generations) did appeal to the minds and hearts of itty-bitty Christians. If it doesn't prove that children are capable of imbibing stronger fluids than the pablum purveyed by All God's People Sing! (further back on this thread), then at least it shows how far we have to catch up in our duty to form their minds. It's only tacky because of the tune, and because the assumption that kids can't handle hymns like this is not only tragically self-fulfilling, but also historically tripe.
Dan Schutte—a guy whose best-known song appeals so strongly to the "everyone a minister" crowd of Evangelical Christians that they might be surprised to know that he's a Jesuit. Like the ditties of Marty Haugen and several other hymn-writers discussed in the past few installments, Schutte is part of the crowd that is leading the transformation of Christian worship that is trickling down from the Catholic Church to other denominations. And now, last as always, as to one untimely born, the drip has reached Lutheranism.
1Tune: CHESTERFIELD by Thomas Haweis (1734-1820), known to some American Lutherans as the tune to "Hark the glad sound!"