Here's another segment in our current series picking on the hymn selection in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Augsburg Fortress, 2006). A reminder, for the sake of those just now joining this thread: in my crusade against "tackiness on holy ground," I am focusing on what strikes me as out of place in the context of American Lutheran congregational singing and liturgy. Before jumping down my throat for expressing the opinions herein, please observe that distinction. Some of this stuff may play well in a performance by a choir or soloist(s), in a public concert, in a private home, in other countries or cultures or spiritual heritages. But I firmly contend that, in the context specified above, this stuff pushes bad taste to the threshold of sin.
Stanza 2 zooms in on the Lord's Supper, but moves even farther from sacramental thinking. The communion Duck speaks of is horizontal, not vertical: "One table we share, a haven of welcome, a circle of care"—perhaps also a subtle dig against those of us still practicing that mean old fossil, Closed Communion. As for the food we take in this rite, Duck describes it as "one bread" and "one cup of thanksgiving" that "proclaims Christ, our head"—but not as His body and blood. Stanza 3 does make a nice gesture in calling the gospel "life-giving." But then Stanza 4 misapplies Ephesians 4:12 (as many in the "everyone a minister" crowd do), putting in the congregation's mouth a prayer that God would equip them for the ministry, for "in Christ is our calling." Is there a hymn writer out there who will grant that each person's vocation in life—be it parent, spouse, farmer, or laborer—is holy and God-pleasing? Will any hymn-writer dare to say that Christ calls specific men into the office of pastor or evangelist, which He instituted, and forbear to burden each individual Christian with some specious "anointing" or "calling" to do the work of the ministry?2
576 "We all are one in mission" is by Lutheran pastor Rusty Edwards (b. 1955).3 It goes on to make the remarkable claim, "We all are one in call, our varied gifts united by Christ, the Lord of all." Thus it spreads a veneer of truth over the same dubious view of Christian vocation on which I just commented. The Great Commission (to make disciples of all nations, etc.) is indeed directed toward the whole church; but the suggestion that we are all equally called to carry out its functions (by teaching, baptizing, etc.) is deeply misleading, as is the confusion between "our varied gifts" and our public vocation. Stanza 2 admits that "our ministries are different," but this language only blurs the sense of "The Ministry" as a specific office that Christ instituted. It goes on to describe our purpose, viz. the Great Commission, as "to touch the lives of others with God's surprising grace, so ev'ry folk and nation may feel God's warm embrace." This sounds soft and cuddly, to be sure; but it doesn't necessarily mean "making disciples." In fact, these lines would fit right into the evangelism paradigm coined in the last couple of decades, under which any mention of your faith to an unknown person would be considered a "significant event" or a contact for Christ, worthy of being counted on the spiritual odometer of our walk together in mission. Stanza 3 calls for us to be united as "a vessel for God's redeeming Word"—apparently for the purpose of pouring it out on other people. To do that, ought we not be a vessel into which God pours His Word? Where is the awareness that the church is carrying out its mission when it is teaching, baptizing, and forming us? Where is the consciousness that we need the gifts we are in such a hurry to bring to the world?
581 "You Are Mine" (first line: "I will come to you in the silence") is a CoWo ditty with words and music by Catholic songwriter David Haas (b. 1957), which from beginning to end puts the imagined or paraphrased words of Christ into the mouths of the singers, or (more likely) the soloist(s) or choir. Trust me on this. The irregular way the words fit the melody, the unexpected instruction to skip the refrain after Stanza 1 and go directly to Stanza 2, and the bars of vocal tacet sparsely filled in by instrumental cues make this a number for trained and rehearsed musicians, not for hoi polloi. For all the merits of the text, it could be printed as a tract, or part of a book of devotional poems. What it's doing in the pew hymnal, I can't make out.
591 "That priceless grace" is a four-stanza hymn by Emmanuel Grantson (b. 1949), set to a Ghanaian traditional melody. Its repetitiveness is actually disorienting. Stanza 1: "That priceless grace, that priceless grace, that priceless grace which gave me life: Jesus' life is priceless grace. (Refrain:) That priceless grace is life for me." Stanza 2 is the same, except it replaces "grace" with "blood" and "which gave me life" with "was shed for me." Stanza 3 changes "That priceless grace," etc., to "that painful death took sins away." Stanza 4 says, "That precious word, which brought me light," etc. All that it says is good. What you have to go through to find out what it says, is rather trying.
593 "Drawn to the Light" (first line: "People who walk in darkness have sought") is by John C. Ylvisaker (b. 1937), and set to his own tune LA CROSSE. It draws on imagery from Isaiah 9 and Revelation 21, but what it has in biblical credentials, it wants in literary and musical style. Refrain: "Dawn is in sight! Gone is the night, drawn to the light and the morning. Glorious and bright, oh, what a sight to be drawn to the light of God." It's got "for kiddies" stamped all over it; but I think even among children's hymns there are better-written texts and tunes.
1Tune: ST. DENIO, a traditional Welsh tune many will associate with the hymn "Immortal, invisible, God only wise."
2Actually, the answer is Yes. See hymn 580, Fred Pratt Green's "How clear is our vocation, Lord."
3Tune: KUORTANE, a Finnish folk tune, also used in ELW 419, "For all the faithful women."
4Tune: ABBOT'S LEIGH by Cyril V. Taylor, my personal first choice for the hymn "Glorious things of thee are spoken."