Our look at the hymn selection in The Service Hymnal: A Lutheran Homecoming (TSH) continues. For those just now tuning in, here's a general recap of the notes we have struck so far: (1) As one man's "dream hymnal," compiled and published on his own initiative, it reveals the importance of subjecting a hymnal project to the consent and consensus of a wider church body. (2) As the work of a Lutheran who converted to Methodism and back again, it invites suspicion of a fundamental bias against historical Lutheran criteria for hymn selection. (3) As a representative of a "conservative" school of thought, it reveals the importance of identifying precisely what period of "Lutheranism" one means to conserve. (4) With respect to the hymns in its Advent and Christmas sections, it also points up the importance of understanding the difference between a religious-themed folksong, carol, or popular ditty, and a hymn for public worship. Now let's see whether the next clutch of hymns corrects the impression that this book is, at bottom, a document of vanity, ignorance, so-so theology, and (let's face it) bad taste.
Although the Epiphany Season can sometimes run as long as nine Sundays (depending on which lectionary one uses and the date of Easter that year), these are the only two hymns listed under "Epiphany."
53 "What wondrous love is this" is a "USA folk hymn" from the American south, circa 1840. I have mentioned before that, for all its dark grandeur, it can be a trial of patience, what with each stanza repeating a few phrases of text several times in a slow tempo. Sucha adds to the tedium by inserting a stanza of his own composition.
57 and 58 "All glory, laud, and honor" are two translations, side by side, of the 9th century hymn by Theodulph of Orleans. Hymn 57 is the "restored text and harmony," meaning J. M. Neale's (1818-66) translation and the arrangement from SBH.2 Hymn 58 is the "modern text version," with an only slightly different harmony by W. H. Monk (1823-89). It is interesting to compare the two versions, but really! What is an editor for but to make decisions? If he had chosen one version over the other, he could have spared room for another hymn. Or maybe that isn't such a good idea... Also interesting is the historical blurb's claim that St. Theodulph sang this hymn to the tune here named after him. This conflicts with the credit line, which ascribes the tune to Melchior Teschner, 1615. Sucha's informative chin-wag seems to be getting ahead of his data.
62 "Were you there?"—still tacky, for reasons I have already mentioned in this thread. Sucha's blurb at the end of the piece hints that its purpose is to enable worshipers to "express their feelings about Christ's passion." Imagine how much meaning relating to the same could be expressed in the time it takes to sing this slow, trembly spiritual.
63 "Jesus, keep me near the cross" has also come up before. The blurb explains that Fanny Crosby, "probably the most prolific hymnist in history," wrote over 8,000 hymns; and composer Doane, perpetrator of the tune that accompanies her text, wrote 2,200 hymn tunes. Both authors demonstrate in this hymn that quantity is no substitute for quality. That their work is widely distributed among American hymnals also goes to show that there is no accounting for taste.
This brings us to the cusp of the Easter section of the hymnal, which I reckon is enough tackiness for today. Besides, I'm depressed. Professor "Let's dial Lutheranism back to the golden age of SBH," sometimes also known as Captain "I've returned from Methodism with a strategy to save the Lutheran church," is really getting me down. Have you noticed that practically every song so far has been an eligible target for my snobbery? That there have been hardly any truly Lutheran hymns up to this point? To be sure, there will be a thick appendix later on that majors in that sort of thing. So it really isn't quite as bad as it looks. But it's just one more tribute to the tackiness of Sucha's editing job that he lets the casual peruser gather the impression that the future of Lutheranism, as he sees it, has been stripped of meaningfully Lutheran content. It's the tackiness of a hymnal compiler who can't get out of his own way.
1The Lutheran Service Book and Evangelical Lutheran Worship, both published in 2006.
2Service Book and Hymnal, 1958.