Moving on from where we left our snarky review of the hymn selection in "ELW" (silent L)... I've said it before: if you're not Lutheran, don't sweat it. But if you dare to call yourself a Lutheran, and you don't think these hymns are tacky in the context of Lutheran worship, prepare to tremble before my scathing wit!
528 "Come and fill our hearts" is a Taizé/Jacques Berthier paraphrase of Psalm 136:1 which, with a brevity and simplicity that lends itself nicely to hypnotic repetition, says exactly the following: "Come and fill our hearts with your peace. You alone, O Lord, are holy. Come and fill our hearts with your peace. Alleluia!" You can also try this in Latin: Confitemini Domino quoniam bonus, Alleluia! Only to the extent that Lutheran worship is totally about altering the worshipers' state of mind so they can be toyed with, is this not tacky.
530 "Here, O Lord, your servants gather" (Sekai no tomo to te o tsunagi) is a hymn translated from a text by Tokuo Yamaguchi, a Japanese Methodist; predictably, because Multiculturalism Is Our God, it includes one stanza in Japanese, in addition to four stanzas in English. There's a nice theme of "Jesus is the Way, Truth, and Life" running through this hymn. But there are also some lines that ought to make us blush. For example, do we really mean it when, in Stanza 1, we claim to be standing hand in hand?
532 "Here in this place the new light is streaming" (Gather Us In) is by the already often-mentioned Marty Haugen (b. 1950). It combines a ballad-like tune with lyrics whose searching invocation of a vaguely identified God must appeal particularly to the flower-child generation. Stanza 1 describes worship as a place where "our fears and our dreamings" are brought to God. Stanza 2, which contains the dubiously tasteful rhyme of "myst'ry/hist'ry," toys with the idea that "we have been sung," then asks God to "give us the courage to enter the song." Stanza 3 throws more cold water on the teaching of the sacraments, repeatedly referring to wine and bread but making no mention of Jesus' body and blood; the closest it comes is "the bread that is you." It also muddles baptism and the eucharist, grouping "the wine and the water" in one phrase, then making a strange reference to "the bread of new birth." Stanza 4 takes away more than it gives in the lines, "Not in the dark of buildings confining, not in some heaven, light years away—here in this place, the new light is shining, now is the kingdom, now is the day." I get the whole "not in buildings made with stone" thing, but Haugen simply isn't clear about what he is denying in the first phrase, versus what he is asserting in the third; and I also get that the right hand of God isn't a point in outer space but wherever God chooses to be present, but is that all that "now is the kingdom" might imply? It isn't hard to imagine a believer singing these words and being disturbed by the idea that there isn't an afterlife, especially when the forgiveness of sins (in a word, the gospel) forms no part of this hymn's vision of worship.
We now move from the section of hymns tagged as "Gathering" (because ELW holds no truck with received terms such as "Opening of Worship" or "Hymns to Enter," and must introduce new language for everything), to the "Sending" section (i.e., "Close of Worship" or "Hymns to Depart"). I'm cool with the word "gathering" as a synonym for "opening" or "entering" worship. But I have a niggling doubt about the appositeness of "sending" for "closing" or "departing." To my fertile imagination, it suggests the idea that corporate worship is a sort of spiritual battery charger that juices us up so that we can go out in our personal lives and really serve God—rather than the key focus of Christian life, where God comes to us to heal, feed, cleanse, and serve us: a refuge apart from the world that tests our faith and burdens us with sin. I suppose not all will agree with me as to which emphasis is better for Lutheran Christians. But in the language of "sending" I also smell an idea that we are ordaining everyone to be a minister and commissioning them, week in and week out, to evangelize the world. There is something vaguely arrogant about this. Perhaps I wouldn't be so concerned if I saw more evidence that the gospel (evangelion, the good news with which one is to be evangelized) is actually reaching the people who are being "sent" to proclaim it.
535 "Hallelujah! We sing your praises" (Halleluya! Pelo tsa rona) is a South African hymn whose refrain consists of the above line, plus "All our hearts are filled with gladness," repeated four times before, between, and after the two stanzas, each of which is also to be repeated. Stanza 1 says, "Christ the Lord to us said: I am wine, I am bread, give to all who thirst and hunger." Stanza 2 adds, "Now the Lord sends all out, strong in faith, free of doubt. Tell to all the joyful gospel." And that, except for repeats, is the whole hymn. It's all imperative to preach the gospel (i.e., all law) with no recital of the message to be preached (i.e., no gospel). This is combined with a tune whose rhythmic complications defeat the purpose of putting it in the pew hymnal (i.e., so that congregation can sing what is in it). It will only be within the reach of choir, soloists, groups steeped in African culture, and campus or town-gown congregations whose level of musical skill is unrepresentative of the wider church. When Grandma and Grandpa Smurf's church tries to sing it, the result will be mortifying. And lest I forget to mention it, this hymn includes a bit of the original-language text—but only the refrain, because our cultural diversity can only be pushed so far.
538 "The Lord now sends us forth" (Enviado soy de Dios) is a Sending hymn whose sole stanza is given in both English and the original Spanish, once again because of diversidad cultural. And the only gospel in this text is Social Gospel (which is no gospel, but law), bordering hard upon Liberation Theology. The opening section states that "the Lord now sends us forth with hands to serve and give, to make of all the earth a better place to live." Even the "everyone is being commissioned as an evangelist" folderol would be better than this; at least in concept, it includes the intention of proclaiming Christ. The second section goes on to add nothing but law, law, law. I do not object to Christians having a social conscience or caring for the needy. But the purpose of the church, as such, is to preach Christ.
540 "Go, make disciples" is another Handt Hanson (b. 1950) ditty, with a CoWo anthem rhythm that puts it firmly outside the range of hymns Grandma Smurf's home church can sing. If worship is a performance to be delivered by soloists and backup singers, well. Then there's the issue whether reciting the words of Christ's "Great Commission" in the context of a close-of-worship (or Sending) hymn is really the correct application of the words that give the church as a whole its mission—not individual Christians. Plus, such added formulations as "Go, be the salt of the earth. Go, be the light for the world. Go, be a city on a hill, so all can see that you're serving me" reinforce the sense that a Mission Paradigm that has first been forced into Jesus' mouth is now being used to club us with law and fear and guilt. That, at least, is my reading of the expectations this message sends people out of church with; and it contrasts miserably with the encouraging nature of the promises from which these commands are derived ("You are the salt of the earth," etc.).
549 "Send me, Jesus" (Thuma mina, Nkosi yam) is an eensy-weensy South African part-song, complete with off-the-beat rhythms and a bass-line tag dovetailing the end of Stanza 1 with the beginning of Stanza 2. Both stanzas are given in both English and the original language, which I lack the linguistic chops to identify (and ELW does not help). It doesn't take much expertise, however, to boil down this hymn's content to "Send me, Jesus; send me, Lord" (Stanza 1), and "I am willing, willing Lord" (Stanza 2). Not very specific, is it? I guess the context is everything. The context suggested by this hymnal, however, is a bunch of fair-skinned Americans of northern European extraction, making themselves look like fools in the service of the god Cultural Diversity. If they're lucky, it will only be the choir doing this, rather than the whole congregation; then at least the music may be almost recognizable. But the doubt that lingers is whether, on this basis, the song should be in the pew hymnal at all—a theme to which I find myself returning again and again!