Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Fit of Hymnography

I had another 24-hour fit of hymn-writing productivity, running from after suppertime Friday evening until just before supper Saturday. Between the evening, the wee hours, and the following morning I cranked out three more hymns, plus a fourth later last night. It's all part of a hymn-book project that is rapidly reaching its final form. Evidently climactic stages of a project like this bring out a lot of creative energy!

178. Noah Hymn (A Type of Baptism)
This hymn veered off my plan to be a simple "heroes of the faith" type of hymn, like ones I previously wrote on Elijah and Daniel, and became a hymn on the flood-baptism typology argued by the apostle Peter in 1 Peter 3:20-21. The flood's significance in understanding baptism is a keynote in Lutheran thought, notably expressed in Martin Luther's famous "flood prayer." I have two tunes in mind for this hymn: CROFT'S 136TH (William Croft, 1709)...
...and LAUS REGIS (William E. Fischer, 1887).
Once God destroyed mankind,
When every human mind
To evil was inclined.
Did none His favor find?
Thank God! For Noah walked by faith,
And so our race was spared from death.

God ordered him to build
An ark that would be filled
With ev’ry beast He willed
To spare from being killed;
Then Noah, his three sons, their wives,
Eight souls in all, preserved their lives.

The rain began to pour;
The deep gave up its store;
The waters upward bore
The ark, without a shore.
Before her keel again kissed ground,
That wicked world was wholly drowned.

Now let the baptized see
How this a type may be
For how God graciously
By baptism sets us free!
For as that flood drowned sinful man,
This bath puts sin to death again.

The flood beneath that boat
Eight souls to life did float;
So baptism, Peter wrote,
Now saves you. Thus take note
How God your death to sin designs
And with it your rebirth combines!

Let Noah, sire of each
Who walks this earth, now teach
How we God’s grace might reach,
Fruitful in deed and speech!
God, let us walk, as walk we must,
By faith in You, thereby made just!

179. Twelve Apostles Hymn
In another unpremeditated rebellion against the hero-worshiping tone of the typical hymn about the saints, I present this hymn. It pooh-poohs all speculative fancies read into the spaces between the lines of Scripture; it wastes no time before setting aside the example of the apostles and looking toward Christ. In defense of this hymn, it was sorely provoked by a book, The Apostles of Jesus by J.D. Jones, that I consulted for ideas on where to start. I started with the chapter on Andrew (since I intended to treat with him first), and was so horrified by Jones' psychological profiling, building grand edifices on flimsy evidence, reliance on pious rumor, and moralistic sermonizing that my hymn ended up being kind of a polemic against it. I glanced at the chapters on Thomas and the lesser apostles and saw no evidence the Andrew chapter was anything but representative. So if it's good for nothing else, let this hymn rinse off the cloying perfume of pious devotional soft-soap. The tune I selected for it is the 15th century German chorale ICH KOMM AUS FREMDEN LANDEN HER.
Christ, shine Your Light on those who delve
Your writ for rumor of the twelve;
Yea, let them undertake anew
To fix all eyes alone on You!

Of Your apostles, Andrew first
The good news of Messiah burst;
Let us as boldly of You speak,
To Jew as well as heathen Greek!

He who claimed first rank at Your side
Confessed great faith, yet then denied;
Like Simon Peter, gracious Lord,
Let those who stumble be restored!

He who asked for Your right-hand throne
Was first to wear the martyr crown;
Like James, lest we become puffed up,
Lord, bid us taste Your bitter cup!

One wore Your love for him as fame,
Yet in his book effaced his name;
Like John, let us true witness give,
That those we tell of You might live!

Poor Philip hardly understood
That You are fully one with God;
Christ, grant that we in You believe,
That we the Father may receive!

One thought it fit with You to die,
And yet Your rising would deny.
Like Thomas, give us hearts devout,
And treat us gently in our doubt!

One from the tax-collector’s tribe
You called to be Your faithful scribe:
Like Matthew, call us from our shame,
That we may glorify Your name!

From Judas, surnamed Thaddeus,
One question only comes to us;
To us, as well, let Your word come,
And in us, Savior, make Your home!

There yet remain Bartholomew,
A lesser James, a Simon too.
On them, the sacred page is blank;
Keep us from speculation rank!

And if Matthias or if Paul
Were heir to the betrayer’s call,
One is the prayer we would commend:
Lord, keep us faithful till the end!

Besides, we would Your mercy thank
For calling men from ev’ry rank,
Who to all lands the tidings spread
Of You, Christ, risen from the dead!

180. Opening and Closing of Preschool
This brief ditty was actually harder to write than the previous two hymns put together. I wrote and deleted at least four full stanzas before I struck what I thought was pay-dirt. The idea for it was suggested by a "preschool song" I wrote, words and music, for the preschool at my vicarage church in Terre Haute, Ind., in 1999. I did not think the original words were worth keeping, but I reused the tune, titled PRESCHOOL SONG.
Good friends, we greet you this new day,
This day the Lord has made!
We ask His blessing on our play,
And on our work His aid!

Farewell for now, farewell good friends!
Until we meet again,
Enjoy the blessings Jesus sends!
God be with you, Amen!

181. A Confession of Faith
This final hymn, for now, actually came to the surface while I was musing on a 16th-century German tune for which I wrote a harmonized setting sometime around 1998. I was trying to think of what kind of hymn would work with a tune like that, and before I knew it, I had written one. The tune is titled ICH HAB MEIN SACH; the full first line of the original German hymn was "Ich hab mein Sach Gott heimgestellt," and it was the subject of one of J.S. Bach's cantatas.
On God I rest my hope and trust:
The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Without His love I would be lost;
Through Jesus Christ
He has my bonds and burden loosed.

The blood of ev’ry bird and beast
Had not for all my sins sufficed;
Though I the mark have widely missed,
Through Jesus Christ
God freely reckons me as just.

The Father gave His very best;
His Son became the last and least,
And being scourged and crowned and crossed,
Gave up the Ghost
For love of men, down to the worst.

And so, when all my sinful past
And present weakness are confessed,
The life I now live surely must
Belong to Christ,
Who in my place paid such a cost!

When at His board I am a guest,
He serves Himself as host and feast;
And so I dimly touch and taste
With all the blessed
The consummation-meal of Christ.

Lest Jesus’ struggle go to waste,
His triumph will be all my boast.
His grave bought me a holy rest;
From death released,
He lives to raise me from the dust.

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