What is it about Lutherans and singing? Garrison Keillor, the Prairie Home Companion Guy often talks about how Lutherans can sing a four part harmony at the drop of the hat and do it all day. Just give us an organ and hymnal and we're good to go.
I am a lifer in the Missouri Synod (LCMS). I was brought up on the "red," aka "old" hymnal, the 1941 edition. I knew the liturgies by heart. I knew that the "regular service," as I called it, started page five and the communion sevice started on page 15. I have these services still pretty well memorized. The "red" hymnal was "my hymnal." When I was confirmed I was given hymnal with my name and date of confirmation (May 29, 1988) embossed on the cover in gold. I cherish this "hymnal. It is one of the things that grounds me in my faith. I find myself pulling it down from the shelf every now and again opening it up and just reading the hymns like poetry; they are quite powerful at times and always beautiful.
Somewhere along the way, though, I went to churches that used the "blue" hymnal, or, as we LCMS'ers call it the "new" hymanl. This one was published in 1982. From what I understand this hymnal started out at a joint venture between the LCMS and the ELCA (or as some of in LCMS circles like to say the "E*CA). Actually, that was before the ELCA was the ELCA (they ELCA is an amulgamation of a two different synods that merged... that's neither here nor there, though, for the sake of this I'll just refer to it as the ELCA and be done with it). I never found the "blue" hymnal to be as user friendly. The hymns didn't get me as excited and I certainly couldn't follow the liturgy-- mainly because I couldn't find it. It was tucked somewhere deep into the first part of the hymnal, I've gotten more used to it, but my church doesn't use it. They print the liturgy in the bulletin (its more like a little weekly booklet, actually).
I am a life long member of the LCMS. Lord willing, I'll be a womb to tomb LCMS'er. I was baptized, comfirmed, hopefully someday I'll be married and buried in the LCMS. I love the hymns and the singing. Hearing the congregation sing out in joy of their Salvation is something to behold. Sure, there are people that can't carry a tune to save their life, but no one said they had to be able sing, its all about making a joyful noise unto the Lord, isn't it?
Garrison Keillor is right, though. He has a good time poking fun at Lutherans and our way of doing things, but his thoughts about our singing border not on hilarity, but something more... almost reverance. I have distinct memories of being transported and having "mountaintop experiences" while singing hymns with fellow Lutherans, I could tell the Holy Spirit was in our midst. The hymn singing transcended typical hymn singing and become something else, entirely.
I've written in the blog about my feelings regarding "contempary worship" and I still stand by them. I am a traditional worship kind of guy. I like the sound of the organ soaring high and above the voices and the way those voices intermingle with the organ.
Now this next admission might get me booted from Lutheranism: I don't like singing "A Mighty Fortress." I think the music is beautiful and the words are truly uplifting, but the song itself is almost unsingable. I think its because the English translation doesn't quite "go" with the music. However, this hymn knocks me out. I mean it really cuts to the chase for me. And spells it all out. It is the mortar to my faith-bricks and as I read this section of the Apology of the Augsurg Confession it becomes even more important to me. To be fair, though, I must say that I do have a favorite "modern hymn" and it comes from this little hymnal supplement, its called "I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry." This hymn is very close to my heart. It has touched me in many ways:
"I WAS THERE TO HEAR YOUR BORNING CRY"
I was there to hear your borning cry.
I'll be there when you are old.
I rejoiced the day you were baptized
To see your life unfold.
I was there when you were but a child,
With a faith to suit you well'
In a blaze of light you wandered off
To find where demons dwell.
When you heard the wonder of the word
I was there to cheer you on;
You were raised to praise the living Lord,
To whom you now belong.
If you find someone to share your time
And you join your hearts as one,
I'll be there to make your verses rhyme
From dusk till rising sun.
In the middle ages of your life,
Not too old, no longer young,
I'll be there to guide you through the night,
Complete what I've begun.
When the evening gently closes in
And you shut your weary eyes,
I'll be there as I have always been
With just one more surprise.
I was there to hear your borning cry,
I'll be there when you are old.
I rejoiced the day you were baptized,
To see your life unfold.
(Hymn 770 in With One Voice)
I am not a very musical person. I can kind of sort of play the piano and I tried to play the trumpet for a while, but I enjoy music. It uplifts me and strengthens my faith and for that I am most thankful.
Hymns are actually one of the many things that set me off in the Lutheran direction a few years ago. There really is nothing like singing such wonderful words in a church filled with organ music. It is a gift from God.
Oh no. That song. It makes me want to stick my head in the oven. I know that many people like it, but it reminds me too much of my ELCA days.
Hmmmm... this hymn "is close to my heart"? "Touches me"? OK... not my *FAVE* criteria, but it will do in matters of mere taste.
Polly, I am more inclined to agree with you -- even though I never did ELCA. It really DOES make me want to stick my head in the oven! I do not know what it is... I have not really analyzed it.
Here are 2 of my favorites!
"Salvation unto Us has Come"
by Paul Speratus, 1484-1551
1. Salvation unto us has come
By God's free grace and favor;
Good works cannot avert our doom,
They help and save us never.
Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone,
Who did for all the world atone;
He is our one Redeemer.
2. What God did in His Law demand
And none to Him could render
Caused wrath and woe on every hand
For man, the vile offender.
Our flesh has not those pure desires
The spirit of the Law requires,
And lost is our condition.
3. It was a false, misleading dream
That God His Law had given
That sinners should themselves redeem
And by their works gain heaven.
The Law is but a mirror bright
To bring the inbred sin to light
That lurks within our nature.
4. From sin our flesh could not abstain,
Sin held its sway unceasing;
The task was useless and in vain,
Our gilt was e'er increasing.
None can remove sin's poisoned dart
Or purify our guileful heart,-
So deep is our corruption.
5. Yet as the Law must be fulfilled
Or we must die despairing,
Christ came and hath God's anger stilled,
Our human nature sharing.
He hath for us the Law obeyed
And thus the Father's vengeance stayed
Which over us impended.
6. Since Christ hath full atonement made --
And brought to us salvation,
Each Christian therefore may be glad
And build on this foundation.
Thy grace alone, dear Lord, I plead,
Thy death is now my life indeed,
For Thou hast paid my ransom.
7. Let me not doubt, but trust in Thee,
Thy Word cannot be broken;
Thy call rings out, "Come unto Me!"
No falsehood hast Thou spoken.
Baptized into Thy precious name,
My faith cannot be put to shame,
And I shall never perish.
8. The Law reveals the guilt of sin
And makes men conscience-stricken;
The Gospel then doth enter in
The sinful soul to quicken.
Come to the cross, trust Christ, and live;
The Law no peace can ever give,
No comfort and no blessing.
9. Faith clings to Jesus' cross alone
And rests in Him unceasing;
And by its fruits true faith is known,
With love and hope increasing.
Yet faith alone doth justify,
Works serve thy neighbor and supply
The proof that faith is living.
10. All blessing, honor, thanks, and praise
To Father, Son, and Spirit,
The God that saved us by His grace,-
All glory to His merit!
O Triune God in heaven above,
Who hast revealed Thy saving love,
Thy blessed name be hallowed. Amen
The Lutheran Hymnal
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"Built on the Rock the Church doth Stand"
by Nicolai F.S. Grundtvig, 1783-1872
Translated by Carl Doving, 1867-1937
1. Built on the Rock the Church doth stand,
Even when steeples are falling;
Crumbled have spires in every land,
Bells still are chiming and calling,
Calling the young and old to rest,
But above all the soul distrest,
Longing for rest everlasting.
2. Surely in temples made with hands,
God, the Most High, is not dwelling;
High above earth His temple stands,
All earthly temples excelling.
Yet He whom heavens cannot contain
Chose to abide on earth with men,
Built in our bodies His temple.
3. We are God's house of living stones,
Builded for His habitation;
He through baptismal grace us owns
Heirs of His wondrous salvation.
Were we but two His name to tell,
Yet He would deign with us to dwell,
With all His grace and His favor.
4. Now we may gather with our King
E'en in the lowliest dwelling;
Praises to Him we there may bring,
His wondrous mercy forthtelling.
Jesus His grace to us accords;
Spirit and life are all His words;
His truth doth hallow the temple.
5. Still we our earthly temples rear
That we may herald His praises;
They are the homes where He draws near
And little children embraces.
Beautiful things in them are said;
God there with us His covenant made,
Making us heirs of His kingdom.
6. Here stands the font before our eyes
Telling how God did receive us;
The altar recalls Christ's sacrifice
And what His table doth give us;
Here sounds the Word that doth proclaim
Christ yesterday, today, the same,
Yea, and for aye our Redeemer.
7. Grant then, O God, where'er men roam,
That, when the church-bells are ringing,
Many in saving faith may come
Where Christ His message is bringing:
"I know Mine own, Mine own know Me;
Ye, not the world, My face shall see.
My peace I leave with you." Amen.
The Lutheran Hymnal
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