Church Bells Ringing for Peace

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In Jean-François Millet’s The Angelus, two peasants stop digging potatoes to pray when the bells in the distance church tower ring.

I suppose one could say that church bells are a thing of the past. Of course, there are places where churches still have bells, and those bells still ring. They might ring at the beginning or during services (during the Lord’s Prayer, for example). They might even still ring to announce a member’s death or at certain times of the day. But the fact is that most of us live, work, and travel out of earshot of church bells.

I’ve been reading Martin Chemnitz’ 1569 Church Order for Braunsweig-Wolfenbüttel. In it, he has instructions of all kinds for church life in his principality. Today I came across his instructions regarding the ringing of bells, right after a long list of collects (prayers).

Under the papacy, a special ringing of the bell was observed morning, noon, and evening by which the people were admonished to pray to the Virgin Mary. But because the most blessed Virgin Mary does not desire the honor due God alone, and because it is also contrary to God’s Word, the people are to be instructed in this regard. The ringing of the bell in and of itself can be retained, as is also the case in the neighboring Reformation churches, to indicate to the people morning, noon, and evening. Moreover, the people are thereby reminded and exhorted to pray morning, noon, and evening for common peace and good government—in so doing prayer is made at the same time for the authorities and against all enemies of common, Christian peace. For this reason, in the neighboring Reformation churches, it has been very appropriately referred to as ringing the prayer bell or the “peace bell.” And it is Christian, good, and useful for the common people to be accustomed to it, so that they do not forget such necessary prayer. But because prayer is often forgotten, the peal of the bell can remind them to pray such things, whenever they hear the peace bell ringing, whether at home, in the garden, on the road, or in the field. At that time also, the children in the house may be encouraged to sing: Erhalt uns Herr bey deinem Wort, etc.; likewise, Verleihe uns Frieden gnediglich. Such prayer is of very great necessity in these latter and perilous days.

saleby_kyrkklocka_vastergotlandWouldn’t you say that prayer for the “common peace and good government” is still “of very great necessity”? And I’m pretty sure that forgetting to pray is no less a problem today than in 1569.

But if church bells are out—or perhaps drowned out by our world’s noise—is there anything that could fill the function of church bells to call us to pray? What could remind us, whether we are at home, at work, or in the car? Perhaps something that we carry with us practically everywhere.

Perhaps you could consider setting an alarm on your phone in the morning, at noon, and in the evening. You could even use the sound of bells to remind you to pray.

Verdin Bells has a few church bell sounds available for download on their web site. There is one called the Angelus (that’s the name of the papist bell-ringing Chemnitz refers to above) and one that is just a single swinging bell. Here are converted files for iPhone ringtones (Peace Bell / Single Bell).

Chemnitz encourages prayers for peace at these times. I think I might like to modify that just slightly with an area of focus for each hour—in the morning, for peace in the home and family; at noon (the hour of Jesus’ death), for peace in the Church; and in the evening, peace in the government and civil sphere. In another place I saw that some have used the morning hour to meditate on the Resurrection, the noonday to contemplate the Crucifixion, and the evening hour to reflect on the Incarnation.

The hymns Chemnitz suggests are also worth considering. Most Lutherans are familiar with “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word” (CW 203). “Grant Peace, We Pray, in Mercy Lord” (CW 522) is worth knowing better. These two hymns always seem to be paired together. In J.S. Bach’s Cantata on “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast” the closing chorale is “Grant Peace, We Pray.” I love how it concludes:

Grant to our princes and all those in authority
peace and good government
so that we, among them
may lead a calm and peaceful life
in all godliness and honesty.
Amen.

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Praying Alone

Praying together is better than praying alone. My favorite hour of prayer is at the close of day, and the prayers of Compline just can’t be beat.

I usually pray these alone. If I’m at church late, I’ll do it in my study. When we have an evening meeting I invite others to join me, but I usually still end up alone.

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At home, I will often sing the closing portion to some of the kids before bed, “Guide us waking, O Lord…,” the Nunc Dimittis, and blessing them with “The almighty and merciful Lord—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—bless you and keep you.”

It was an uncommon delight, then, to lead the praying of Compline at this summer’s Return to Wittenberg conference. There is something so mutually consoling about these bedtime prayers of the Church, when some portion of the Church gathers at the end of a day to speak to one another, to listen, to sing, and to pray.

The setting of the beautiful chapel at Wisconsin Lutheran College certainly didn’t hurt! The back and forth responses, the unison, acapella singing. The final night of the conference we also sang Paul Gerhardt’s “Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow.”

It was significantly better than praying alone.

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Compline at Return to Wittenberg (Photo by Jonathan Mayer)

And yet, it is true that Christians never pray alone. Because our Jesus teaches us to pray, “Our Father,” even when we pray by ourselves, we are never alone. Christian prayer is always corporate. Our voice always joins with the whole Church in addressing our heavenly Father, trusting that he will hear our voice. Together, even if we pray alone. In addition—even if there were no one on the planet to pray with us, even then we would not pray alone because Jesus himself prays for us and with us.

Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the silent hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting world may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

 

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Just as the Old Adam does not die in Baptism, so he survives ordination also.

–Bo Giertz, Then Fell the Lord’s Fire

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Accompany Them with Singing

The Apostolic Constitutions are a series of 4th century documents that give insight into the early Christian church. In it, Christians were instructed, “In the funerals of the departed, accompany them with singing, if they were faithful in Christ” (6.30.2).

It has become my custom to conclude every funeral sermon by singing a hymn stanza. Often, it has been one of the last stanzas I sang with the person before they died, if we had that opportunity. Other times, it was simply appropriate to the sermon text, theme, or to the life of the person. In either case, it is my way of taking one small gem of our beautiful hymnody and passing it on to the congregation and the gathered family and friends. Our hymnody is so rich that I’ve hardly, if at all, had to use the same stanza more than once.

This week I had two funerals, a wife on Monday and her husband on Friday. On Monday it was “Lord, let at last your angels come” for we had spoken of the angels at Jesus’ tomb who were there to roll the stone away and announce the resurrection. But it is over us that God has given his angels charge, until they carry us to His side. Today, it was “In peace and joy I now depart” in regard to a husband who was ready to depart in peace, not only because he knew his bride was safe in the arms of Jesus, but also and more importantly because he knew that Jesus was his life, and “death is but a slumber.”

I’m pretty sure I’ve done this with all sixteen of the funerals I have conducted since coming here (I counted today). On these days, while I am filled with sympathy for those who mourn, I am also unspeakably grateful to have been able to serve these dear saints with Jesus’ Word and Sacrament, and now to speak the comfort and confidence of the resurrection to those who mourn.

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Remembering a NICU Baptism

I’m looking forward to having lunch with two-year-old Josiah to celebrate his baptism birthday.

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More Stories from Grandpa’s Table

I was going through some of the tapes and wanted to share with you just a few minutes of the audio. In this section, he begins by talking about the crops, and a time “when the corn didn’t grow.” But he compares it to the famine during the lives of the patriarchs. Then he says, “But we have to keep on reading.” and then goes on to talk about how they ended up at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Hastings, despite the pastoral visits in the hospital (when his thumb got cut off in a farm accident) and comments from the Swedish Lutheran pastor. Earlier in this recording, he was talking about some friends or neighbors that expressed their concern when they were planning to have their first child (my mother) baptized. They said, “We don’t believe in baptizing children.” Grandpa said, “Well I do.”

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Grandpa’s Story

2359384477_0a2fcebe69_oI used to sit and listen to Grandpa talk. Talk and tell stories. Eventually I got smart enough to bring a tape recorder, and later wrote them down. Today, on his heavenly birthday, I would like to share one of them with you. He told me this one on June 26, 1998 just over a year before he died. It tells of how his father came to the United States and got settled in Minnesota.

I gotta keep on talking German so I don’t lose out on it. My Dad used to sing Polish, used to sing songs. Seven [languages]. He could get along with somebody, like Polish, Bohemian, German, not Norwegian or Swedish, that he didn’t-, but some of the others like… He could even understand Russian. It was in the same line. That’s where my Dad, when he went to school, where those boys are come together. And he was working, he was a shoemaker, working on shoes, in the service, when they went out for dinner, or recess, or so on they got all kinds of friends, other languages. Now they cut that out… That’s where Dad went, from Austria to Germany. Austria wouldn’t let him out, you know, because he had to serve one more year, but those two Jews they went, had the suitcases, and my Dad carried their suitcases and they went to the desk and got their passports, and my dad had ahold of those suitcase and stood behind them, and when they got their passports, they went, and Dad followed them. And those guys on the…, that were giving the passports, they thought he was just hired to carry the suitcases. That’s how he got to Germany. When he was in Germany he was all right. And when he got to the boat, the guy, or somebody there hollered, “Anybody wants to go to America and hasn’t got the passports, come here you can get it right here.” That sounded so good to my dad; he went there. He got the passport. He didn’t have enough money; he got to eat on the ship. But when he got off the ship, he didn’t have no money. He was hungry when he came here to Rich Valley. From New York to Rich Valley. There was someone he met on the way there, who gave him something to eat. But, that’s the only way he got something to eat. I don’t know how long it took from New York. I can’t remember at all. But [in] Rich Valley, he had a rope on the neck, see, and he didn’t have to; all they had to do was look at that. That just told the conductor of the train, or the depot, they just looked at that and told him what train to take. And he come to Rich Valley, right there, and his brother and his sister lived on the hill by Rich Valley. They could see that far. And when they seen him walking in the field with two suitcases, my aunt figured “that’s him”, and she took off and met him in the field. And then they were both crying in the field when they seen each other. He (my dad) was the youngest in the family. Jake was here already, and Andrew was here, and Peter was here, and Sophie, that’s the aunt. They were here already, for quite a while. Uncle Andrew had that farm rented, and then my Dad stayed there and helped him on the farm there. That’s how he got, and Uncle Andrew he was; got acquainted with the Franzmeiers. The they went to the church, Emanuel Lutheran Church in Inver Grove.  A lot of  Germans came and went to that church. So my Dad walked from Rich Valley to Inver Grove to church, and then he met my mother there. Well, Uncle Andrew knew the Schindeldeckers already. There was the Franzmeiers, there’s so many of them; I don’t remember all the names. In Rich Valley, and Missouri Church, Lone Oak. There were more Germans there. Grandmother, but he was Missouri [Synod]. He come by boat, in October, he married here by South St. Paul, and she prayed, you know, that he would get something else to do, instead of going on the boat, delivering groceries, and he listened to her. He bought a farm there by South St. Paul, and that’s where my mother was born. She went to school, the Missouri had a school there. That school, that church is still there, but that’s where my mother was born, and raised. She went to school there, and my grandfather was Missouri. She [grandmother] wasn’t a Lutheran girl until she married him. She was a waitress in St. Paul. That’s how he met her, when he went to St. Paul. I don’t know how. That was not a short time. He made the trip several times. She made the trips, well, after she moved, she made the trips with him three times, and she didn’t like the waiting. He had beer, too, on the boats, delivered beer and groceries, from Missouri, but he was born in Indiana. It’s close, right next to it. That’s how he—how he got to be on the boats to deliver groceries, I don’t know. That was a business that had to go at that time, to deliver groceries to St. Paul from Missouri, and the Missouri church was great in Missouri, they were strong in that area, even now. They’re still pretty strong, but I guess they had some trouble a few years back.

You know the devil’s always at work. He never quit. Trying to trouble me. But, that’s where the Schindeldeckers come from.

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