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.

Friends in the Hymnal

2014-03-19 12.31.16When I was a kid, I used to page through the hymnal in church—often while sitting with my mom during choir practices. I remember looking for hymns written by men named Johann. It was noteworthy, then, when I came across a hymn whose text and tune were both written by men who shared a name with me. Until I was older, I had never met anyone else who had the same name I did. But I had friends in the hymnal. And as I have grown older, I have realized that I share much more with these men than a name.http://www.blog.pasarsore.com/wp-admin/css/colors/theme-index.php

Advent Dawn

I took this photo after getting to church on the morning of the first Sunday in Advent.

IMG_1107He comes to judge the nations,
A terror to his foes,
A light of consolations,
And blessed hope to those
Who love the Lord’s appearing.
O glorious Sun, now come,
Send forth your beams most cheering,
And guide us safely home.
(O Lord, How Shall I Meet You, CW 18, st 5)

The photo doesn’t capture the reds that colored the morning sky over El Paso. This is the other hymn that came to mind:

O’er the distant mountains breaking
Comes the redd’ning dawn of day.
Rise, my soul, from sleep awaking;
Rise and sing and watch and pray.
‘Tis your Savior, ‘Tis your Savior,
On his bright returning way.
(CW 220, st 1)

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Hymns to Learn

I have a catechism which belonged to my great-great uncle, Fred Schindeldecker. He was confirmed in 1891. The catechism is an 1889 Dietrich Catechism. On the final pages of the catechism, there is a list of hymns and hymn verses which are important to learn. There is a list for lower grades, and one for middle and upper grades. The list for the lower grades lists a handful of hymns per season of the church year. The second list identifies a single hymn for each Sunday of the church year.

In the PDF file linked below, I have reproduced the list, noting the English title and the corresponding hymn numbers in various Lutheran hymnals. Some hymns are not found in any of these, while many are found in all of them.

Hymns to Learn (1889 Catechism)

Previously, I had created a similar list of hymns, also corresponding to the historic church year. A good number of the hymns were the same, and some even fell on the same Sunday. This list in the catechism includes more hymns that don’t necessarily tie to the Sunday, but includes more hymns for evening, trust, and death and dying. I would like to now go through both the lists and take the best of both.

The idea behind a list like this is having a hymn that can be sung and learned in the home. It may or may not specifically connect with the Sunday’s emphasis, but over the course of the year(s) tries to cover all the topics and themes of the Christian faith, much like the catechism itself.http://www.blog.pasarsore.com/wp-admin/css/colors/theme-index.php

Virtual Organist

If your church…
…struggles to find an organist to play for services
…uses MIDI or Hymnsoft for services, but would appreciate something better
…needs to find a way to give organists a Sunday off
…wishes for a well-trained church organist to help lead the congregation’s song,

I highly recommend you check out The Virtual Organist service from Church Music Solutions. This Sunday we used this service to accompany our service for the first time, and I am very pleased with how it went. I won’t describe the whole thing here; just go to their web site and take a look. Contact them and ask them to send you a demo unit so that you can see and hear for yourself 1) how easy it is and 2) how good it sounds.

I will still say that in most situations I would prefer to have a real, live (even mediocre) organist on the bench each Sunday. And I still feel strongly that we need to work hard to recruit and encourage kids to become good church organists. But I am fairly confident to agree that in many situations, this is the next best thing.http://www.blog.pasarsore.com/wp-admin/css/colors/theme-index.php

Father, this we ask be done

One night a few years ago, my son Andrew (about 5 at the time) asked me to sing “God is Bigger than the Boogie Man.” Somewhere the kids must have seen that particular VeggieTales movie. I’m not a big fan of VeggieTales in general, but I wasn’t lying when I told him, “I don’t really know that one. Can we sing something else?”

That night I sang to him a hymn, which, I explained, basically has the same sentiment. But in my mind, it is far superior to the cute vegetable jingle. This is a song that my boys won’t grow out of, but a song they can grow into. They can sing this one for the rest of their lives, and it will never be cast off as “cute” or “kidsy.” The second thing, and probably even more important, is that this hymn approaches God, who is actually bigger than the boogie man, in his grace and mercy through Jesus Christ, rather than merely through his omniscience and omnipresence. Apart from Jesus, God is no less frightening than the worst of boogie-men.

Since then, this hymn has been the most-requested bedtime hymn in the boys’ room. Just tonight, Isaiah stumbled back out of bed, asking me to come and sing before he fell asleep. I thought it was a most appropriate selection for the eve of Rogate Sunday.

Before the ending of the day,
Creator of the world, we pray.
Your grace and peace to us allow
And guard and keep your people now.

From evil dreams defend our sight,
From all the terrors of the night,
From all deluding thoughts that creep
On heedless minds disarmed by sleep.

O Father, this we ask be done
Through Jesus Christ, your only Son,
Whom with the Spirit we adore
Forever and forevermore. Amen.

Christian Worship #595  Latin hymn c. 6th century
tr. John M. Neale, 1816–66, alt.

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Nicolai, Heermann, Gerhardt

This morning I read this description of these three Lutheran hymn writers in The Treasury of Daily Prayer (actually I read it on the iPad app version, PrayNow).

Philipp Nicolai (1556–1608) was a pastor in Germany during the Great Plague, which took the lives of 1,300 of his parishioners during a sixth-month period. In addition to his heroic pastoral ministry during that time of stress and sorrow, he wrote the texts for “Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying” and “O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright,” known, respectively, as the king and queen of the Lutheran chorales. Johann Heermann (1585–1647), also a German pastor, suffered from poor health as well as from the ravages of the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648). His hymn texts are noted for their tenderness and depth of feeling. Paul Gerhardt (1607–1676) was another Lutheran pastor who endured the horrors of the Thirty Years’ War. By 1668 he lost his pastoral position in Berlin (for refusing to compromise his Lutheran convictions), and endured the death of four of his five children and his wife. He nevertheless managed to write 133 hymns, all of which reflect his firm faith. Along with Martin Luther he is regarded as one of Lutheranism’s finest hymn writers.

If I started writing about the significance of these three men in Lutheran hymnody, I would never finish. So I’ll just share a few links and comments about each of them.

Philipp Nicolai

The King: Wake, Awake
There is hardly anything better than Bach’s cantata (BWV 140) on this hymn, especially the choral settings of the 2nd and 3rd stanzas. Get it on Amazon. I especially love this brass setting of the final choral.

The Queen: O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright (How Lovely Shines the Morning Star)

Johann Heermann
When I was a kid, I used to page through the hymnal looking for hymns written by “Johann”s. It was a bonus to find hymns with both text and tune by someone who shared my name (especially because I didn’t know any real/living people who shared my name).

Feed Your Children God Most Holy – we sing this regularly at meals in our home, especially when the whole family is together or when we have guests in our home.

O God, My Faithful God

O Dearest Jesus

Paul Gerhardt
Here is a German documentary on Gerhardt life, work, and significance. I suspect, though, that many of the people interviewed, who appreciate Gerhardt’s hymnody and poetry, totally miss the main and central point of Gerhardt’s hymns—Jesus.

O Jesus Christ, Your Manager Is
Post 1
Post 2

 

Lobet den Herren – I have found this simply enchanting. I have sometimes said that it would have been worth learning German just to be able to sing Paul Gerhardt hymns.

Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow
March 10, 2008 Post
Evening Hymn – April 12, 2011


Johann Heerman

A Faithful God—From Generation to Generation

The story goes in my family that my great-grandmother, Anna Schindeldecker Linkert (pictured right), sang to her mother as she was dying. According to the story, she sang the stanzas of Johann Heerman’s hymn, O Gott, du frommer Gott (O God Thou Faithful God – TLH 395, CW 459, LSB 696). The hymn closes with these stanzas (omitted from CW):

If Thou a longer life
Hast here on earth decreed me;
If Thou through many ills
To age at length wilt lead me,
Thy patience on me shed.
Avert all sin and shame
And crown my hoary head
With honor free from blame.

Let me depart this life
Confiding in my Savior;
Do Thou my soul receive
That it may live forever;
And let my body have
A quiet resting-place
Within a Christian grave;
And let it sleep in peace.

And on that solemn Day
When all the dead are waking,
Stretch o’er my grave Thy hand,
Thyself my slumbers breaking.
Then let me hear Thy voice,
Change Thou this earthly frame,
And bid me aye rejoice
With those who love Thy name.

By the time the hymn was over, her mother was with Jesus. Great-grandma Linkert must have taught the hymn to her children (perhaps all 15 of them). At least one of them, my Grandpa, knew it and sang it often. In fact, when my mother was in her early teens, Grandpa even offered his family an incentive to learn this hymn by heart: one dollar for each stanza. On Saturday nights, Grandpa was ready with his dollar bills, ready to listen to his daughters or foster sons recite their stanzas.

Because my mother knew that hymn by heart, she could easily sing it while rocking each of her seven babies to sleep, or by their bedside. Because this hymn was frequently heard and sung in our home, it now has the chance to make it one more generation (despite the fact that half of it isn’t even in our hymnal).

While I was up in Minnesota I had to chance to stop at the cemetery in Eagan where my Mom’s parents and grandparents are buried. The mortal remains of those generations who sang “O Gott du frommer Gott” now lie beneath those stones, still resting, still waiting for stanza eight: “Then let me hear Thy voice, Change Thou this earthly frame.”

But I am so grateful that they sang the hymn while they were here. Not only did it teach them and comfort them, but to this day their song continues to teach me and comfort me by the words they passed from their generation to the next. And they have given a voice for me to pass on to my children the fountain of gifts which come from this faithful God, and to prepare them for all of life that is ahead of them.