Jesus Loves Me / Solid Rock

It’s one of the classic “little kid” Christian songs that cradle Christians in many traditions learn…

Jesus loves me, this I know
for the Bible tells me so.

Little ones to him belong;
they are weak but he is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me!  Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.

Complete with a cute little melody, it’s the perfect song for young kids to learn, enjoy, and promptly grow out of and cast aside in favor more exciting music.

Obvious repetition aside, this Hymn for Children is worth a fresh look.  First of all, it has more verses that a lot of us never heard as children.  In the new hymnal Magnify the Lord, or Common Praise 2017, it is #431, and has four verses.  Here are verses 2-4.

Jesus loves me – this I know – As he loved so long ago,
Taking children on his knee, Saying “Let them come to me.”

Yes, Jesus loves me… etc.

Jesus loves me – loves me still, Even when I’m weak and ill;
From his shining throne on high, Comes to watch me where I lie.
Yes, Jesus loves me… etc.

Jesus loves me!  He who died Heaven’s gate to open wide;
He will wash away my sin, Let his little child come in.

Yes, Jesus loves me… etc.

What this hymn is doing, quite simply, is setting out a theological truth in verse 1 and then exploring the biblical evidence in the next three which verse 1 claims.  So verse 2 looks back to the ministry of Jesus, during which he directly welcomed children; verse 3 brings that biblical love back into the present and highlights his continual care and watching-over; and verse 4 points us into the future, towards our death in the following of Christ’s death.

Hopefully this gives you a newfound respect for ye olde Jesus Loves Me.  But if you still think it’s silly, consider the song printed right before it (#430) in the same hymnal:

My hope is built on nothing less Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

This classic hymn, only 25 years older than Jesus Loves Me, is remarkably similar.  It, too, has a repetitive refrain with a message that is only one small step away: from “Jesus loves me” to “On Christ… I stand.”  This first verse is conceptually just as simple as Jesus Loves Me, and its melody is equally basic.  If all you ever heard of this hymn was its first verse, it probably wouldn’t be quite so beloved among adults as it is today.

Even more interesting, when you look at how the lyrics unfold, Solid Rock follows the same structure as Jesus Loves Me:

  1. Basic theological premise
  2. Looking back to Jesus’ example to back up or explain the premise
  3. Applying Jesus’ example to the present
  4. Pointing to the future – death and resurrection

With that in mind, now read verses 2-4.

When darkness veils his lovely face, I rest on his unchanging grace;
In ev’ry high and stormy gale, My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand… etc.

His oath, his covenant, his blood, Support me  in the ‘whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand… etc.

When he shall come with trumpet sound, O may I then in him be found,
Dressed in his righteousness alone, Faultless to stand before the throne.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand… etc.

The same pattern is found in both hymns.  Yes, the first was written especially for (and about) children, and the second is clearly more “grown-up” in its word choice, language, and range of biblical allusion and reference, but both hymns are solid expositions of the Christian faith.

A Psalm & A Hymn

Psalm 90 begins with the simple but heartfelt words

Lord, you have been our refuge
from one generation to another.

This is captured and paraphrased in a famous and beloved hymn:

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home;

Under the shadow of thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure.

Yes, O God our help in ages past is a hymn that was written to paraphrase and reflect upon Psalm 90.  It was written by Isaac Watts in 1719, and many of his hymns are re-workings of biblical psalms.  Let’s see how more of this hymn teases out layers of meaning from Psalm 90.

Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting thou art God,
To endless years the same.

This approximates verse 2 of the psalm:

Before the mountains were brought forth, or the earth and the world were made,
you are God from everlasting, and world without end.

The ancient helping power of God traced through the generation of his saints in the first verse of the psalm and first two stanzas of the hymn is here found all the in the very Days of Creation.  God has always been God, “world without end” or “from ages of ages”.  Before the aeon of time itself, God was the same God we now know and love.

The next stanza in our hymnal reads thus:

A thousand ages in thy sight
Are like an evening gone,
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.

This matches verses 4 & 5 of the Psalm:

For a thousand years in your sight are as yesterday,
even as a day that is past.

You scatter them them as a night-watch that comes quickly to an end;
they are even as a dream and fade away.

Verses 6 & 7 also provides more context and application of this concept of God’s timelessness:

They are like the grass, which in the morning is green,
but in the evening is dried up and withered.

For we consume away in your displeasure
and are afraid at your wrathful indignation.

The eternity of God causes us to reflect upon our mortality, and our insignificance in comparison with Him.  The days of our lives compared to his eternity is like comparing our long lives with the brief life of grass in the desert climes – just one hot day can dry and wither it away.

This leads to the next stanza in the hymn.

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

Verse 7 of Psalm 90, above, and also verse 10, here, both play into that stanza.

The days of our life are seventy years, and though some be so strong that they come to eighty years,
yet is their span but labor and sorrow; so soon it passes away, and we are gone.

The following verses of the Psalm continue on that meditation: we must learn to “number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” which, we know from the scriptures, is the fear of the Lord.  The fear of the Lord has also been described in the psalm, especially in verses 7, 8, 9, and 11.  It doesn’t feed into Isaac Watts’ hymn too directly, but it’s an important piece of context to keep in mind as we sing.

The hymn ends with a partial repetition of the beginning, but a slightly different petition.

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be thou our guide while life shall last,
And our eternal home.

This matches the tone of Psalm 90 in its final few verses, which step back from the language of fear and the shortness of life, and settle upon prayers for comfort.  The Psalm does not overtly return to the language and imagery of God as our refuge or help in ages past, nor of being our home or shelter, but it the hymn and the psalm do wrap up with the same tone or mood.  Thus the hymn is an encapsulation of Psalm 90 in miniature, pulling out some major themes and leaving only hints of others.  It’s no substitute for praying the psalm, of course, but it is a wonderful point of entry.

 

This reflection was originally written for Grace Anglican Church and published on leorningcnihtes boc.

An Ascension Hymn: Crown him with many crowns

Last year we looked at the song See the conqueror mounts in triumph, so let’s look at a different one today.

Crown him with many crowns,
The Lamb upon the throne;
Hark! how the heav’nly anthem drowns
All music but its own;
Awake, my soul, and sing
Of him who died for thee,
And hail him as thy matchless King
Thro’ all eternity.

This stanza is steeped in imagery primarily from the book of the Revelation.  The lamb (that was slain) upon a throne, thousands of worshipers singing in unison through all eternity… some pretty grand and epic descriptions adorn that book and this verse of the hymn.

Each of the following verses of the hymn explore a different epithet for Christ.

Crown him the Son of God
Before the worlds began…

This is paired with Crown him the Son of Man, giving us a summary of orthodox christology: Jesus is a one person with two natures in their entirety, fully God and fully man.

Crown him the Lord of life,
Who triumphed o’er the grave

This is where the Ascension gets mentioned – His glories now we sing, Who died and rose on high… This is all part of the joyful proclamation of his victory over death itself.

Crown him of lords the Lord,
Who over all doth reign

This is the hardest to sing because we’re used to the phrase “the Lord of lords” but it’s switched around a bit.  The meaning is the same, though: his kingship extends over all creation because he is the incarnate Word who now lives in realms of light.

Crown him the Lord of heav’n,
Enthroned in worlds above;
Crown him the King, to whom is giv’n
The wondrous name of Love.
Crown him with many crowns,
As throne before him fall;
Crown him, ye kings, with many crowns,
For he is King of all.

There are other verses and versions out there, but this should suffice to give one a picture of what this hymn is doing.

One curiosity about these lyrics that is worth mentioning, however, is the fact that this is not a prayer.  Most old hymns are, but this one is not.  It speaks of Christ in the third person – crown him.  From a lyrical perspective this is a devotional hymn; the singer is addressing a human audience, one’s fellow worshipers, one’s own soul.  If you are appointing this song for a worship service, take this fact into account.  It would make a good hymn of response (like to a reading, or an anthem after a sermon or something else), but doesn’t strictly fit the bill for a hymn of praise or adoration, as it never directly addresses God himself.  This hymn exhorts the hearers to extol God, rather than actually extols God outright. Obviously it praises God most highly by implication, but it’s important to be honest about the function and content of the words we sing.

Anyway, sung to the tune DIADEMATA, this is an unforgettable hymn, unabashed to kneel before Jesus and afford him the fullness of fealty that our earthly images can muster.

Ascension Day – Antecommunion

For Ascension Day under the COVID-19 closure, I thought it would be nice to try something different.  Please forgive the box of kid’s toys in the background, and my hair’s a bit of a mess (I’m taking advantage of social distancing to regrow my hair into a ponytail while nobody has to look at it).  This is a reflection of the simple reality that worshiping at home can be difficult.  Nevertheless, whatever the challenges, the prayers of the Church never cease!

If you want a generic outline for Antecommunion, you can view or download one here: Antecommunion leaflet

The hymn I sang after the Peace (in the place of the Offertory) is See the conqueror mounts in triumph, #151 in the Book of Common Praise 2017.

A contemporary Alleluia Hymn

As I have written at greater length before, one of the best things about the new hymnal, Book of Common Praise 2017, is that it includes several contemporary songs of substance.  It is all too easy for fans of classic hymns to get caught up with hand-wringing over the lack of quality of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) and miss the gems amidst the mire.  Yet it is the duty of good hymnals to act as filters, gathering up the best of each generation for preservation for its successors.

One such hymn of praise to Jesus is #470 in the new hymnal. You can listen to a version of it on YouTube, if you’re not familiar with it.  This recording is fine, although a bit fast for my personal take on it.  It begins with the refrain that will also be repeated between each verse:

Alleluia, alleluia, Give thanks to the risen Lord.
Alleluia, alleluia, Give praise to his name.

Very simple, short, and succinct.  It could be an antiphon for a psalm.  In fact, that’s exactly how it’s functioning in this song – a short refrain is an antiphon.  The close repetition of ideas – give thanks to the risen Lord and give praise to his name – is also very psalm-like.  This is an example of synonymous parallelism, in which the the two lines of a verse express the same idea with different words.

The verses, if you look at them in sequence, also follow some simple-but-significant patterns reminiscent of the liturgy.

  1. Jesus is Lord of all the earth.
    He is the King of creation.
  2. Spread the good news o’er all the earth:
    Jesus has died and has risen.
  3. We have been crucified with Christ.
    Now we shall live forever.
  4. Come, let us praise the living God,
    Joyfully sing to our Savior.

Verses 1 & 2, and then 3 & 4, each form a sort of call and response pair.  Verse 1 is theological statement: Jesus is Lord and King.  Verse 2 responds: spread the good news.  Then verse 3 gives another theological statement: we have been crucified with him and shall live forever.  Verse 4 responds: let us praise and sing.  This call-and-response movement is a pattern that shows up all over the liturgy.  We hear opening sentences of scripture and a bid to confess our sins, and then we respond with actual confession.  We hear a lesson from the Scriptures and we respond with a Psalm or other music.  He hear the saving work of Christ on the Cross rehearsed in the beginning of the Prayers of Consecration, and then we respond by offering ourselves, our souls and bodies, as a living sacrifice.

So this little song from the 1970’s is nicely influenced by the liturgical tradition of worship and meshes well within a worship service.  I don’t know the denominational affiliation of the writer-composer, Donald Fishel, but the widespread adoption of this song across many traditional boundaries is testament to its tenacity as a quality song of praise.

 

Learning the Daily Office – part 12 of 12

Well, you’re a regular at the Daily Office, now, that’s awesome.  You want to pray more?  Even more awesome!

Step One: Pray a Psalm followed by the Lord’s Prayer.
Step Two: Add a Scripture Reading
Step Three: Add more Psalms and Lessons
Step Four: Add the Apostles’ Creed
Step Five: Add Canticles
Step Six: Add the Confession
Step Seven: Add some Prayers
Step Eight: Add the Invitatory
Step Nine: Add the Collect of the Day
Step Ten: Add the Closing Prayers
Step Eleven: Supplement it with Occasional Prayers

Step Twelve: Supplement it with Hymnody

After reading the three Collects and Prayers, and before the closing sequence of prayers, there is a line where further prayers are invited.  It also notes that an anthem may be sung.  This is where you can begin to transform “the Daily Office” into “the Choral Service”, or Evening Prayer to “Evensong”!

Any Anglican Hymnal worth its salt has a section for Morning Hymns and a section for Evening Hymns, and those are the perfect places to start when it comes to adding music to the Daily Office.  Like the Collects for each day of the week, these hymns pay particular attention to the time of day, drawing beautiful connections between “natural time” and “sacred time”.  You may also find the hymns for each season of the church calendar to be nice points of connection between your recitation of the Office and the celebration of Holy Communion on Sundays.  If you want to think big, and look at how to sing the whole hymnal in a year, I’ve got you covered!

The simplest places to add hymnody to the Daily Office are three: the aforementioned Anthem towards the end of both Morning and Evening Prayer, and the Phos hilaron, which can be substituted for any hymn.  After that you could consider where to insert additional hymns – perhaps at the very beginning or end.  Technically even the Canticles can be substituted out for hymns, but that would be less desirable from a traditional standpoint.

Good Anglican hymnals also usually include a setting or two of “The Choral Service”, which sets some of the prayers of the Daily Office to chant.  If you are so inclined, you could pick up a hymnal or similar book, and do that too.

With music and additional prayers, the Daily Office can take up to half an hour.  This can be difficult to sustain in this busy world, but I love it when I have the time and discipline to make that happen!  Just remember that supplements are supplements, not requirements.  You may not always be able to make use of every option to expand the Daily Office, and sometimes will have to make use of the rubrics to reduce and truncate them instead.  The goal, as I’ve said throughout this series, is consistency.  Not every day will see you feeling or acting up to snuff, and that’s alright.  The point is that you have a stable life of prayer and worship such that, when things go awry for a little while, you’re not thrown completely off the spiritual track.  Along those lines, the Daily Office is unbeatable.  Godspeed!

Hymn: Cross of Jesus, cross of sorrow

Passiontide doesn’t start, technically, until the 5th Sunday in Lent, commonly called Passion Sunday, but we’re going to look at a passiontide hymn today.

Cross of Jesus, cross of sorrow,
Where the blood of Christ was shed,
Perfect man on thee was tortured,
Perfect God on thee has bled.

This is a phenomenally theological opening for a piece of music.  The mystery of the incarnation is explored, wherein we see Jesus as fully God and fully man.  The cross, particularly, is his place of suffering and sorrow.  One may wish to say that Jesus technically suffered only with respect to his human nature, but the hypostatic union (or the perfect conjoining of divinity and humanity in his singular person) is such that all the experiences of Jesus, be they human or divine, are fully shared in both natures.  Thus we are perfectly right in saying that God bled on the Cross.

Here the King of all the ages,
Throned in light ‘ere worlds could be,
Robed in mortal flesh, is dying,
Crucified by sin for me.

The scope of that first scene on the cross is widened massively in both directions through time.  First it points backwards into eternity past, wherein we see the eternal reign of God and the sharing in power and light that the Son has always had with the Father.  And then it points forward from the cross to you and me; we are recipients of the grace of that death.  He died for the sins of real people, not just for some abstract cause, however noble.

O mysterious condescending!
O abandonment sublime!
Very God himself is bearing
All the sufferings of time.

This third stanza just takes a moment to reflect in wonder on what has thus far been said.  After all, if Jesus was just God and not man, such suffering would be abstract, meaningless, even a mockery of real human suffering.  And if Jesus was only man and not God, the gravity of his condescension and abandonment of divine rights would be nullified.  The cross is only significant because the God-Man himself died there.

Evermore, for human failure,
By his passion we can plead;
God has taken mortal anguish;
Surely he will know our need.

Now we get a more explicit application, or lesson, from the theological assertions and emotional outpouring of this hymn.  Because Christ has suffered and died specifically for the sins of the whole world, we can plead for the forgiveness of all our sins based squarely and solely upon that death.  Not only can we be sure it is a valid and sufficient sacrifice for our sins (because Jesus is God), but we can also be sure that God is sympathetic to our plight (because Jesus is man).

Once the Lord of brilliant seraphs
Winged with love to do his will,
Now the scorn of all his creatures,
And the aim of ev’ry ill.

Up in heav’n, sublimest glory
Circled round him from the first,
But the earth finds none to serve him,
None to quench his raging thirst.

This is an unusual turn for a hymn.  Normally the “application” verse that turns to the self is the last one.  And four verses is a pretty standard length, at that.  But instead we get these 5th and 6th verses after, in which we meditate further on the glory of Christ and his undeserved death.  Both of these stanzas contrast the eternal glory he enjoys in heaven with the scorn and abuse he received on earth.

The hymn ends with a verbatim repeat of verse 1.  The structure of the 7 stanzas are thus somewhat chiastic:

1: Cross & hypostatic union
– 2 & 3: meditations on the mystery of Christ’s two natures
– – 4: Application
– 5 & 6: meditations on how Christ is treated in these two realms
7: Cross & hypostatic union

An Evening Hymn for Healing

Before church worship service cancellations were confirmed, I had a hymn in mind to bring to my congregation to sing this weekend.  It’s #249 in The Book of Common Praise 2017.  Although it’s in the Evening section, I was going to appoint it for Sunday morning because of its excellent treatment of a subject often under-represented in classic hymnody: healing.  Let’s check it out.

At even, when the sun was set,
The sick, O Lord, around thee lay.
O in what diverse pains they met;
O with what joy they went away!

It begins, you can see, with an acknowledgement of the many biblical stories of miraculous healing performed by our Lord Jesus.  It isn’t spiritualized into the healing of the sin-sick soul, but actually about physical healings, which is (I think) a rarity.

Once more ’tis eventide, and we,
Oppressed with various ills, draw near.
What if thy form we cannot see?
We know and feel that thou art here.

O Savior Christ, our woes dispel,
For some are sick, and some are sad,
And some have never loved thee well,
And some have lost the love they had.

The fact that it is now evening is pretty irrelevant to the prayer of the song, really.  It’s just there to maintain a poetic continuity between the first two stanzas.  What we’re tackling here, primarily, is the acknowledgement and offering of our various forms of sickness (physical, emotional, spiritual) and the prayer for Christ to dispel such woes from us.  The statement that we “know and feel” God’s nearness perhaps betrays the 19th century romanticism (compared to the more-subdued-emotions lyrics of the previous two centuries), but it’s not over the top by any stretch.

The next verse narrows in on our spiritual condition as fallen human beings:

And none, O Lord, have perfect rest,
For none are wholly free from sin;
And they who fain would love thee best
Are conscious most of wrong within.

This is a difficult truth to admit – those who most truly and earnestly love God are the most aware of their sinfulness and unworthiness before him.  It is, therefore, revealing of an imperfect (or even false) love when someone is apparently on fire for Jesus but has little sense of the gravity of his or her own sin.

The final two verses turn the focus away from us and onto Christ our Lord.

O Savior Christ, thou too art man;
Thou hast been troubled, tempted, tried;
Thy kind but searching glance can scan
The very wounds that shame would hide.

Thy touch has still its healing pow’r;
No word from thee can fruitless fall;
Hear, in this solemn evening hour,
And in thy mercy heal us all.  Amen.

Never put Jesus’ humanity in the past tense; his incarnation is not one-and-done, but a union that lasts into eternity.  That’s how he is our Great High Priest, as the epistle to the Hebrews explains in detail.  And yet, as God, he sees and knows all our wounds and sins.  He can still heal; his word never returns to him empty (cf. Isaiah 55:11).

This is, for sure, a very good song to bring to our attention during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Singing of St. Paul’s Conversion

January 25th is one of the holy days in the Church year, and a momentous event in the early years of Christianity: the conversion of St. Paul.

Last year I wrote a note about the Collect of the Day which you’re welcome to peruse.

Today I thought I’d highlight a hymn verse appropriate for today, from Horatio Nelson’s 1864 fill-in-the-blank hymn, From all thy saints in warfare.

Praise for the light from heaven,
Praise for the voice of awe,
Praise for the glorious vision
the persecutor saw.
Thee, Lord, for his conversion,
we glorify today;
So lighten all our darkness
With thy true Spirit’s ray.

What we have here is such wonderful Epiphany language – the star the Magi followed, the light to lighten the Gentiles, the light from heaven that blinded St. Paul before his conversion and until his baptism.  The light of the Gospel lightens our darkness, it made St. Paul (and us) truly see.

Think on that today; what has the Light of the World done unto you?