The hymns for this week are extraordinary! (Subscribers to my blog who wish to see and hear the YouTube videos of these hymns will need to click on the title of the blog. Then you will be taken to the website where you can see and hear these glorious hymns.)
The Processional is Thy Strong Word. This hymn is so strong that it is ordinarily placed as the Hymn of the Day (which right away gives you as idea of how powerful the Hymn of the Day will have to be to follow this one!) This hymn was written by Martin Franzmann, the chairman of the department of exegetical theology at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. This hymn takes the idea of light, beginning with creation, and carries it all the way to heaven as we worship the Triune God with all the company of Heaven in the splendor of God’s glory. I never ever make it through this hymn. This hymn is glorious!
In the Prayer of the Day we pray: “Almighty and everlasting God, who governs all things in heaven and on earth, mercifully hear the prayers of Your people and grant us Your peace through all our days; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
In the lessons for this week we continue exploring the recurring Epiphany themes: light, enlightenment, God’s Revelation of who Jesus Christ is, and the Church’s Proclamation of who Jesus Christ is. The lessons for this week are Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-10, 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 and John 1:29-42a. In the Isaiah lesson we overhear God telling the Suffering Servant Messiah “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” It is as if the prophet were being allowed to overhear a conversation between God the Father and God the Son, taking place in Gethsemane on Maundy Thursday. The Suffering Servant is so discouraged! He feels like an utter failure, but still the Servant is trusting his God. And then the prophet continues: Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, the servant of rulers: “I will make you as a light for the nations that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth. … Kings shall see and arise; princes and they shall prostrate themselves; because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
In the lesson from the Psalms, we sing “Great things are they that You have done, O Lord my God! how great Your wonders and Your plans for us! there is none who can be compared with You. Oh, that I could make them known and tell them! but they are more than I can count.” Here we see the important Epiphany themes of God’s Revelation and the Church’s Proclamation.
The 1 Corinthians lesson the Christians at Corinth are reminded of how greatly they have been empowered to speak of all that God has done for them in Jesus Christ. Here again we hear of how important it is that the Church proclaim Jesus Christ.
But in the Gospel lesson, we see John the Baptist pointing at Jesus and saying “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John the Baptist is doing what the whole church has been called to do: point beyond ourselves to The Lamb of God. The Church is called to “bear witness that Jesus is the Son of God”, just like John the Baptist, who sends two of his own disciples after Jesus. These two were Andrew (the first evangelist) and John (the beloved disciple.) Jesus turned to them and asked “What are you seeking?” Of all the answers they could have given, they reply, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Jesus answers, “Come and see” and these two of John-the-Baptist’s disciples follow Him from then on. And, oh the people who have been brought to Jesus by these two!
Since the most important hymn of the entire worship service is supposed to be The Hymn of the Day, after Thy Strong Word you have to be asking “On a scale of weighty hymns, what hymn could possibly weigh more theologically, symbolically and liturgically than Thy Strong Word?” Which brings us to today’s Hymn of the Day: O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High. This ancient hymn was written by Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471 A.D.). He was a German medieval Christian monk and the author of Imitation of Christ, one of the best known books on Christian devotion. He was also the author of “many spiritual treatises which rise to sublime heights of mysticism, numerous prayers of sweet devotion, and many Latin hymns.”In 1494, his prior wrote the publisher of the first edition of Thomas à Kempis’ works: “Nothing more holy, nothing more honorable, nothing more religious, nothing … more profitable for the Christian commonweal can you ever do than make known these works of Thomas à Kempis.” He is also very, very quotable: “Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.” “Wherever you go, there you are.” “A wise lover values not so much the gift of the lover as the love of the giver.” “Everywhere I have sought peace and not found it, except in a corner with a book.” “At the Day of Judgment we will not be asked what we have read but what we have done.” “Jesus has now many lovers of the heavenly kingdom but few bearers of His cross.” “Grant me prudently to avoid him that flatters me, and to endure patiently him that contradicts me.” “In the Cross is salvation; in the Cross is life; in the Cross is protection against our enemies; in the Cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness; in the Cross is strength of mind; in the Cross is joy of spirit; in the Cross is excellence of virtue; in the Cross is perfection of holiness. There is no salvation of soul nor hope of eternal life, save in the Cross.” He is the author of O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High:
The Distribution Hymn for this Sunday is Now the Silence / Then the Glory. The story behind this hymn is that in 1968, when Jaroslav Vajda was editing This Day magazine, he found himself having to fill a blank page in the magazine before the copy went to the printer three days later. Vajda decided he would fill the page himself. For years Vajda had wanted to write a hymn that would capture the essence of Psalm 122:1 “I was glad when they said unto me ‘Let us go up to the house of the Lord’.” What about worship makes us glad? “Now the silence, Now the peace, Now the empty hands uplifted, Now the kneeling, Now the plea, Now the Father’s arms in welcome, Now the hearing, Now the pow’r, Now the vessel brimmed for pouring, Now the Body, Now the Blood, Now the joyful celebration, Now the wedding, Now the songs, Now the heart forgiven leaping, Now the Spirit’s visitation, Now the Son’s epiphany, Now the Father’s blessing, Now, Now, Now” // So this first verse really should be used as a Processional Hymn — except it is too short. Some years later Vajda wrote a second verse. However, this second verse is not about “coming to church”; it’s about entering our Father’s house in Heaven, where we will adore Him together with the angels and martyrs: “Then the glory, Then the rest, Then the Sabbath peace unbroken, Then the garden, Then the throne, Then the crystal river flowing, Then the splendor, Then the life, Then the new creation singing, Then the marriage, Then the love, Then the feast of joy unending, Then the knowing, Then the light, Then the ultimate adventure, Then the Spirit’s harvest gathered, Then the Lamb in majesty, Then the Father’s Amen, Then, Then, Then.” Yes I guess so; I WAS glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go up to the house of the Lord.’ And this “marriage” of worship on earth and worship in Heaven makes this hymn perfect for a Distribution Hymn.
The Recessional Hymn is Charles Wesley’s wonderful Christ Whose Glory Fills the Skies. This song is theologically concise, coherent and clear. Verse 1 praises Christ as the source of all light and joy, and calls on Him to shine in our hearts. Verse 2 laments that without Christ, there is only darkness and joylessness. Verse 3 prays, Lord, fill me with Your light. Christ, whose glory fills the skies, Christ, the true and only light, Sun of righteousness, arise, triumph o’er the shades of night; Dayspring from on high, be near; Daystar in my heart appear. // Dark and cheerless is the morn unaccompanied by Thee; joyless is the day’s return, till Thy mercy’s beams I see, till they inward light impart, glad my eyes and warm my heart. // Visit then this soul of mine, pierce the gloom of sin and grief; fill me, Radiancy Divine, scatter all my unbelief; more and more Thyself display, shining to the perfect day.
What great lessons and hymns! Oh, the people who sat in darkness HAVE seen a great light. And this light just grew brighter and brighter as God revealed WHO is it who was born to redeem us all, and as those who recognized Him proclaimed Him to others: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Epiphany! Enlightenment! I can hardly wait to worship this God together with you!