Year B – Easter 3 – See, the Conqueror Mounts in Triumph

Ever think to yourself, “The Triumphal Entry really wasn’t that triumphant”?  You’d be right, it kind of wasn’t.  Many people saw Jesus at that time as the King that He is, but many didn’t.  But there’s another “entry” that was triumphant:  when Jesus ascended into Heaven.  This Sunday we’ll be singing “See, the Conqueror Mounts in Triumph.”  It was written by an English pastor in the 1800s.  This pastor also wrote books and the lyrics of this song reflect his knowledge of literature.

We sing right away of Jesus’ ascension being triumphant and royal.  The picture is of Him on a chariot, coming on the clouds with the angels singing into heaven to receive dominion, glory, and a kingdom as Daniel 7 says.  Because of His death on the cross and His resurrection, we sing in the second verse, He has defeated Satan and “spoiled His foes.”

But one of the fun things about the Bible is how characters in the Old Testament are like Jesus.  This hymn mentions some in the last 3 verses:

Enoch, Aaron, Joshua, and Elijah

Enoch was like Jesus because he didn’t die but was so righteous that God took Him up.

Aaron was like Jesus because he was the High Priest who went into the tabernacle to perform forgiveness of sins for the people.

Joshua was like Jesus because he led the people into the Promised Land just like Jesus does for His people.

Elijah was like Jesus because he was a prophet who gave a “double portion” of his spirit to his successor, as Jesus gives us His Spirit.

Because of Jesus, the final verse tells us, we are defended by Him since He is King.  And because He ascended into Heaven, we are reminded that we will, too, someday.

Christ’s truly Triumphal Entry was into Heaven after His earthly work was done!


All Glory, Laud, and Honor

All Glory, Laud, and Honor
To Thee, Redeemer, King,
To Whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas ring.

Thou art the King of Israel,
Thou David’s royal Son,
Who in the Lord’s Name comest,
The King and Blessed One.

The company of angels
Are praising Thee on High,
And mortal men and all things
Created make reply.

The people of the Hebrews
With palms before Thee went;
Our prayer and praise and anthems
Before Thee we present.

To Thee, before Thy passion,
They sang their hymns of praise;
To Thee, now high exalted,
Our melody we raise.

Thou didst accept their praises;
Accept the prayers we bring,
Who in all good delightest,
Thou good and gracious King.

Theodulph, Bishop of Orleans, always knew who was really in charge.  At one time a influential church leader in Charlemagne’s court, directing, writing and educating for the imperial state; at the end of his life he found himself locked in a monastery.  Charlemagne’s son, Louis the Pious did not trust the bishop once the king died.  It was during his years at the monastery, when earthy kings failed him, Theodulph wrote his hymn of praise to our heavenly King.  Originally in Latin, John Neale translated the English version we sing today.

Based on the Gospel accounts of the Triumphant entry.  The hymn remains a Palm Sunday processional after more than a millennium.  These words reflect the shouts and cheers of praises sung so long ago.  But, these praises came just before his death… as Christ, the royal Son of David entered Jerusalem two thousand years ago.  This Sunday we will join the angels, singing these praises in the presence of our resurrected Christ.

As Lent draws to a close, we should all be more aware of our dependence upon God.  But this hymn calls us to show great respect and gratitude for who God is and what He has done for us.   We can be as two faced and half-hearted as those who shouted two thousand years ago; and yet He has chosen to graciously acceptance our praises.


Year B – Epiphany 5 – Gloria in Excelsis

Glory be to God on high
And on earth peace, goodwill towards men,

We praise thee, we bless thee, we worship thee,
we glorify thee, we give thanks to thee for thy great glory.

O Lord God, heavenly King,
God the Father Almighty.

O Lord, the only-begotten Son, Jesu Christ;
O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
that takest away the sins of the world,
have mercy upon us.
Thou that takest away the sins of the world,
receive our prayer.
Thou that sittest at the right hand of God the Father,
have mercy upon us.

For thou only art holy;
thou only art the Lord;
thou only, O Christ,
with the Holy Ghost,
art most high
in the glory of God the Father.

Summary – This is a very ancient hymn, perhaps one of the oldest known to the Church.  This week, it will be sung during communion which is a special treat and is especially fitting given its great content and sweet, mystic melody.  It opens with the words that God, through His angel, spoke to shepherds, the lowliest, commonest people within walking distance of Christ’s birthplace.  This is what we are called to remember during the season of Epiphany.  This is what God did when He sent His Son to us.  Before that moment, the great patriarch Jacob had been the only one to see the angels ascending and descending, but outside Bethlehem that night, humble shepherds were treated to this vision as well.  It is easy to imagine while singing the notes of this ancient hymn which radiate up and down, toward and from Heaven – the praise of glory ascending up to God and the benediction of peace and goodwill descending to all the people on earth.

Insight – Imagine picking up a beautiful antique book in a rummage sale and opening the front cover to find the autographs of Christopher Columbus, George Washington, C.S. Lewis, and Michael Jordan.  That would be an incredibly special book because of all the hands that had held it before yours and left their mark.  The Gloria hymn is like that.  It dates back to the first centuries of the Church’s life.  The paper trail begins around the 300’s when a French Bishop named Hilary translated it from Greek into Latin for the Western Church.  Before that, it had been used in the morning prayer service of the Eastern churches [and still is today].  Hilary was known as the “Hammer of the Arians” because of his preaching that Christ was fully God.  Like his more-famous contemporary, Athanasius, he was a defender of this great truth and suffered sharp times of persecution because of it.  It quickly became a favorite of Christians everywhere.  The version we sing was translated from the Latin by a man named Nicholas Decius, who was a Reformer along side Martin Luther in Germany in the 1500s.

It is strongly trinitarian with particular focus on Christ, Who ‘only is the Lord’ and along with the Holy Ghost is the one, only holy, God of glory.  The great thing about this song is that it doesn’t merely lay this theology out in dry textbook fashion.  It draws us into praise to the Father and prayer to the Son, acknowledging the work He does for us now, in Heaven, every day, as our Prayer advocate, sitting right there next to the Father.  Now that is certainly an uplifting thought.  In some of his writing St Augustine referred to the work of Bishop Hilary by using the phrase “sanctus hilarius”.  And that is exactly how we should sing this song and approach the Lord’s table, with holy joyfulness.

Child Catechism – Who takes away the sins of the world?  Jesus, the Lamb of God.

Discussion – In this hymn, we praise the Father and pray directly to the Son.  When we pray, which persons of the Trinity should we address?  What examples and guidance do we have in Scripture?

Year B – Epiphany 4 – Arise and Shine in Splendor

Has the electricity ever gone out at your house at night?  What did you do?  You probably have some candles and flashlights in a closet for these times.  But what happens until you find them?  Someone will grope around, trying not to trip over the dog or any furniture, and when he finds the light and turns it on, everyone gathers around it so they can see.  And isn’t it interesting how you can see the light from one little candle the whole way across your house?

When we sing “Arise and Shine in Splendor” this Sunday, think about light.  The first verse tells us that light has come into the world.  The light is clearly Jesus, the Light of the World!  The second verse tells us that the Light came for a special people, the Church.  Without that light, the earth is dark, hopeless, and gloomy.  The third verse tells us that though the Light came at first to one specific people and one specific place (Israel), it will go out to the very ends of the earth and people will be drawn to it.  Verse four tells us that not only people, but whole nations and Kings will come to the Light!  Finally, the last verse tells us that the Light awakens the world to the Church, and the Church to the world.

During this season of Epiphany, Light is the main subject.  We celebrate Jesus coming to the world to save His people.  We know that the news of His salvation will go the whole way around the world and people, nations, and kings will accept Jesus.  As a result of Jesus’ coming, people turn to Him and their hearts are filled with gladness which overflows in grateful service for the Light here in the world.

When you sing this song, sing loudly since you know that the Light has come to you and be thankful!

Year B – Epiphany 3 – My Song of Love Unknown

My Song is Love Unknown

It is always exciting to sing songs that have been enjoyed by Christians over centuries.  This beautiful example is over three hundred years old!  It comes from England, from the pen of an Anglican minister who ministered for a time at All Saints’ Church (!) in Sudbury.  The beauty of the hymn’s words is in its poetic descriptions of our Lord compared to us.  The focus is on the way in which our natures are “unloveable” because of sin and yet our Savior’s love for us despite this fact.

The first verse explains the goal of Christ’s work:  “love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be.”  We were at one time separate from Christ, without hope and without God in the world (Eph 2:12).  Now as we present our bodies as living sacrifices, we become holy and pleasing to God and, indeed, lovely (Romans 12:1).  The verse also asks the question: who are we that Jesus should take for our sake “frail flesh and die”?  It is certainly not for anything we have done, or He would not have done so!

Some of the other  major points and themes of the song are great examples of poetry about an aspect of Christ’s passion.  “Sometimes they strew His way” begins verse 3, alluding to the triumphal entry found in Matthew 21, “then ‘Crucify!’ is all their breath, and for His death they thirst and cry” (verse 3).  In context of Christ’s great love for the loveless, this story of His work for us is all the more striking: humankind, and here the Jews in particular, made His decision to be obedient to death (Phil 2:8) a difficult one!  Jerusalem’s people’s hypocritical actions in praising Jesus one moment and cursing and calling for His death the next shows just how “loveless” humanity is.  Verse 4 makes this point further, that He who “made the lame to run” and “gave the blind their sight” was still offensive to men.  He who truly did no wrong and knew no sin, was made to be sin for us, His people (2 Cor 5:21).

Verses 5 and 6 give us more to think about.  Pointing at those same people who crucified Christ, verse 5 says, “A murderer they save, the Prince of Life they slay,” in allusion to the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus in Matthew 27.  This would be another point where Jesus could have said, “These people are ridiculous, I’m done with this;” and yet as we sing, He went cheerfully “to suffering…that He His foes from thence might free” (verse 5). Again with verse 6, we see Jesus who had no earthly home nor even His own tomb to be buried in “but what a stranger gave” (verse 6).  And all that even though “heav’n was His home” and “the tomb” really belonged to us, He took the trade and was laid in the tomb that should have been ours.

This is why we sing: “No story so divine!  Never was love, dear King, never was grief like Thine” (verse 7).  This is our Friend, He who bore all these things for our sake, and whose love we could write across the sky and still not have room to write it all.  This is a great reason to sing loudly this Lord’s Day!

Year B – Epiphany 2 – Luther’s We All Believe in One True God

On the second Sunday of Epiphany we will sing, “We all Believe in One True God” is a powerful hymn which is a version of the Apostles Creed by Martin Luther, written in 1524. Following the outline of the Creed, the first verse is about the Father, the second about the Son, and the third, the Holy Spirit.

The music is based on a Latin chant for the Creed that dates back to the 1300s. Johann Walter (Blanckenmüller) (1496-1570) was a Lutheran composer and poet who wrote the expanded music in this hymn and perhaps harmonized this musical version of the Creed. Walter has the privilege of being the first editor of the first Protestant hymnal (1524) with a foreword by Luther, himself. Luther in the preface of this hymnal explains: “These songs were arranged in four parts to give the young – who should at any rate be trained in music and other fine arts – something to wean them away from love ballads and carnal songs and teach them something of value in their place.” This seems relevant to our day, as well.

As we sing this marvelous hymn in our own congregation, I always feel a sense of great unity, which I take to be the very point of the hymn. Not only because the Creed was to be the basic profession of all Christians and has been since the earliest days of the Church, but the music of Walter beautifully supports this as the first line is sung in unison, then breaks off into harmony: “We all believe in one true God” or “We all believe in Jesus Christ” or “We all confess the Holy Ghost.”

Can you sing the first verse by memory?

We all believe in one true God,
Who created earth and heaven,
The Father, who to us in love
Hath the right of children given.
He both soul and body feedeth,
All we need He doth provide us;
through all snares and perils leads us,

watching that no harm betide us.

He cares for us by day and night;

all things are governed by His might.