Year C – Fourth Sunday after Epiphany – For Heav’n O Praise the Lord (Psalm 148)

Summary–Over the past month, our attention has focused on Godly men who used their talents for translating early writings into Christian Hymns.  This week, we shift our eyes from the translator to the tune writer.  Traditional Psalters, to include “The Book of Psalms for Singing, 1973” puts Psalm 148 to the tune, St. Catherine’s written by Horatio R. Palmer (1834-1097).  Mr. Palmer started his musical career at a very early age through persistent prodding from his father who conducted their local church choir.  The apple didn’t fall far from the tree in his case and from the early age of seven, Horatio fell in love with music.  He would eventually direct choirs of his own in Chicago and New York in addition to teaching and composing music.  Palmer was most well known for his leadership in the Church Choral Union, a federation of church choir singers from New York City drawn from more than 200 congregations.  One combined concert in Madison Square Garden featured nearly four thousand singers.  For Palmer, music was an instrument of praise to the God who created all things from nothing; his music praised the God who saved His own people from their sins.  How appropriate it is for the man whose life was centered on praising God to write the tune for this praise-filled psalm.
Insight–When you go to church, who is worshipping with you?   Your family is, of course, in the pew next to you.  Sitting behind you are your friends, neighbors, classmates, and teachers.  There in front of you is your pastor, your elders, and your deacons.  Is there anyone else worshipping with you each Lord’s day?  What about the congregation down the street?  Yes they are worshipping with you.  How about your Aunt on the other side of the state?  Yes, her too.  Anyone else?  Today’s psalm exhorts us to see how the Triune God is worshipped in every part of creation; from heaven above, from earth below and  from among His people, which the psalmist calls ‘O Israel’s race’.  Look at how each part of the psalm builds layer upon layer of praise to God.
The first two stanzas direct our attention heavenward to hear the angels praise in one accord.  The psalmist sees two entities he urges to praise God.  Angels sing His praises.  The sun, moon and stars praise Him.  No matter how God’s enemies try to hide our worship from the world, they can’t stop these heavenly bodies from praising their creator.  They are a constant presence, they are not hidden.  “Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Ps 19:4).
The third stanza calls earthly creatures to worship and praise their creator.  Watch the flow of thought in this psalm.  Not only do animals praise God, but all of creation does.  The psalmist begins with creatures found in the ocean depths, moves up to speak about lightning and hail, then the mountains and hills, trees and animals of all kinds worship God.
But praises don’t stop there.  The heavens declare God’s glory.  The earth picks up the praises and finally the fourth and fifth stanzas climax with us, those made in God’s image.  Not only are those immediately around you praising God, but all His church as one body are shouting forth His praises.
Do you see this picture?  You are not alone in your small church each Sunday.  The sun joins in.  The clouds add their praise.  Trees add to the chorus and wind adds its melody.  Each church on your block joins together, all in its way praising God who deserves all praise.  And this praise will increase until the glory of God covers the earth, as the waters cover the sea.  What a privilege it is to add your voice to this choir of praise.  Sing psalm 148 loudly, God will hear you even if those mountains are getting a bit loud.  He will hear your praises.
From heav’n O praise the Lord;
Ye heights, His glory raise.
All angels praise accord;
Let all His host give praise.
Praise Him on high, Sun, moon and star,
Sun, moon and star, Ye heav’ns afair
And cloudy sky.
Yea, let them glorious make;
Jehovah’s matchless name;
For when the word He spake
They into being came.
And from that place where fixed they be,
Where fixed they be, by his decree
They cannot pass.
From earth O praise the Lord,
Ye deep and all below;
Wild winds that do His word,
Ye Clouds, fire, hail and snow;
Ye mountains high, Ye cedars tall,
Ye cedars tall, beasts great and small,
And birds that fly
Let all the people praise,
And kings of every land;
Let all their voices raise
Who judge and give command.
By young and old, by maid and youth,
By maid and youth, His name in truth
should be extolled.
Jehovah’s name be praised;
Above the earth and sky.
For He His saints has raised
And set their power on high.
Him praise accord, O Israel’s race,
O Israel’s race, near to His grace.
Praise ye the Lord.
Contributed by Mike Fenimore

Year C – Transfiguration – Psalm 138

Summary-Psalm 138 in its metrical form comes from the Genevan Psalter which recently celebrated its 450th birthday just last year.  The Protestant Reformation brought many changes to how God was worshiped by His people.  For over a thousand years, church members could not understand the Bible as it was read to them in Latin.  Reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin worked tirelessly to translate the Bible into such languages as French and German, so that people could hear and understand for themselves what was being read each Lord’s day from the pulpit.  Another triumph of the Reformation was the inclusion of the congregation in singing the psalms.  They no longer needed trained choirs to hear the psalms chanted in Latin.  Now everyone could lift up their voices and praise God through the singing of the psalms in their own language.  This psalm, written in English, is a testimony to our reformed forebearers’ dedication in equiping us to lift up praises to God in music.  

Insight–Do you know the difference between a christian, and an atheist?  The answer can be summed up with one word–gratitude.  We see many people in the world who receive God’s blessings.  The Bible tells us that God showers these blessings from above on both the righteous and unrighteous.  The big difference between the two is not what they get, but how they respond.  Psalm 138 is a song written by David to help us respond rightly to our Heavenly Father in worship by saying thank you to Him.  King David commands us to thank God with all our hearts, to sing forth our praises, “because He loved us and is faithful to us” (v 2).  The word for love here is “hesed” or God’s covenant love.  David may have originally written this psalm in response to God’s covenant blessing promised to him in 2 Sam 7.  He may have written it for the many times that God saved David from his enemies.  Whatever the reason, this psalm repeatedly tells us to say, “thank you.”  We sing, “thank you”, as we are saved from our enemies.  We say, “thank you” when God delivers us from anger of our foes.  We say, “thank you” for everything that God provides, for His faithfulness to His promises, for his love.  He promises to be our covenant God.  As we sing this psalm of praise, give thanks to God that you can sing it in your own language.  It is indeed a blessing to be able to do so.

Contributed by Mike Fenimore

Year C – Third Sunday after Epiphany – Christ is Made the Sure Foundation

Summary–“Christ is Made the Sure Foundation” comes from one of England’s great hymn translators, John Mason Neale (1818-1866).  Although called to serve as a parish priest, chronic illness forced Neale to work as the warden of an almshouse, a charitable residence for the poor.    While serving in this capacity, he translated hundreds of ancient Latin, Greek and Russian texts into hymns for the Church of England.  Today’s text comes from a 7th century Latin poem on Ephesians 2:20-22.

Insight–We live in a world where many church denominations claim that they are the one true church.  Hundreds upon hundreds of churches fight for their particular teachings of the Bible, all claiming there’s as truth.  The Apostle Paul lived in a world of divisions as well.  But his divisions didn’t fall between Presbyterians and Methodists or Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox.  The divisions of his day fell between Jews and Gentiles.  Our hymn uses the teachings of Paul to argue against such divisions, both in his day and in ours.   Christ is the foundation, the chief cornerstone of the Church who reconciled the Jew and Gentile into one new and complete man.  The stone laid beneath the two walls which diverge at right angle from each other now binds both together and gives strength and cohesion to the whole.  In fact, by His death, he broke down the middle partition seperating the two walls.  The foundation stone which binds and unites the two walls has been laid.

Our hymn this week uses the picture of a temple, built on the foundation of Christ to exhort us to live together with other Christians as one building; one people of God.  There are so many people who love God but look and act differently than we do.  But if they put their trust in Christ then they are a part of the same building as we are.  They put their weight on Christ, their foundation, and so do we.  They take their direction from the cornerstone, and so do we.  Walls can’t work against each other if they are to remain standing.  We must see that all those who put their faith in Christ, who lean on His strength and follow His word are a part of His temple.  Sing loudly that Christ is our foundation, that He is binding us together as one.  He is doing this for His glory and that we will reign with Him forevermore. 

1 Christ is made the sure foundation,
Christ the head and cornerstone,
Chosen of the Lord and precious,
Binding all the church in one;
Holy Zion’s help forever,
And our confidence alone.

2 To this temple, where we call You,
Come, O Lord of Hosts, today;
With Your wonted lovingkindness
Hear Your people as they pray.
And Your fullest benediction
Shed within its walls alway.

3 Here bestow to all Your servants
What they ask of You to gain,
What they gain from You forever
With the blessèd to retain,
And hereafter in Your glory
Evermore with You to reign.

4 Laud and honor to the Father,
Laud and honor to the Son,
Laud and honor to the Spirit,
Ever Three and ever one;
One in might and one in glory
While unending ages run.

Contributed by Mike Fenimore

Year C – 2nd Sunday After the Epiphany – Of the Father’s Love Begotten

Summary–This week’s hymn, “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” was written during a time of great controversy in the history of the Christian Church.  In the 4th century, uproar ensued over the nature of Jesus.  Arius, a priest from Alexandria, argued that Jesus was not co-eternal with the father.  In other words,  since Jesus was begotten from the Father, he must have had a beginning.  God can’t have a beginning; therefore, Jesus is not God.  The debate raged across Christendom and grew so heated that the Emperor Constantine himself had to call a council of Church elders together in order to establish once and for all the Church’s official stance on the nature of the Trinity.   The council, held in Nicea, condemned Arius’s teaching, and later summazied Christian orthodoxy in the great Nicene Creed.

Marcus Aurelius C. Prudentius (348-410) respected judge who later became a monastic poet, wrote a series of poetic letters on his understanding of  the Trinity around the time of the Nicean Council.  “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” was translated and formed into a chant and later a metrical hymn from Prudentius’s writings. From the very first line, we sing that Christ is both human and divine, and rather than simply being made by God, he was “begotten” of the very same substance. With each stanza, we both affirm and align our faith with the broader faith of the Church, and we deny any belief that says that Christ is not fully divine. This hymn is thus a hymn of proclamation, calling us to sing out our faith – “every voice in concert ring, evermore and evermore!”

Insight–In a debate, words matter.  But what about individual letters?  The Arian controversy centered on a single little greek letter, the iota.  By removing this letter to the word, “homousious”, the council of Nicea made their point that Christ was not created from a similar substance from God the Father.  No, Christ is eternally begotten, not made and is of the SAME substance with the Father.  Take that letter out of the word and Christ is only a man like you and me.  Keep it in and He is God.  What an impact that a single letter can have.  It was so important that men died fighting to keep that letter in the word.  At one point, the Church leader Athanasius felt that the whole world was against him and his view of that one letter, but he fought on.  Blessed are we to have such leaders fight for that one letter.  Blessed are we to be able to sing with the Church that Christ is the Alpha and Omega, begotten of the Father and the source of all Creation.  Individual letters do matter.  The doctrine of the Trinity stands or falls on it.

1 Of the Father’s love begotten,
Ere the worlds began to be,
He the Alpha and Omega,
He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore!

2 Oh that ever-blessèd birthday,
When the Virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bare the Saviour of our race;
And that Child, the world’s Redeemer,
First displayed His sacred face,
Evermore and evermore!

3 Praise Him, O ye heaven of heavens!
Praise Him, angels in the height!
Every power and every virtue
Sing the praise of God aright:
Let no tongue of man be silent,
Let each heart and voice unite,
Evermore and evermore!

4 Thee let age, and Thee let manhood,
Thee let choirs of infants sing;
Thee the matrons and the virgins,
And the children answering;
Let their guileless song re-echo,
And their heart its praises bring,
Evermore and evermore!

5 Christ, to Thee with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost to Thee,
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving,
And unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory,
Evermore and evermore!

Contributed by Mike Fenimore

Year C – Baptism of our Lord – How Lovely Shines the Morning Star

Summary–Today’s hymn was born in a time of great darkness.  Philipp Nicolai (1566-1608) wrote this chorale during a massive plague in the town of Unna, Germany where he served as a Lutheran pastor.  His window overlooked the village cemetery where sometimes as many as thirty burials took place in a single day. It seemed that every home in the town was mourning for a stricken family member. Many questioned if God could be in such a dark place.   But pastor Nicolai kept his attention on His firmly on God who was in control even in such dark times.  Listen to how his faith kept him going.  “There seemed to me nothing more sweet, delightful, and agreeable,” Nicolai wrote, “than the contemplation of the noble, sublime doctrine of Eternal Life obtained through the Blood of Christ. This I allowed to dwell in my heart day and night.” It was in the midst of suffering that Nicolai wrote ‘Wie schon leuchtet der Morgenstern”.

Insight–It is simply amazing how, no matter how dark the situation, even the small sliver of light will pierce a dark room.  Nicolai’s beautiful hymn tells us that we have the brightest light this world has ever known shining as clearly and as powerfully as the morning sun, sweeping away all remains of the night and washing everything in the light of Christ’s presence. We read in the book of Revelation that Jesus Christ is our Morning Star. He came and took upon himself all the darkness and wickedness that we had hidden in ourselves…he bore them on the cross of Calvary, he bore them so that we wouldn’t have to, he bore them because he knew we couldn’t.  How beautiful an act of love, How lovely is that Morning Star!  Equally as amazing is that this light is now so that ‘the nations see and hail afar the light in Judah shining.’ Gone are the days when God’s light only shined on His chosen people of Israel with the greatest promise in the world’s history. Not until the Morning Star appeared on the earth was the message changed from ‘come and see’ to ‘go and tell’ …For the Bridegroom is coming, and soon! He, the King who will judge the world, is coming again soon…so be ready, be pining in your heart for the return of this light.

How lovely shines the Morning Star!
The nations see and hail afar
The light in Judah shining.
Thou David’s Son of Jacob’s race,
My Bridegroom and my King of Grace,
For Thee my heart is pining.
Lowly, holy, great and glorious,
Thou victorious Prince of graces,
Filling all the heav’nly places.

O highest joy by mortals won,
True Son of God and Mary’s Son,
Thou highborn King of ages!
Thou art my heart’s most beauteous Flower,
And Thy blest Gospel’s saving power
My raptured soul engages.
Thou mine, I Thine; sing hosanna!
Heav’nly manna tasting, eating,
Whilst Thy love in songs repeating.

Now richly to my waiting heart,
O Thou, my God, deign to impart
The grace of love undying.
In Thy blest body let me be,
E’en as the branch is in the tree,
Thy life my life supplying.
Sighing, crying, for the savor
Of Thy favor; resting never
Till I rest in Thee forever.

A pledge of peace from God I see
When Thy pure eyes are turned to me
To show me Thy good pleasure.
Jesus, Thy Spirit and Thy Word,
Thy body and Thy blood afford
My soul its dearest treasure.
Keep me kindly in Thy favor,
O my Savior! Thou wilt cheer me;
Thy Word calls me to draw near Thee.

Thou, mighty Father, in Thy Son
Didst love me ere Thou hadst begun
This ancient world’s foundation.
Thy Son hath made a friend of me,
And when in spirit Him I see,
I joy in tribulation!
What bliss is this! He that liveth
To me giveth life forever;
Nothing me from Him can sever.

Lift up the voice and strike the string,
Let all glad sounds of music ring
In God’s high praises blended.
Christ will be with me all the way,
Today, tomorrow, every day,
Till traveling days be ended.
Sing out, ring out, triumph glorious,
O victorious, chosen nation;
Praise the God of your salvation.

Oh, joy to know that Thou, my Friend,
Art Lord, Beginning without end,
The First and Last, eternal!
And Thou at length—O glorious grace!—
Wilt take me to that holy place,
The home of joys supernal.
Amen, Amen! Come and meet me!
Quickly greet me! With deep yearning
Lord, I look for Thy returning.

Contributed by Mike Fenimore

Year C – Epiphany of the Lord – As With Gladness Men of Old

Summary–During a bout with illness, William Chatterton Dix (1837-1898) wrote this Epiphany hymn  on the 6th of January, 1859.  Alongside “As With Gladness Men of Old”, he wrote and published his other famous hymn, “What Child Is This” in Hymns Ancient and Modern.

Dix did not follow his father’s footsteps into the ministry.  Rather, he chose the business world to earn his living and chose poetry as his way of glorifying God.  And what a glory this hymn is.  In it, He mirrors the journey of the Magi with our own Christian pilgrimage through the repetitive technique, “as they, so must we”.  When writing this Hymn, William wanted to tell this story more accurately than other hymns had previously done so.  He omits the more traditional labeling of the Magi for the title, “men of old” since the Biblical account does not describe the visitors as being either Magi or wise men.  In the third stanza, Dix does not name the gifts of the Magi, instead focusing on their sacrifice in taking the trouble to bring the expensive gifts on a long journey. The fourth stanza is a more direct petition, asking Jesus to keep us faithful to the journey begun in the first three stanzas. The fifth stanza, which is omitted in some hymnals (but is included in italics at the end of the full text), describes heaven – the destination of our journey.

Tune–This hymn is always sung to the tune DIX. Conrad Kocher, a German composer and church musician, originally wrote a longer version of this tune for a German chorale, “Treuer Heiland, wir sind hier,” which was published in 1838. William H. Monk omitted one phrase and altered a few notes of Kocher’s tune to fit “As With Gladness” for the 1861 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern, which he was music editor for. Even though Dix did not like the choice of this tune, it goes so well with the text that it now bears his name.

Singing Application–This hymn fits best during Epiphany, but can also be sung at Christmas.

“As With Gladness” could be paired with another contemplative Christmas hymn, such as “Once in Royal David’s City,” or another hymn about the story of the Magi, such as “We Three Kings of Orient are.”  It would do well as a prelude for a service on Epiphany Sunday.

1 As with gladness men of old
did the guiding star behold;
as with joy they hailed its light,
leading onward, beaming bright,
so, most gracious Lord, may we
evermore your splendor see.

2 As with joyful steps they sped
to that lowly manger bed,
there to bend the knee before
him whom heaven and earth adore,
so, may we with willing feet
ever seek the mercy seat.

3 As they offered gifts most rare
at that manger rude and bare,
so may we with holy joy,
pure and free from sin’s alloy,
all our costliest treasures bring,
Christ, to you, our heavenly King.

4 Holy Jesus, every day
keep us in the narrow way;
and when earthly things are past,
bring our ransomed lives at last
where they need no star to guide,
where no clouds thy glory hide.

5 In the heavenly country bright,
need the no created light;
Thou its light, its joy, its crown,
Thou its sun which goes not down;
There forever may we sing Alleluias to our King

Contributed by Mike Fenimore

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.

MW

Year B – Lent 1 – Create in Me A Clean Heart (Psalm 51)

This week, we enter Lent—the liturgical bad news without which Easter, the liturgical good news, makes no sense.  Lent anticipates Easter: it calls us to reflect upon the problem (sin resulting in death) so that we may better rejoice in the solution (salvation resulting in resurrection).

But how will we reflect upon and confess our sinfulness?  We are not without divine direction. God placed within the Psalter—His prescribed hymnbook—King David’s own confession. We will make his words our own with Harold W. Gilbert’s beautiful setting of Psalm 51:10-12. Gilbert was the headmaster at St. Peter’s Choir School until 1960 connected with St Peters Episcopal Church in Philadelphia.  The tune that Gilbert used was from Johann Anastasius Freylinghausen (1670-1739) who served as a Lutheran pastor at St. Ul­rich Church in Halle, Germany. It has a refreshing sound, like receiving forgiveness and being clean.

As a Psalm (to the choirmaster, for corporate use), these are words specially intended to inform and shape our thinking and feeling about confession.  We need such direction, and not only during Lent: Jesus, in the words He taught us to pray, assumes daily confession: “give us this day our daily bx`read, and forgive us trespasses…”

In Ps. 51, David hopes in God’s covenant love (v.1).  He seeks not only forgiveness, but change (v.2).  He acknowledges that, no matter who else is hurt, sin is sin because it’s against God Himself (v.4).  He asks to be purged with hyssop (v.7), the plant with which priests sprinkled blood on formerly-diseased houses to declare them clean (so, he’s asking God to be his Great High Priest in sprinkling blood to declare him clean).  He fears that he might be among those who share in the Holy Spirit but fall away (v.11, cr. Heb. 6:4-6).  He desires the restoration of his joy in God (v.12).  And he wants all this mercy to overflow in evangelism (v.13) and praise (v.14).

During Lent and every day, let us confess our sins—not as though the confession itself, or the zeal with which we offer it, or the duration of time for which we do not accept God’s forgiveness, merit anything with God: to feel such things is to self-righteously disobey the gospel.  Let us confess in faith that we have the forgiveness for which we ask: let us confess in faith that Jesus always lives to make intercession for us, so that even as we sin, we already have an advocate with the Father.

Contributed by Scott Cline

Year B—Transfiguration—At the Name of Jesus

At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow,
Every tongue confess him King of glory now:
‘Tis the Father’s pleasure we should call him Lord,
Who from the beginning was the mighty Word.

Humbled for a season, to receive a name
From the lips of sinners unto whom he came,
Faithfully he bore it spotless to the last,
Brought it back victorious, when from death he passed:

Bore it up triumphant with its human light,
Through all ranks of creatures, to the central height,
To the throne of Godhead, to the Father’s breast;
Filled it with the glory of that perfect rest.

Have you ever read The Horse and His Boy in Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia?  Toward the end of it, Shasta learns that, although he’s been raised a poor fisherman’s boy, he is in fact the son of king Lune and heir to Archenland’s throne.  It’s just one of many such stories in which the unexpected fellow of humble home, from the backwaters of nowhere, winds up being the son of the king.  Why do we love that sort of story so much?  One reason may be that it reflects an important part of the True Story—the Great Story—in which Jesus, a carpenter’s son from Nazareth, winds up being the long-awaited and finally-exalted King.

It’s just that theme which Caroline Noel captures in her hymn, At the Name of Jesus; which, like Luther’s We All Believe in One True God, takes its cue from an early creed.  Caroline looks to an even earlier creed in her hymn, though, than Luther looks to in his: Caroline looks to that creed which St. Paul quotes in his epistle to the Philippians, 2:6-11 (you could open a Bible and recite that creed together, right now).

Meant to be a processional hymn for Ascension, At the Name of Jesus celebrates the ascended Christ’s exaltation—the reward of His humility.  Let us, like Christ, endure any hardship, not being served but serving, remembering that with God, the least shall be greatest, the last shall be first, the one who gives up most will have the most returned to him, and that the one who serves will be given authority.

Contributed by Scott Cline

Year B – Epiphany 6 – Ah, Jesus Lord, Thy Love to Me

Ah Jesus Lord, Thy love to me
No thought can reach, no tongue declare;
Oh bind my thankful heart to Thee
And reign without a rival there.
Thine, wholly Thine alone, I live;
Myself to Thee, entirely give.

O, grant that nothing in my soul
May dwell but Thy pure love alone!
Oh, may Thy love possess me whole,
My joy, my treasure, and my crown!
All coldness from my heart remove;
My every act, word, thought, be love.

O Lord, how gracious is thy way!
All fear before thy presence flies;
Care, anguish, sorrow, melt away
Wherever thy healing hands arise.
O Jesus, nothing may I see,
Nothing desire or seek, but Thee!

This love unwearied I pursue
And dauntlessly to Thee aspire.
Oh, may Thy love my hope renew
Burn in my soul like heavenly fire!
And day and night be all my care
To guard this sacred treasure there.

Oh draw me Savior, ere to thee

So shall I run and never tire

With gracious work still comfort me

Be thou my hope, my soul desire

Free me from every guilt and fear

No sin can harm if Thou art near.

More hard than marble is my heart,
And foul with sins of deepest stain;
But Thou the mighty Savior art,
Nor flowed thy cleansing blood in vain;
Ah soften, melt this rock, and may
Thy blood wash all these stains away!

Still let Thy love point out my way;
What wondrous things Thy love hath wrought!
Still lead me, lest I go astray;
Direct my word, inspire my thought;
And if I fall, soon may I hear
Thy voice, and know that love is near.

In suffering be Thy love my peace,
In weakness be Thy love my power;
And when the storms of life shall cease,
Lord Jesus, in that vital hour,
In death as life be Thou my guide,
And save me, who for me hast died.

 Have you ever had to give a toast in someone’s honor?  It is not an easy thing to do for many of us.  Well imagine having to give a toast for yourself … while standing before Christ at His feast!  This hymn is really just that.  It like a lengthy prayer requesting the deepest blessings of Christ’s love on the one praying it.  In the Psalmist tradition, this hymn is a prayer… sung.  It is highly a personal, highly devotional prayer of confession, dependence, and love that we will have the privilege of singing together in communion.  The main focus of this hymn is the love of Christ in both directions, Christ’s love of the singer and the singers’ love of Christ.  What could be better for a people like us, who are so prone to lukewarmness in our spiritual love, to learn and sing regularly.
The words were originally written by Paul Gerhardt, a German minister born near Wittenburg about a generation after Luther died.  Gerhardt endured a lengthy ministry that was heavily troubled by the tensions between Germany’s Lutheran and Reformed churches.  His legacy was one of perseverance and he is remembered by the slogan “a minister who was sifted by the sieve” – what a great perspective to own during times of trial – a perspective strongly expressed in this hymn.
A century later the two Wesley brothers set sail from England to America.  Charles was a gifted hymn writer, but John found that his stronger interest was in language.  During their long voyage to the colony of Georgia, John began to closely study the German language spoken by many of their fellow travelers.  At that time, there were many Germans immigrating to the Southern colonies of America and the Wesley brothers wanted to have a ministry among them.  As he studied, John translated several of the great German hymns into English.  This is one of them.  The tune we sing is a traditional American folk tune called by the name, slumber.  When I sing it, I can feel the rolling waves of their long sea voyage as well as the rolling hills and plodding hooves of their land travel.  There is also – as the name implies – a lullaby quality that lends it to singing while rocking a child to sleep or simply to praying away the last few conscious minutes of your own night.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loves us.
There are several links available online to listen to and sing along with.  One beautiful choir performance here: http://www.secondreformed.org/System/Media/Play.asp?id=42874&Key=9F1F3586-041B-4073-9FC6-69188F2567A9 and another of the Maundy Thursday performance as well as Michael Owens’ version at WordMP3.com.