Drop down, ye heavens, from above
And let the skies pour down righteousness.
— Historic Introit for Advent IV
As the church celebrates Advent, a season of hope and expectation, many of us will hopefully pray and sing the seven Great “O” Antiphons, which lend a seasonal theme to the Magnificat at Vespers. The following translation of the antiphons is from Lutheran Service Book (LSB), with scripture references from Oremus: A Lutheran Breviary by David Kind:
During the late 16th century, the debate between Lutherans and the Reformed became polarized after the territory of Anhalt-Dessau, under Joachim Ernst and his son, Johann Georg, began to introduce Reformed liturgical customs into a traditionally Lutheran territory. Wolfgang Amling, the leading theologian in Anhalt, set things off by trying to remove the baptismal exorcism in 1590, and the ensuing Anhalt Controversy climaxed in 1616 with a 25-point declaration from Johann Georg, Margrave of the Silesian duchy of Jägendorf. A translation from Joseph Herl’s book, Worship Wars (p. 111), has numbering added by the present writer to facilitate easy reference in a liturgical IQ test.
Many false masters now hymns indite
Be on your guard and judge them aright.
Where God is building his church and word,
There comes the devil with lie and sword.
— Martin Luther, Preface to the Babst Hymnal
Fans of the NCAA Basketball Tournament are familiar with the field of 64 teams and the nick names associated with the final weekends of the tournament: The Sweet Sixteen, The Elite Eight, and The Final Four. This process of numerical reduction also conveniently applies to the first Lutheran hymnal (1524), usually known as the Achtliederbuch (“Book of Eight” or, moreliterally, “Eight-Song-Book”). As faithful sons of the Reformation approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, just one year away, it seems fitting to survey the contents of our first hymnal to help us understand why Lutherans sing what they sing. Stephen Crist of Emory University sets the stage.
The heart opens [in the Kyrie of the B-Minor Mass]
and it leads us to the hill of the crucified one.
—Carl Hermann Bitter (Bach biographer)
In 1962, at the height of the Cuban missile crisis and U. S.-Soviet tensions, the late choral conductor, Robert Shaw (1916-1999), led his famed Robert Shaw Chorale on a six-week tour of Russia. They performed three different programs of choral literature, but the biggest hit was the Mass in B-Minor of J. S. Bach (1685-1750), which often held audiences well beyond the final curtain call. Shaw recalled leaving the stage in Moscow, for instance, after numerous encores, then changing clothes and returning to the hall for one last look. To his amazement, the audience was still in the theatre, some thirty minutes after the conclusion of the concert. And they were standing in silence! (Keith C. Burris, Deep River: The Life and Music of Robert Shaw, pp. 122-123)
“How is your relationship with Jesus Christ?” Good? Bad? Non-existent? It’s complicated? Are you close to God or far from Him?
We’ve all heard questions such as this, perhaps rolling our eyes at the awkwardness of the question but not being able to diagnose accurately the reason for our uneasiness. In fact, we may fear that questioning such a pious question might seem un-Christian and unbecoming of a person having “a good relationship with Jesus.” This “relationship” language has become the widely accepted way of describing the Christian’s life of faith (or a non-Christian’s lack of it). A “good relationship” with Christ is likely that faith life of the strong Christian. A “bad relationship” is perhaps that faith life of the wandering sheep. A “non-relationship” may refer to that faith-less life of the unbeliever. Despite its common usage, could it be possible that the language of relationship is an unhelpful and unbiblical way of speaking of the Christian’s life of faith? While usually well-intentioned and innocently put forth, might such “relationship” language undermine the full comfort of the gospel and give a false picture of what salvation means for the Christian?
Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping
that awake we may watch with Christ and asleep we may rest in peace.
— Antiphon to the Nunc Dimittis
During the Middle Ages, an elaborate system known as “The Liturgy of the Hours” developed to frame the prayer lives of the faithful at regular intervals each day. These non-Communion offices (also known as “Daily Office,” “Divine Office,” or “Canonical Hours”) “flow down from that liturgical mountain peak [of the Lord’s Supper], like streams seeking the lower places, the daily routine and grind of life” (David Kind, Oremus: A Lutheran Breviary, p. vii). Reformation revisions, along with a pesky dynamic known as reality, have generally reduced the rhythm of daily prayer to Matins, Vespers, and Compline. Most recent hymnals, including Lutheran Service Book (LSB), also include the orders of Morning and Evening Prayer, providing at least three evening services to highlight the gifts of the Gospel at eventide: Vespers, Evening Prayer, and Compline. The profound theological themes for eventide have not been lost on the great composers of the church, including the hymn, anthem, and solo that are highlighted in this installment of “Lifted Voice.”
[In the church Christians] find delight not in the baleful songs sung by
theatrical performers, songs which lead to sensual love, but in the chants of the Church.
-- St. Ambrose
Wedding season is in full swing, which brings to the local parish a unique set of blessings and curses. On the positive side, the rite of Christian marriage brings the blessing of the lifelong union of husband and wife. On the negative side, however, the wedding rite is often cursed with a theatrical soloist singing another sensual and seductive rendition of “The Wedding Song” (“It is good to be together at the calling of your hearts,” etc.), against which St. Ambrose and a host of other fathers warned. One prominent Lutheran church musician from New York, Dr. Jane Schatkin Hettrick, perhaps put it best when she said that most weddings are “an orgy of bad taste.” In an effort to recover the solemnity and dignity of the Christian wedding, I would like to recommend three choral settings of the sequence hymn, Ubi Caritas, “Where Charity and Love Are [Found], God is There.
Theology must sing.
— Martin Franzmann
As the summer months approach and the seminaries dispatch candidates for the office of the ministry into the field, many pastors and church musicians are selecting choral music for services of ordination. In addition to the sacred music for Pentecost that was discussed in the June 2015 issue of this column (“Veni Creator Spiritus”) and last month’s issue (“A Musical ‘Tallis Man’”), I would like to suggest three choral responsories that are equally fitting for such an occasion.
Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585) is perhaps best known in Lutheran congregations for his tune, known as the Tallis Canon, which is usually sung with the text, “All Praise to Thee, My God, This Night” (Lutheran Service Book 883). This article seeks to demonstrate there are several aspects of his sacred vocal music that make the case for his inclusion not only in the hymnal, but also in the repertoire of the church choir.
The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men
And be crucified and on the third day rise.
-- St. Luke 24:7
On March 27th, 1900, the Bach Choir of Bethlehem, PA, gave the American premier of what Alfred Mann calls J. S. Bach’s (1685-1750) “crowning achievement of sacred music” (American Choral Review 27:1, p. 52), the Mass in B Minor. It is just a coincidence that Easter Sunday also occurred on March 27th this year, but that is more than enough reason during these Fifty Great Days of Easter to focus on Bach’s musical depiction of the resurrection of the Son of God, the inaugural installment of our occasional “B Minor Basics” series.
With the inclusion of the hymns “Now, My Tongue, the Mystery Telling” (Lutheran Service Book 630) and “Thee We Adore, O Hidden Savior” (LSB 640) in the 2006 hymnal of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, it would appear that St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274) is gaining a foothold in his contribution to Lutheran sacramental piety. Still missing from our hymnic repertoire, however, is perhaps his finest contribution, “O Sacred Feast”:
In the funerals of the departed, accompany them with singing …
for precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
-- Apostolic Constitutions VI:30
On February 2nd, the church celebrates The Presentation of Our Lord and the Purification of Mary, which focuses largely on Simeon’s Canticle, the Nunc Dimittis (St. Luke 2:29-32), which was originally sung on the 40th day after Jesus’ birth. Musical settings of Simeon’s canticle abound, including J. S. Bach’s use of stanza 1 of Luther’s Nunc Dimittis hymn, “In Peace and Joy I Now Depart” (LSB 938) in Cantata 106, “God’s Time is the Best Time,” also known as the Actus tragicus. Although the exact origins of the cantata are uncertain, it remains “perhaps the most admired of Bach’s compositions presumed to date from before his appointment at Weimar (1708)” (David Schulenberg, Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach, p. 197).
Imagine being chained to a wall of a cave. Your head is shackled so that you can only look to the back of the cave where shadows cast by a fire illuminate the wall. This is what you know, it is all you know. But then you are loose. You turn around and see the fire and the things making the shadows. You leave the cave and are blinded by the light of the sun. Your eyes adjust and at last you can see the things around you and the sun itself. Now, with this new understanding of reality, your return to tell your fellow prisioners what is true.
This is the metaphor of Plato's cave.
What is the "Great Conversation", and how do we engage in it?
Philosophy is the cousin of theology. It is, or at least it should be, the pursuit of truth. I've spent some time reading and studying theology, but not much time with Philosophy at all. During a recent Doxology event I crossed paths with Rev. Dr. Gregory Schulz who, among other things, teaches Philosophy at Concordia University, Mequon, WI. In the course of the conversation he mentioned a list of "Master Metaphors of Philosophy," ten images brought to us from philosophy which, if considered and meditated on, cracked the door open to engaging in the Great Conversation of the West.
The November 2015 issue of this column focused on the King of Chorales, “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying.” Alongside every great king stands a stalwart queen, and “Wake, Awake” is no exception. This kingly chorale is blessed with a regal counterpart in the Queen of Chorales, “O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright” (Lutheran Service Book 395).
The focus of this month’s column, “Savior of the Nations, Come,” has its roots in the fourth century. As the story goes, St. Ambrose of Milan (340-397) was struggling with the Arians, who denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. When the evil Empress Justina tried to invade one of St. Ambrose’s churches, St. Ambrose refused to hand over the house of God to those who believe differently. No doubt worried over military reprisal from the Empress, St. Ambrose gathered the flock into the basilica Portina to sing Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16) as they turned to the one true God, who could help them in their need. When the entourage sent by the Empress arrived, the soldiers are said to have been so moved by the singing that they put down their weapons and joined in the singing (adapted from Carl Schalk, First Person Singular, p. 17).
(Cover Art: "The Parable of the Ten Virgins" by Ain Vares - www.ainvaresart.com. Used by permission.)
As the church year draws to a close, many Lutheran pastors and church musicians are preparing to sing the King of Chorales, “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying” (LSB 516), which will serve as the focus of this month’s “Lifted Voice” column.
If you haven't heard, the pope has come for a visit.
The Lutheran Church has, from the start, had a few things to say about the pope, but what does the pope say about himself? What is the Romanist teaching on who the pope is? This collection of documents buts forth the pope's and the Romanist church's own teaching about the pope.
“No one can serve two masters.” Jesus is preaching to us today about the sin of worry, and He begins by letting us know that He is talking about the heart, what it is that you fear, what it is that you love, and what it is that you trust above all things.
This is really the definition of what it means to have a god, to have a master, to worship something. Where is your confidence? What do you trust? Where do you look for all good? This is the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods.” What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.
Installation of Rev. Jimmy Coffey
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
New Hyde Park, NY
Epiphany IV + 30 January 2011 + 3:00 p.m.
+ Jesu Juva +
Feed My Sheep.
– St. John 21:17
Marriage and Homosexuality, A Bible Study
As the world gets further and further away from God's design for marriage and human sexuality, the more important it becomes for Christians to know what God has to say about these things.
Welcome to Around the Word
Around the Word paints a Biblical and joyful picture of teaching and life. We have our Bibles open, and we believe with simplicity what the Lord speaks there. We endeavor to have a thoughtful and generous, historical and current approach to the Lord’s word, understanding that theological integrity is the best way that we can serve the church at large.
We are Lutheran, that is, we let the Law and the Gospel echo in the full voice with which God speaks it, and we are on the lookout for error because we love to hear the truth, the life-giving voice of Jesus. So we care about their families and their neighbors and the world, both in this life and in the life to come.
We are working to recover the joy and delight of doctrine, of the Gospel.