Another One for the Road

This hymn is another favorite of mine that my husband and I listened to on our road trip to attend the recent AFLC Annual Conference. The text of “When Morning Gilds the Skies” is from an anonymous German hymn, “Beim fruhen Morgenlicht”. The date is unknown, but possibly as early as 1744. It was first published in the 1868 Appendix to Hymns Ancient and Modern. Edward Caswall (1814-1878), who was ordained as an Anglican priest, and later converted to Catholicism was the first to translate the hymn into English, likely from several variations of the text. The tune was composed by Joseph Barnby (1838-1896), an accomplished and popular choral director in England.

For more hymns see these posts:

Nearer to Thee

Funeral Songs

O Holy Night

The Attributes of God

After church recently I was discussing hymnody with a group of friends. Martin Luther used it as a teaching tool for largely illiterate congregants. Well, these days most of us can read, but music is still a great way to learn. This hymn, “Immortal, invisible, God only Wise is a great example. It was written by Walter Chalmers Smith, a Free Church of Scotland minister, in 1867, and it gives us a clear picture of the attributes of God. Listen and learn!

For more hymns see:

Nearer to Thee

The Navy Hymn

My Life Hymn

I Lay My Sins on Jesus

The church my husband and I visited for Maundy Thursday (in liturgical churches this is the service that commemorates the Passover when Jesus institutes the sharing of Holy Communion) used this hymn during the distribution of the Sacrament. Although it was familiar, I hadn’t heard it for a long time, and it prompted me to look it up. The words were written by Horatius Bonar (1808-1889) and it is said to be his first him (he wrote about 600). Published in 1843, Bonar apologized for it saying, “It might be good gospel, but it is not good poetry.” Whether it is good poetry or not, it speaks to me, and maybe it will to you!

For more hymns see:

A Thousand Tongues

The Navy Hymn

Let Us Ever Walk With Jesus

Living For Jesus

Our organist played this hymn recently and it seemed to fit in well with our recent studies on union with Christ. In the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul says:

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

Are you living for yourself or for Jesus?

For more hymns see these posts:

Let Us Ever Walk With Jesus

A Hymn About Church Unity

A Thousand Tongues

Jesus Calls Us O’er the Tumult

A few days ago I posted about a hymn, , that encourages us to be attentive and notice the presence of Christ amid the distractions of daily life. Jesus Calls Us O’er the Tumult, is similar in theme. It was written by Mrs. Cecil Frances Alexander (1818–1895). Mrs. Alexander, who was married to an Anglican rector, wrote more than 400 hymns, most of them for children. This hymn is an exception. It first appeared in a collection called Hymns for Public Worship (1852), published by the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge (SPCK), Tract No. 15, as a hymn for St. Andrew’s Day. The words are both clear and direct, based upon the text for the day, Matthew 4:18–22 (the calling of Andrew and Peter, both fishermen). Listen today and reflect on this question: What is God calling me to do?

For more hymns see these posts:

St. Francis Set to Music

Trust and Obey

The Wondrous Cross

The Crowded Ways of Life

This past Sunday we sang a hymn that wasn’t very familiar, but it resonated deeply with me. Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life was written by Frank Mason North (1850-1935). Although Mason was not a missionary or a hymnist, he was invited to write a missionary hymn for the Methodist hymnal. Since he was involved in two city missions he wrote about what he knew — finding God in the midst of the noise and distraction of daily life. It’s a message we still need to hear today, so listen and be inspired.

For more hymns see these posts:

Let Us Ever Walk With Jesus

Children of the Heavenly Father

Hopeful Hymn #3

Singing a New Song

Recently my husband and I were visiting with our daughter and her family near Myrtle Beach. We attended a Presbyterian church there on Sunday, and one of the hymns used in their service was new to me. I liked it, and hope you will, too. I always enjoy visiting other churches, learning new hymns and seeing other ways of worshipping God– and then I am equally glad to come “home” to the traditional Lutheran liturgy.

For other hymns see these posts:

How Firm a Foundation

Ancient Words

My Life Hymn

Why Lutherans Sing

This article was originally posted in The Lutheran Ambassador, the AFLC magazine.

Lutherans are known as “the singing church” and Martin Luther has been called “the father of congregational singing.”  But why do we sing?  Is it simply our tradition?  Is it an appropriate way to express our emotions of gratitude and love toward God?  Is it a biblically sanctioned part of worship (Psalm 66:1-2)?  Does it help bind us together as a community?  The answer is yes to all these questions about communal Christian singing in the Church.  However, there is another excellent reason Lutherans sing:  hymn singing is an important part of our Christian education.

Maybe you thought the children were just having fun singing all those Sunday School songs.  They are having fun, but they are also learning about important people in the Bible (Father Abraham), the essentials of the faith (Jesus Loves Me), the proper response to God’s love (Praise Him, Praise Him, All You Little Children) and what it means to be part of the church (We Are the Church).

Setting words to music is an aid to memorization.  Young people often learn the books of the Bible (in order no less) by singing a song.  Adults who participate in a Lutheran liturgy discover they’ve memorized many Psalms and other portions of scripture by taking part in the worship service.  Well chosen hymns also serve to reinforce the theme of the sermon and the readings of the day.  And in times of crisis in our lives the comforting words of hymns bring the reminder of God’s eternal concern for His people to our minds and hearts.

Good hymns teach.  They help us understand the different church seasons (O Come, O Come, Emmanuel).  They prepare us for communion (Let Us Break Bread Together).  They tell us about the attributes of God (A Mighty Fortress). They convict us of our sin (Amazing Grace). They explain theological concepts (The Church’s One Foundation) and give lessons in how to serve (Hark the Voice of Jesus Calling) and be more generous (We Give Thee But Thine Own). Some hymns are almost a sermon in themselves (Salvation Unto Us Has Come)!

Church music can touch our hearts and sink into our souls in a way that is hard to explain or understand. Church music can lift us up into the very realm of God’s presence.  No wonder Luther called it “a fair and glorious gift of God.”

I Am the Bread of Life — Book Review

A few months ago when our theme was “Food, Feasts and Gluttony” I purchased a copy of I Am the Bread of Life by Sister Suzanne Toolan and Elizabeth Dossa.  Sister Suzanne is the composer of the song, as well as many others and is also a gifted teacher of music.  The book is made up of a series of essays –some are biographical, others Sister Suzanne’s thoughts on topics such as Silence, Liturgy, Ritual, Celebrations, and some contain practical advice on prayer, music and liturgy.

I Am the Bread of Life

As a Lutheran, I didn’t agree with everything in the book, but much of the material on liturgy resonated deeply with me.  It’s obvious that to Sr. Suzanne, music is a spiritual practice. She took care to make sure her students understood what they were singing.  She felt the music should encourage their faith. She speaks about liturgy not as something to study, but as a beloved and thoughtful discipline.  Here are some of her quotes:

“A good hymn is almost instructional.”

“Entertainment or liturgy as theater has no depth to it.”

“There is a unity of spirit in the singing.”

“The Liturgy is about leading the congregation to the Real Presence.”

Sister Suzanne is an amazing woman, and anyone interested in the liturgy and music of the church will enjoy this read.


Lutherans and Music

This article, written by my husband, our Pastor was included in the congregation’s December newsletter.  If you would like to read more articles he has written, his blog is 

The Lutheran Church has often been called “the singing church.” Prior to the Reformation there was no congregational singing in most worship services. What singing occurred was done by choirs and specially trained cantors. Martin Luther decided to change that and published the first hymnal in German with a number of hymns written by him and by his colleagues in the reform movement.

Luther was, himself, a talented musician who enjoyed playing and singing. His love of music led him to the belief that lay people, many of whom were illiterate at the time, could learn more about the faith by being taught to sing of the doctrines and truths of the Church during regular worship services. While other reformers encouraged only the singing of the Psalms, Luther’s work was much more expansive.

Over time a great tradition of hymnody developed in the Lutheran Churches and this was copied by others, especially in England and in the United States. Now the Church has thousands of hymns to choose from as part of its function as the teacher of the true faith.

It is important for us to maintain this tradition of hymnody. Without it we would, as a Church, be much the poorer. At St, Paul’s we are trying to expand our repertoire of hymns, searching for ones that, while they might be unfamiliar are, indeed, gems that we have yet to unearth.

Unfortunately, not all hymns in our hymnal are gems. Some of them are difficult to play and sing and a very few others have theological problems. When we try one of those less than stellar hymns and it doesn’t work well we have to decide if we’ll keep working on it or just drop it. But it’s a process. In the last 2 years we’ve used over 200 hymns in our worship. Some we’ll see again, some we won’t. But all singing is for the glory of God.