Dear Friends in Christ,
This week we have another group of great hymns. Our opening hymn is the "Battle Hymn of the Reformation" or A Mighty Fortress Is Our God by Martin Luther. It was first published in 1529 and it has been called "the greatest hymn by the greatest man of the greatest period of German History". It has been sung and played throughout history during many a momentous occasion including by Luther and his companions as they entered Worms on April 16, 1951 for the Diet, King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden as his forces went to battle in The Thirty Year's War, it was sung at the funeral of American president Dwight Eisenhower in 1969 and it has been used in popular culture on shows such as The Simpsons, Deadwood, Shawshank Redemption and Deadwood. The text is taken from Psalm 46 and we are singing the most popular and accurate translation by Frederick H. Hedge.
On Eagle's Wings was composed in 1979 by Michael Joncas, a Catholic priest. After Vatican Council II the Catholic Church began using vernacular hymns at mass. The words are loosely based on Psalm 91 and Isaiah 40:31. An interesting fact: Fr. Joncas has stated that his preference for the title would be "On Eagle's Wings," indicating that the wings belong to a single eagle which is metaphorically related to God, but he said he could make an argument for "On Eagles' Wings," indicating that wings belong to many eagles, since there would be many eagles needed to lift up the multiple people in covenant with God.
When Peace like a River is a beautiful hymn with tragic history. The text was written by Horatio G. Spafford after two major traumas in his life. The first was the great Chicago Fire of 1871 which ruined him financially. Shortly thereafter, while crossing the Atlantic, all four of his daughters died in a collision with another ship. His wife survived and sent him the now famous telegram "Saved Alone". A few weeks later, as his own ship crossed the exact spot where his daughters died, he was inspired by the Holy Spirit with words of eternal hope, no matter what pain and grief they bear while on earth. Philip P. Bliss wrote the tune and named it after the ship on which Spafford's daughters died,
S.S Ville de Havre. Tragically, Bliss was killed in a train wreck shortly after composing this tune.
In honor the Independence Day celebration we will close our service with O Beautiful for Spacious Skies (America the Beautiful).. The poetry was written by Katherine L. Bates and the tune by organist and choirmaster Samuel A. Ward. Bates originally wrote the words as a poem, Pikes Peak, first published in the Fourth of July edition of the church periodical The Congregationalist in 1895. At that time, the poem was titled America for publication. Ward had originally written the music, Materna, for the 19th century hymn O Mother Dear Jerusalem in 1882. Ward's music combined with the Bates poem was first published in 1910 and titled America the Beautiful. The song is one of the most beloved and popular of the many American patriotic songs. From time to time it has been proposed as a replacement for The Star Spangled Banner as the National Anthem.