Dear Friends in Christ,
Choosing the hymns each week is a joint effort between me and the 'preacher'. At G.A. we are blessed that our worship team is so strong and that we truly have open lines of communication. This week we are in for a treat because our own Deacon Lulu will be preaching! It was such a treat to work with her so closely and she had a hand in ALL of the hymn choices because she is so moved in her faith by texts and tunes. When I asked her to say a few words about this is exactly what she said, "These hymns were chosen because I know God is so great...our faithfulness leads to new life with Jesus...and our love and trust in God and his love for us fills us up and our wounded souls are healed". Fantastic.
It's interesting to note that while many of these hymns have similar themes they really represent a diverse population of composers and poets. The text for the opening hymn is perfect for our final Sunday in our 4 part "12 Steps to Serenity Series". Edward Mote wanted to write sometime on the 'gracious experience of a Christian' and came up with the chorus On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand on his way to work and finished all four verses later that day. Later that week he went to visit his brother, whose wife was very ill. In the evening it was the custom for his brother to sing a hymn, read a bible passage and pray an evening prayer with his wife before heading out to a prayer meeting. He couldn't find his hymnal and his brother, Edward, pulled his newly penned hymn out of his pocket for them to use. His brothers wife was so moved that she requested a hard copy and Mote ended up printing 1000 for distribution and the rest is history.
Our Hymn of the Day is another one of those gems that was unfortunately born out of tragedy. Horatio G. Spafford was an American lawyer living in Chicago when he decided that his entire family, a wife and four daughters ages ranging from 11 to 2, should take a vacation to England to hear his friend D.L. Moody preach. Spafford was delayed on business so he sent his wife and daughters ahead of him. Their ship, Ville Du Havre, was struck by an iron sailing vessel and 226 died, including all of the Spafford daughters. Upon arriving in England his wife sent a telegram beginning with the words "Saved alone....". It is reputed that while on his journey to England to get his wife that Spafford wrote the text to this hymn. It is important to note that tragedy continued to follow Spafford throughout his days but he still managed to carry on. After the death of their daughters, the Spaffords were blessed with three more children. However, their only son, died at the age of four of pneumonia. Their Presbyterian church regarded their tragedy as divine punishment. In response, the Spaffords formed their own Messianic sect, dubbed "the Overcomers" by the American press. In 1881 they set out for Jerusalem as a party of thirteen adults and three children and set up the American Colony, which was later joined by Swedish Christians. They engaged in philanthropic work among the people of Jerusalem regardless of their religious affiliation and without proselytizing motives. They played a critical role during and immediately after WWI by running soup kitchens, hospitals, orphanages and other charitable ventures. As a last note, it is reported that the fourth verse of this hymn was added later in Horatio Spafford's life. His life was so full of tragedy that I wonder when it was added but I also can't help but think that it probably doesn't matter because this man was so strong in faith and found such comfort in the Lord that he chose to live a life of hope and joy. As a side note, there is a best-selling novel by Leif Enger called Peace Like a River (2001), who took the title from the lyrics of this hymn. The hymn was sung at his wedding and Enger wrote the novel to amuse his family, taking story suggestions from his children and giving the lead character asthma to encourage one of his songs, who also has asthma.
When I hear the hymn "How Great Thou Art" it is very American to my ears. The harmonies and text suggest early American folk music and I know that it was a popular hymn during the Billy Graham crusades and has been sung by everyone from Elvis to Carrie Underwood. But when I glanced down at the hymn tune name, O STORE GUD, I realized I was in for some interesting research. Both the original text and tune have Swedish roots. Carl G. Boberg wrote the original 9 verse poem in Swedish and the tune is an old Swedish folk song. This hymn was very popular in it's original form and made it's way throughout Europe. It was first translated into German, then Russian and then English. Stuart K. Hine was a missionary in Europe and translated the hymn into English and added two original verses of his own. The third verse that we sing today is attribute to Hine. Hine later added the fourth verse after WWII when he was concerned for Polish refugees exiled in England. A testimony from one of those refugees inspired the fourth verse that we sing today.
Mercy Sister Suzanne Toolan is an internationally known composer of liturgical music. Her communion song, "I Am the Bread of Life," has been translated into more than 20 languages. Sister Suzanne is a prominent American spokesperson for the music and prayer of the Taizé ecumenical community from France and leads many Taizé-style retreats.
Lutherans will sing every verse of any hymn so it's a good thing that the original 50 plus stanzas of the poem on which "I Love to Tell The Story" is based on were not included in the ELW. Katherine Hankey wrote a two part poem on the life of Jesus in 1866. The first part, over 50 verses long, was entitled "The Story Wanted" and the second part "The Story Told". Apparently Hankey had a long period of sickness in her life and it was reported that she spent the long days in her sick bed writing poetry. Certain verses were taken first by Dr. W. H. Doane to make the popular and familiar hymn "Tell me the old, old story". W.G. Fisher took verses from the second part of the poem to use in the hymn that we sing today.
We close with Fanny Crosby's famous hymn "Blessed Assurance". We first looked closely at her work last season during Lent and discovered how she too was a strong person of faith and through faith endured many incredible trials in her life. When I hear the parable of the mustard seed and the famous line, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you", I smugly think I am a person of great faith. But, when I hear these terrible stories of Spaffords life or think about refugees who survived the atrocities of WWII or I think about how people struggle with addiction I second guess myself. But then I look at how these people chose to walk in faith despite all odds and chose to turn their lives around that I begin to wonder if this is what moving mountains looks like.