Friday, October 9, 2015

139. Hymn for the 2nd Sunday after Trinity

This is based on the Epistle, 1 John 3:13-24, and the Gospel, Luke 14:16-24. A hideous catastrophe befell me while I was writing this. I had written five stanzas to my own satisfaction, but when I went to save the document Word glitched out, said either the file was corrupt or there was a permission error, and deleted it - a document I had been working on since the first of the year. I was able to recover the document from a backup copy, and about two and three-quarters of the stanzas I had written were fortunately stored on the clipboard, and by memory I was able to recover the rest of stanzas 3 and 4; but rewriting stanza 5 turned out to be far harder than writing it in the first place. Here is the outcome, for what it's worth; the tune is LIEBSTER IMMANUEL, from a Leipzig hymnal of 1675.
Lord, when You call us to feast at Your table,
Shall we such honor and pleasure despise?
We of ourselves are unworthy, unable,
Unjust to others, unclean in Your eyes.

Yet You persist in Your kind invitation,
Offering pardon and life to the least;
Shall wealth or duty or other relation
Keep us from tasting Your heavenly feast?

Dear Lord! Forbid that, Your summons refusing,
We tempt Your word to withdraw from this place!
Soften our hearts lest, Your mercy refusing,
We close the door on our moment of grace!

Rather, Lord, choose us again, the forsaken,
Crippled and blind, the cast down and cast out!
As You have loved us, among us awaken
Love of each other, unfettered by doubt!

Grant, dearest Savior, that all who address You
May know the truth and in true love abide!
Cause us with confident hearts to confess You,
Joyfully trusting in Christ crucified!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

138. Hymn for the 1st Sunday after Trinity

Now that I've filled in all the Sundays of the "festival half" of the church year in my "hymns for every Sunday of the church year" project, it's time to move on to Ordinary Time. Depending on the date of Easter, there may be between 22 and 27 Sundays after Trinity in any church year, Trinity Sunday being one week after Pentecost. The nomenclature of Sundays after Trinity is historically Lutheran, while Catholics and Protestants follow other naming systems based on Sundays after Pentecost or Sundays of Ordinary Time in which, confusingly, the weeks have different numbers. Then there is the most recent wave of liturgical reforms, which dispense with propers filed under Such-and-such Sunday after Whatnot in favor of a numbered list of propers, each to be observed when Sunday falls within a given range of dates.

I think it's a bad idea for Lutherans to go along with this because, among other reasons, it distances us from the counsel of Dr. Martin Luther, whose books of House and Church Postils provide excellent examples of how to preach on the lessons for each Sunday after Trinity and the rest of the church year. I consulted his Church Postil sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity before writing this hymn, and I believe I profited by it. The Epistle for this mass is 1 John 4:16-21 beginning with the words "God is love." The Gospel is Luke 16:19-31, Jesus' account (not exactly a parable) of the rich man and Lazarus. The tune is HEUT SINGT DIE LIEBE CHRISTENHEIT, Nürnberg, c. 1555.
Lord Jesus, heal our scaly eyes
To see beyond the world's disguise,
Lest we take curse for blessing!
Your judgment comes with swift surprise;
Rich hypocrites You will despise,
The faithful poor caressing.

You tell of one who, lacking love,
Thought on his wealth, not things above,
Each day in purple dressing;
While Lazarus, too sick to move,
Lay starving, yet did not reprove,
Instead God's grace confessing.

Death summoned both men just the same;
The one to Abram's bosom came,
But Hades claimed the other.
The rich man, writhing in his flame,
Begged that the beggar go proclaim
Grim warning to his brothers.

But Abram said: They have God's word;
Let Moses and the seers be heard!
Not so, the rich man pleaded,
If one should came back from the dead!
If they believe not, Abram said,
His word were no more heeded.

Wise Savior, who arose indeed,
Once slain for every sinner's need,
Help us by faith receive you!
By grace forgive our worldly greed;
Plant in us mercy's fruitful seed,
And heal the faults that grieve you!

And if perhaps affliction comes -
The wounds, the dogs, the paltry crumbs -
With faithful hope sustain us!
Your grace the deepest Hades plumbs;
Permit then, Christ, as grace becomes,
The cross we need to train us!

Till then, let us in You abide,
O Love, the whole creation wide;
And likewise live within us!
Draw us at last unto Your side
When You stand as the Lamb who died
And rose again to win us!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

137. Septuagesima Hymn

The historic Lutheran mass for the third-last Sunday before Ash Wednesday centers on the Epistle from 1 Corinthians 9:24 to 10:5 and the Gospel from the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, Matthew 20:1-16. Here is my attempt to combine the two lessons into a single argument, set to a 19th century adaptation of the 10th century plainchant tune REX CHRISTE, FACTOR OMNIUM.
Dear Christians, be not unaware:
Both Jews and Gentiles have a share
In Jesus’ saving work and vow
From Moses’ exodus till now.

For even then the pilgrim Jew
Received the selfsame Christ as you:
In cloud and sea baptized and led,
They ate the living, heav’nly Bread.

Be careful, brethren, what you think!
The Rock that gave refreshing drink
And followed Moses’ smiting rod
Was also Christ, the Lamb of God.

Despite man’s evil, envious eye,
For all men’s good He dared to die.
Each whom He calls receives as one
The wages due God’s holy Son.

Beloved, run your race with eyes
Fixed on this everlasting prize!
Let none who share this hope, through pride
At last be lost, disqualified!

Learn what God’s Law demands of you;
Yet know Christ’s promises are true!
Then, clinging to His word of grace,
You too will see His beaming face.

136. Transfiguration Hymn

I am daunted by the task to compose an original hymn for the Transfiguration of Our Lord, when there are already several excellent ones, each approaching the story from a different but spiritually useful angle. The story of Jesus' transfiguration is recorded in Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36 and briefly with interpretive comments in 2 Peter 1:16-21, which happens to be the Epistle for the mass of the Transfiguration. The Gospel thereof is Matthew's account. The tune is the chorale MEIN SCHÖPFER, STEH MIR BEI by Franz H. Meyer, 1740.
Lord, how Your visage shone
On Peter, James and John!
For them alone the sight
Of garments white as light!
For them dead saints appearing,
The Father's dread voice speaking,
Till at the bright cloud's breaking
Your word roused them from fearing
To gaze with comprehension slight
On You, O Christ, alone!

Lord, as You left that peak
You warned them not to speak
Of features like the sun
Until Your course was run.
For You yet loomed the shaming,
The ruler's scourge and mocking,
The tree of anguish shocking,
But one blind heathen naming
The Son of God, O Christ, in One
So wretched, low and weak!

Lord Christ, our poor eyes spare
Such glimpses all too fair!
Give us instead as food
Your stricken flesh and blood!
For us Your promise certain
Is armor from sin's sallies,
Light on our road's dark valleys,
And hope beyond death's curtain.
To bear Your cross will be our good
Till we Your glory share!
The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord is a funny thing. In most of Christendom, outside Lutheranism and a few other Protestant bodies, it is celebrated on Aug. 6 or, in communities too conservative for the Gregorian calendar, Aug. 19. In some Scandinavian Lutheran bodies it is observed on the 7th Sunday after Trinity, a.k.a. 8th Sunday after Pentecost. Most Lutherans observe Transfiguration on the last Sunday after Epiphany, but among them those who follow the revised lectionary of the period influenced by Vatican Council II consider that to be the Sunday immediately before Ash Wednesday, formerly known as Quinquagesima. But in the increasingly narrow sliver of liturgical tradition in which I feel most at home, the Pre-Lenten "Gesima" Sundays still stand as a buffer between the Epiphany season and Lent; so Transfiguration is three weeks earlier on the Sunday before Septuagesima - except when there is only one Sunday after Epiphany, which can happen when Easter falls between March 22 and 24. So this hymn, understand, is intended for that interpretation of Transfiguration Sunday within a projected series of hymns for every Sunday of the church year. Perhaps ironically, it's the only scenario that includes the (slight) possibility of a year without Transfiguration.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Dead Weight

Dead Weight
by T. R. Ragan
Recommended Ages: 14+

Lizzie Gardner is a Sacramento private investigator who collects mysteries the way a porch light attracts moths. As a teenager she was held captive by a serial killer, only to escape from him and, years later, kill him when he came after her and those she cared about. Now her job is supposed to be all about sniffing out cases of workman's comp fraud. She can't help it that the creepy crawlies keep swirling into her orbit. They don't know any better.

In this installment, Lizzie and her assistants Haley and Jessica are on the trail of not one but two missing persons. One girl disappeared 20 years ago off the side of a highway, and the creepiest thing about her disappearance is how little effort her parents have made to find her - until now, when her mother is dying of cancer and just wants closure. The other girl has only been gone a few months, but her sister suspects that a dynamic weight-loss guru may be involved. As Lizzie and her bickering duo of assistants get closer to the answers, it seems increasingly likely that a lunatic is involved - someone who, to judge by interleaved chapters depicting an extreme type of fat farm that borders on torture, may like to see plus-sized women disappear a pound at a time.

Or maybe not. It's not actually entirely clear that a serial killer has anything to do with this story. In fact, the character who seems closest to becoming one is young Haley, who was repeatedly raped as a child and has a plan for revenge that will have you squirming and biting your knuckles. I wasn't sure which would be worse - if she were to accomplish it, or if the plan would backfire.

It's a girl-power mystery thriller that will definitely live up to this, lo and behold, Adult Content Advisory. Its "toughness has no gender" shtick is so over-the-top at times that I giggled, for example, at Lizzie's hesitancy to say "I love you" back to her tenderly devoted boyfriend Jared. She is so totally the guy in that relationship, one can only guess this series plays out in a fantasy world defined by a reversal of traditional sex roles. It almost works out that way, but for the vulnerability of Lizzie and her girls Wednesday and Friday (guess which is which). And it is that vulnerability that makes the climax of this book's three story lines almost unbearably suspenseful.

This is the second book in the Lizzie Gardner series, which began with Abducted and also includes A Dark Mind, Obsessed, Almost Dead and Evil Never Dies. T. R. Ragan is also the author of the upcoming (in March 2016) thriller Furious and, as Theresa Ragan, eight other novels of romance, romantic suspense and time-travel romance. This review is based on the audiobook read by Kate Rudd.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

135. Hymn for the 5th Sunday after Epiphany

The mass for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany is traditionally celebrated only when Easter falls in the April 22-25 range, or April 21 in a Leap Year. I guess that makes it a statistical rarity. The Epistle is Colossians 3:12-17, one of only two Sundays when that book of the Bible is heard in the historic lectionary (the other being Trinity 24 when the lesson is Colossians 1:9-14). The Gospel is the parable of the tares according to Matthew 13:24-30. The tune I have in mind is SONG 1 by Orlando Gibbons, 1583-1625.
Heirs of God's realm, be not discouraged, though
False brethren bide among you, bringing pain!
The seed He sows is good, and yet the foe
Sows other seed by night among the grain.
It pleases Christ to wait till He return
To gather in His wheat, the tares to burn.

Far be it from our Lord to suffer weeds
To shade His planting's leaf or crowd its root;
For dearly bought indeed are we His seeds,
And dear to Him our cultivated fruit.
Such is His love for us, that He forbears
Lest we be lost in pulling out the tares.

Be patient yet a while, till Christ appears
To bring the consummation of the age!
His angels then will winnow out the tares;
The sons of lawlessness shall have their wage.
Then will the just by faith shine as the sun
And see the kingdom of the Three in One.

Meantime, beloved, chosen holy ones,
Put on a heart of mercy, kind and meek,
Forbearing, gentle, as becomes God's sons,
And bonds of peace with one another seek!
The peace of Christ let rule within your hearts,
That His word may indwell your inner parts!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

134. Hymn for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany

The mass for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany is traditionally heard only when Easter falls on or after April 15. With the same Introit and Gradual as the Third and Fifth Sundays of that season, it is distinguished mainly by its Epistle, Romans 13:8-10, and its Gospel, the "stilling of the storm" related in Matthew 8:23-27. Godfrey Thring's hymn "Fierce Raged the Tempest O'er the Deep" is based on the parallel account in Mark 4:35-41, in which Christ is quoted saying to the sea, "Peace, be still." Since neither Matthew nor the parallel account in Luke 8:22-25 includes those words, and my text is Matthew's account, I am saved from plagiarizing Thring's memorable poem. The original tune is titled OLIGOPISTOI.
O you of little faith,
Be not so very timid!
Though He appear to sleep,
The Lord His watch will keep
With you upon the deep.
Come massive swells and steep,
His mercy has no limit,
O you of little faith!

Come fiery test or death,
Your Lord will not forsake you.
When tempests blow and quake
And waves across you break,
Be sure He is awake
Your cause and course to take;
To patient prayer betake you,
O you of little faith!

O slow of heart to trust
All that the Lord has spoken,
Can it but be His will
These winds and waves to still?
He let His own blood spill
All justice to fulfill;
Can His word, then, be broken,
O slow of heart to trust?

Though you return to dust,
The grave holds no more terror;
For by His three-day rest
Your sleep will, too, be blest
Till, rising as His guest
In spotless glory dressed,
You will, His banquet's sharer,
No more be slow to trust.

While I was comparing the three synoptic accounts of this incident, I was also interested to note Matthew is the only one who reports Christ calling his lads oligopistoi, the famous "O ye of little faith." Where Matthew has him asking, "Why are ye fearful, oligopistoi?" Mark has, "Why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith?" and Luke has simply, "Where is your faith?" It offers an interesting glimpse into the different sides of Jesus' character portrayed by these three witnesses. While Marcan Jesus comes across as more amazed at his disciples' weakness of faith, and Lucan Jesus as exasperatedly chiding, Matthean Jesus seems to turn their fearfulness into a playful pet name. It sounds like the kind of goofiness a later evangelist might want to paint over with a clearer, more pointed expression. Call it today's iota of evidence for the priority of Matthew.