Monday, October 27, 2008

O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright

Here is the second of Nicolai's two great hymns, "The Queen of Chorales."

O Morning Star, how fair and bright!
You shine with God's own truth and light,
     Aglow with grace and mercy!
Of Jacob's race, King David's son,
Our Lord and master, You have won
     Our hearts to serve You only!
          Lowly, holy!
     Great and glorious,
     All victorious,
          Rich in blessing!
Rule and might o'er all possessing!

Come, heav'nly bridegroom, light divine,
And deep within our hearts now shine;
     There light a flame undying!
In Your one body let us be
As living branches of a tree,
     Your life our lives supplying.
          Now, though daily
     Earth's deep sadness
     May perplex us
          And distress us,
Yet with heav'nly joy You bless us.

Lord, when You look on us in love,
At once there falls from God above
     A ray of purest pleasure.
Your Word and Spirit, flesh and blood
Refresh our souls with heav'nly food.
     You are our dearest treasure!
          Let Your mercy
     Warm and cheer us!
     O draw near us!
          For You teach us
God's own love through You has reached us.

Almighty Father, in Your Son
You loved us when not yet begun
     Was this old earth's foundation!
Your Son has ransomed us in love
To live in Him here and above:
     This is Your great salvation.
     Christ the living,
     To us giving
          Life forever,
Keeps us Yours and fails us never!

O let the harps break forth in sound!
Our joy be all with music crowned,
     Our voices gladly blending!
For Christ goes with us all the way--
Today, tomorrow, ev'ry day!
     His love is never ending!
          Sing out!  Ring out!
          Tell the story!
Great is He, the King of glory!

What joy to know, when life is past,
The Lord we love is first and last,
     The end and the beginning!
He will one day, oh, glorious grace,
Transport us to that happy place
     Beyond all tears and sinning!
          Amen!  Amen!
     Come, Lord Jesus!
     Crown of gladness!
          We are yearning
For the day of Your returning!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying

October 26th is dedicated on the calendar of commemorations to three stellar hymnwriters: Philipp Nicolai, Johann Heerman, and Paul Gerhardt.  Where would we be without their rich texts?  Nicolai was also a gifted composer, writing the text and tune for "Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying," known as the "King of Chorales," as well as "O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright," known as the "Queen of Chorales."  The circumstances which called into being these two great hymns and the classic chorales to which they are wed are tragic.  Pestilence raged in Westphalia.  At Unna, where Nicolai was pastor, 1,300 villagers died of the plague between July, 1597, and January, 1598.  During one week in August, 170 victims were claimed by death!
From the parsonage, which overlooked the churchyard, Nicolai witnessed the steady procession of burials and the regular digging of graves.  In the midst of all this death and sadness, Nicolai wrote a series of meditations entitled, "Freuden Spiegel," or "Mirror of Joy."  His purpose, stated in the preface, dated August 10, 1598, was "to leave it behind me (if God should call me from this world) as a token of my peaceful, joyful Christian departure, or (if God should spare me in health) to comfort sufferers whom He should also visit with the pestilence....There seemed to me nothing more sweet, delightful and agreeable, than the contemplation of the noble, sublime doctrine of Eternal Life obtained through the Blood of Christ...I...searched the Scriptures as to what they revealed on this matter...then day by day I wrote out my meditations, found myself, thank God! wonderfully well, comforted in heart, joyful in spirit and truly content."  Both of these classic hymns appeared for the first time in his "Mirror of Joy."  As a title to "Wachet auf" Nicolai wrote, "Of the voice at Midnight, and the Wise Virgins who meet their Heavenly Bridegroom. Mt. 25."  The title to "Wie schon" reads, "A spiritual bridal song of the believing soul concerning Jesus Christ, her Heavenly Bridegroom, founded on the 45th Psalm of the prophet David."  Two treasures.  The first is presented here:

"Wake, awake, for night is flying,"
The watchmen on the heights are crying:
"Awake, Jerusalem, arise!"
Midnight hears the welcome voices
And at the thrilling cry rejoices:
"Oh, where are ye, ye virgins wise?"
The bridegroom comes, awake!
Your lamps with gladness take!
With bridal care
Yourselves prepare
To meet the bridegroom, who is near."

Zion hears the watchmen singing,
And all her heart with joy is springing;
She wakes, she rises from her gloom.
For her Lord comes down all-glorious,
The strong in grace, in truth victorious;
Her star is ris'n, her light is come.
Now come, Thou Blessed One,
Lord Jesus, God's own Son,
Hail!  Hosanna!
We enter all
The wedding hall
To eat the Supper at Thy call.

Now let all the heav'ns adore Thee,
Let saints and angels sing before Thee
With harp and cymbals' clearest tone.
Of one pearl each shining portal,
Where, joining with the choir immortal,
We gather round Thy radiant throne.
No eye has see the light,
No ear has heard the might
Of Thy glory;
Therefore will we
Sing hymns of praise and joy to Thee!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Saints, See the Cloud of Witnesses

After the Apostles, Ignatius was the second bishop of Antioch in Syria.  Whether he knew any of the apostles directly is uncertain.  Little is known of his life except for the end of it.  Early in the second century (perhaps around 107 A.D., during the reign of Emperor Trajan), he was arrested and condemned to death, transported to Rome to die in the arena.  By dealing with Ignatius, the authorities hoped to terrify his followers.  Instead, Ignatius took the opportunity to encourage the Christians, speaking to groups of them at every town along the way to Rome.  He wrote seven letters that have been preserved.  In one he writes:  "I am God's wheat, ground fine by the lion's teeth to be made purest bread for Christ."  Ignatius' life and death are commemorated on October 17th.

1.  Saints, see the cloud of witnesses surround us;
     Their lives of faith encourage and astound us.
          Hear how the Master praised their faith so fervent:
          "Well done, My servant!"

2.  These saints of old received God's commendation;
     They lived as pilgrim-heirs of His salvation.
          Through faith they conquered flame and sword and gallows,
          God's name to hallow.

3.  They call to us, "Your timid footsteps lengthen;
     Throw off sin's weight, your halting weakness strengthen.
          We kept the faith, we shed our blood, were martyred;
          Our lives we bartered."

4.  Come, let us fix our sight on Christ who suffered,
     He faced the cross, His sinless life He offered;
          He scorned the shame, He died, our death enduring,
          Our hope securing.

5.  Lord, give us faith to walk where You are sending,
     On paths unmarked, eyes blind as to their ending;
          Not knowing where we go, but that You lead us--
          With grace precede us.

6.  You, Jesus, You alone deserve all glory!
     Our lives unfold, embraced within Your story;
          Past, present, future--You, the same forever--
          You fail us never!