All Creatures of Our God and King | Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands

All Creatures of Our God and King | Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands

Liturgy Lessons: October 22, 2017
Call to Worship: John 4:23-24; Psalm 95:6-7; Psalm 96:1-6 (Responsively)
Opening Hymn: All Creatures of Our God and King (#115)
Confession: Hebrews 4:12-16 and KYRIE ELEISON
Assurance of Pardon: Psalm 130:3-4, 7-12
Song of Assurance (insert): Before the Throne of God Above
Catechism/Congregational Prayers
Doxology: #733
Sermon: Matthew 4:1-11, “It is Written”, Shiv Muthukumar
Supper Hymns: Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands; Here is Love, Vast as the Ocean
Closing Hymn: How Firm a Foundation (#94)

“I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept…the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing. The Word did it all.”
– Martin Luther commenting on the start of the Reformation
(Timothy George, The Theology of the Reformers)

“The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.”
– Westminster Confession of Faith

This Sunday is part one in a three-week sermon series on the Reformation. New CPC intern and wunderkind Shiv Muthukumar lends his thoughtful depth to the notion of “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture Alone), one of the five “Sola” statements that were theological blueprints for the movement. So, this week we declare the sufficiency of Scripture as our supreme authority in all spiritual matters. The Bible is the fount of truth for salvation, the lamp to our feet, the two-edged sword at our side. And, in celebrating the written word, we also venerate the Living Word; for Jesus really is the Word incarnate and God’s truest revelation (Hebrews 1:1-2). Calvin said “Jesus came clothed with his gospel,” and Luther expresses it more poetically in an “Introduction to the Old Testament”:

“Let your own thoughts and feelings go, and think of the Scriptures as the loftiest and noblest of holy things…Here you will find the swaddling-clothes and the mangers in which Christ lies, and to which the angel points the shepherds.”

Perhaps those Five Solas of the Reformation are like the five points of that Bethlehem star that shines for all sojourners, pointing us toward the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Sola Christus! Christ is All!

All Creatures of Our God and King
Text: St. Francis of Assisi, 1225
Tune: Lasst Uns Erfreuen, based on 17th-century German folk melody

One of the most venerated religious figures in history, St. Francis of Assisi, was known for his love of animals and the natural environment. He founded a catholic order known for taking vows of poverty, and he is responsible for staging the first live nativity scene. This hymn text is based on an ode that was composed by St. Francis in the year 1225, while he was visiting a monastery in San Damiano, Italy. Named the “Canticle of the Sun,” the original hymn written in a sort of Latin/Italian hybrid dialect is a bold invocation of praise from all elements of nature (Sun, moon, water, fire, wind). It is quite mystical in nature, and is considered one of the first, if not the first, works of literature written in the Italian language. At the time he authored this famous hymn, St. Francis was nearly blind from an eye disease, and was seeking rest and recovery from another illness. His death would come just a year later while still in his early 40’s. Shortly after his death, he was canonized, and is now the patron saint of Italy. The hymn was transcribed into English language by William Draper in the early 20th century. The paraphrased translation was paired with the sweeping German tune LASST UNS ERFREUEN and first used for a children’s service in England in the 1920’s. Almost immediately, the new English setting of “All creatures of our God and King” became one of the most beloved and widely used hymns in the English language.

The tune LASST UNS ERFREUEN first appeared in 1623, published as part of a Jesuit hymnal in Cologne. It was an anonymous mash-up of melodic fragments from the Genevan Psalter of 1562. It is a strong, beautiful, artistic tune that accumulates fervor throughout. It has an elegant arc built into it that brings natural intensity to the climactic sung “alleluia.” Largely rooted in a German folk melody, this familiar “doxology” tune is paired with three different hymn texts in our hymnal. The oldest of these texts, “A Hymn of glory let us sing” (#289) dates from the 7th century. The doxology text we sing almost every other week (#733) is the last verse of a set of three hymns written in 1709 by Thomas Ken. It is a tribute to the timelessness of the music that it can be successfully paired with texts that span 1,000 years. The “Alleluias” and “O Praise Him” were added later to make the text fit the tune. From a singing perspective, they prove to be a brilliant addition, emphasizing the continual echo of praise lifted from creation to Creator. And if you listen closely you will notice that the entire hymn is an echo. Every single line of music is repeated, except for the very final “alleluia.” This sort of musical device is called antiphony (“sounding back”), and is basically responsive singing in which one set of voices echoes or answers the other. It is a microcosm of our worship. God calls, we answer. He reveals, we respond. He sings creation into existence, and creation echoes back His praises. We love because He first loves us. When singing this hymn, I hope you can enjoy how this devotional dialogue is delightfully designed. O, that we might powerfully proclaim this playful ping-pong praise!

There are some wonderfully varied expressions of this hymn. David Crowder and his band have a funky, contemporary version that you can hear by clicking here. You can also listen to this glorious rendition by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. However, my personal all-time favorite re-working of this hymn is by Benjamin Britten, who used it as the final movement in his oratorio “The Company of Heaven,” scored for choir, tenor and soprano soloists, organ, and orchestra. Set to the text “Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones,” it begins with scriptural narration spoken over unison humming, and builds slowly into broad and brilliant bursts at the Trinitarian doxological final verse! After the final “Alleluia” and “Amen” have been sung, the movement closes with the voices declaring “heaven is here, heaven is here!” It is monumental and magnificent and deeply moving. Listen to it here.

For those of you who are interested, here is a link to a great archived discussion of this hymn from FPC Jackson’s “hymns of the faith” series.

Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands
Text: Martin Luther, 1524
Tune: Matthew Curl, 2005

“Christ lag in Todesbanden” (“Christ lay in death’s bonds”) is an Easter hymn by Martin Luther. The foreboding title of the hymn is completely misleading, as it would seem to suggest a meditation on the suffering of Christ in similar vein as “O Sacred Head.” However, the complete hymn celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus in a brilliant poetic progression from struggle to victory. The first verse is a microcosm of the whole:

Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands, for our offenses given,
But now at God’s right hand he stands, and brings us life from heaven.
Therefore let us joyful be, and sing to God right thankfully loud songs of “Alleluia”!

Though there are initial portions of the hymn that focus on the struggle between Life and Death, the hymn builds merriment and momentum toward the miracle, with each verse ending in an “Alleluia.” It is saturated with scriptural themes. It contains many references to the Passover feast, comparing Christ’s sacrifice to that of the Pascal Lamb. It celebrates the “bread of life” that alone nourishes the soul, and echoes 1 Corinthians by declaring that Christ’s atonement for sin has removed the “sting” of Death.

The original tune for this was an adaptation of a medieval chant, and was co-written by Luther and Johann Walther, a composer who had a great influence in early Lutheran church music. It was such a popular melody that various composers used the hymn in their compositions. Bach titled his Cantata 4 “Christ Lag in TodesBanden” and wove the melodic theme throughout each movement. This vigorous tune is the one we have in our hymnal, and it was composed, along with other hymns, with a very specific intent. On writing it, Luther said he had, “with the help of others, brought together some sacred songs, in order to make a good beginning and to give an incentive to those who can better carry on the Gospel and bring it to the people…And these songs were arranged in four parts for no other reason that that I wanted to attract the youth (who should and must be trained in music and other fine arts) away from love songs and carnal pieces and to give them something wholesome to learn instead…”

Perhaps this tune perked the young ears of the 16th century, but its minor mode and plainchant-like feel has caused it to fall out of favor with all but the musically trained. Because of the effervescence and poetic strength of Luther’s text, the hymn was prime fodder for a new musical setting. The version we are singing was introduced to me by our associate pastor, Casey Bedell, who, being a few years younger, is much more in tune with the times than a cloistered conservatory music snob like myself. It is an intuitive setting of Luther’s text by Matthew Curl, music director down at Intown Church in Portland, Oregon. Matthew’s tune keeps the same form as the original, but extends the Alleluia section by repeating it four times in a well-crafted cadence. I love the singability and accessibility of this tune. I just wish it were written in four parts, where every voice type could be in their sweet spot, and the body of Christ could declare with more harmonic nuance its natural and diverse beauty. But…I’ll save further thoughts on singing in parts for a future liturgy lesson. Below is a link to the only existing recording of this version. Though I’m not too fond of it (sounds a bit like early Petra – extra points if you got that reference to 1980’s Christian Rock!), I’m including it in the link below so you can learn the tune.