Holy God, We Praise Your Name

Holy God, We Praise Your Name

Liturgy Lessons: April 29, 2018
Call to Worship: Psalm 115
Prayer of Invocation
Hymns of Adoration: Holy God, We Praise Your Name (#103); Be Unto Your Name
Confession/Assurance: Philippians 3:7-11
Hymns of Assurance: O Great God (Kauflin); I Surrender All (#562, vs. 1,2,4)
Catechism/Congregational Prayers
*Reading of the Word: Luke 5:27-32
Doxology: #731
Sermon: Rev. Eric Irwin
Tithes and Offerings
The Lord’s Supper: Christ Whose Glory Fills the Skies; My Soul Finds Rest in God Alone
Closing Hymn: On Jordan’s Stormy Banks

Te Deum Laudamus
We praise you, O God, we acclaim you as Lord;
all creation worships you, the Father everlasting.
To you all angels, all the powers of heaven, the cherubim and seraphim, sing in endless praise:
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory.
The glorious company of apostles praise you.
The noble fellowship of prophets praise you.
The white-robed army of martyrs praise you.
Throughout the world the holy Church acclaims you:
Father, of majesty unbounded, your true and only Son, worthy of all praise, the Holy Spirit, advocate and guide.
You, Christ, are the king of glory, the eternal Son of the Father.
When you took our flesh to set us free you humbly chose the virgin’s womb.
You overcame the sting of death, and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
You are seated at God’s right hand in glory.
We believe that you will come to be our judge.
Come then, Lord, and help your people, bought with the price of your own blood,
and bring us with your saints to glory everlasting.

Our youngest daughter is a five-year-old red-headed dynamo named Charlotte (a.k.a. “Lottie”, a.k.a. “Alice”, a.k.a. “Rosie”, a.k.a. “George”, a.k.a. whatever she comes up with on any given day). At home she loves to cuddle, dance, and change outfits every hour. At church she loves to stand on the pew when singing and crawl under the pew during the sermon. She wants to sing from the hymnal like her two big brothers, and so she is learning to read with the creative help from her mother and bins of letter cookies from Trader Joe’s. She is at that delightful age when kids unwittingly make up their own words. At Christmas she was fascinated with “Mary, Jofess, and the Holy Flamly.” This spring she is learning to put clothes away in the “laundry bastik,” and sometimes confesses to me when she “incidensly” (accidentally) does (pronounced “dooz”) something wrong. Her mother and I don’t correct her. We just smile at each other and repeat these phrases back to her the way we heard them. We know that once the speed limit of her brain catches up to her mouth, this cute and endearing stage of her life will quickly be over.

This week’s opening hymn is based on the ancient 4th-century Latin hymn known as the “Te Deum.” If we spelled that hymn title in letter cookies in front of a 5-year-old or someone who was unschooled in Latin pronunciation or just simply in a rush, those two words could easily be pronounced as “Tee-Dee-umm.” Tedium. Ironically, that is what the old hymns can easily become if we are ignorant. The dictionary defines tedium as “the quality or state of being wearisome or tiresome.” In a culture that worships youth and venerates the new, that which is old can easily be tedious. And yet monotony, boredom, mindless routine, dreariness, dryness, banality, vapidity, and insipidity have NO place in our sanctuary. When approaching the great old hymns (those which are saturated with scripture and have stood the test of time), we do so thoughtfully and carefully, seeking to extract the beauty and explore the depths of truth that they contain. When we look beyond stylistic prejudice, unfamiliarity, or musical and linguistic barriers, we often discover profound wisdom crafted by human hands that never held a cell phone or pushed a button to start something. These souls often suffered, physically, a great deal more than we ever will, and I imagine their singing was seldom tedious. There is so much we can learn from them, and someday we will join them around the throne in the unending song of praise, so we would do well practice what they preach.

The “Te Deum” is an ancient and transcendent hymn that worships the Triune God by exulting in a mighty symphony of praise streaming forth from all creation, the saints on earth and the saints in heaven, angel choirs, the apostles, prophets, and martyrs, and the worldwide church. This Sunday we join that song by declaring a rendered version of “Te Deum Laudamus,” which translates simply into “Lord, we praise you.” This is, in no small measure, the purpose of these liturgy lessons. I hope and pray that they would transform our tedium into Te Deum.

Holy God, We Praise Your Name
Text: Based on Te Deum, ca. 4th cent.
Tune: GROSSER GOTT, German Catholic Songbook (1774)

When opening up a very old bottle of wine, connoisseurs will use words like “full-bodied” and “complex,” seeking to describe all the distinct flavors on the palette. Well, here we have a full-bodied hymn extracted from a 1,600-year-old vintage in the church cellar. The “Te Deum” (ca. 4th cent.) is loved by all traditions of Christendom: Eastern, Roman Catholic, and Protestant. Outside of the Psalms and the canticles (those hymns found in scripture), the Te Deum is arguably the church’s greatest hymn. It is a gourmet distillation of scripture (Isaiah, Revelation, and the Psalms) that follows the outline of the Apostles’ Creed. Much of the text will be familiar (perhaps even memorized) to millions of Christians because sections of the prayer are common liturgical phrases and acclamations used in liturgies worldwide. Authorship is traditionally ascribed to Saints Ambrose and Augustine, on the occasion of the latter’s baptism by the former in AD 387. These two giants of the faith have collaborated on a hymn that starts with a poetic vision of the heavenly liturgy, followed by the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith, and ending with a prayer for salvation and unity.

The original Latin hymn was chanted for centuries during the Dark Ages, and historical records mention it was sung jubilantly by the people during the Hundred Years’ War, as well as by the French Army during the time of Joan of Arc. The “Te Deum” text has been set to music by many composers, including Haydn, Mozart, Berlioz, Dvořák, Britten, and most recently, Arvo Pärt. Puccini even includes the initial portion of the “Te Deum in Act I of his opera Tosca. However, the most famous musical incident involving this hymn concerns the death of Jean-Baptiste Lully, who wrote a setting of “Te Deum” for the court of Louis XIV of France. In the spring of 1687, Lully was conducting the orchestra and choir in his setting of this hymn. In those days, rather than using a baton, conductors would bang a large stick on the floor to keep time. In his fervor, he struck his toe, rather than the floor. The wound went gangrenous, but he refused to have his toe amputated, so he died two months later from blood poisoning.

“Holy God, We Praise Your Name” is a loose English translation of the “Te Deum.” It was written by Clarence Walworth, a 19th-century Catholic priest from New York. There are over 25 versified translations of the “Te Deum” in the English language alone, and Walworth’s is perhaps the best of the bunch. The “Te Deum” can be accompanied by many different tunes. The Trinity Hymnal uses GROSSER GOTT, perhaps the most famous hymn tune in the German language (often sung to Luther’s German translation of the “Te Deum”). GROSSER GOTT is a simple and stately melody from the 18th century. Written in triple meter and flowing forward with an almost regal procession, it perfectly serves the doxological and trinitarian text.

Scripture tells us, “do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 3:18-20). I love how the Bible equates singing with being filled with the Spirit. So, I encourage you to imbibe the original “Te Deum,” drink deeply of its truth. And, when we open our worship on Sunday with this hymn we can sing to the Lord with more grasp and gusto than ever before. If, however, you find yourself a little tipsy in the Spirit, just don’t drop the hymnal on your foot!

Holy God, we praise your name; Lord of all, we bow before you;
all on earth your scepter claim, all in heav’n above adore you.
Infinite your vast domain, everlasting is your reign.

Hark, the loud celestial hymn angel choirs above are raising;
cherubim and seraphim in unceasing chorus praising,
fill the heav’ns with sweet accord: “Holy, holy, holy Lord.”

Lo! the apostolic train join your sacred name to hallow;
prophets swell the glad refrain, and the white-robed martyrs follow;
and from morn to set of sun, through the church the song goes on.

Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy Spirit, Three we name you;
while in essence only One, undivided God we claim you,
and adoring bend the knee, while we sing this mystery.

Hymn recording

For those of you interested in further listening, I offer the following excerpts, separated by almost 400 years.
Lully’s setting of “Te Deum”
Arvo Part setting of “Te Deum”