I have been somewhat remiss in not coming up with Sunday themes this summer for the Sundays after Pentecost. It's several months until Advent and the beginning of the church year, when we always have an appropriate theme for a hymn (unless there's a hymnic birthday to mark). Last summer I rotated between four different ones on Sundays:
- hymns of social justice
- communion hymns
- hymns of the Holy Spirit
- gospel songs
There's a certain subset of hymns that are often (not always) used as opening hymns, the first hymn of the service. Services across many denominations often open with a hymn of praise to God. This hymn may specifically mention morning, traditionally the time of Sunday worship (also not always). Sometimes there are specific references to the congregation's coming together for worship, with perhaps a prayer for blessing or for receiving the gifts of Word and sacrament.
I think these traditions come partly from a section of the Catholic mass, the Gloria, which exists in several different textual versions and countless musical settings. Some churches use both an opening hymn of praise and a Gloria, but why not? Plenty of room for praise.
Here's one I remember, as a little Lutheran boy, that was always the opening hymn when we sang it. Other denominations use it now but the text at least is of Lutheran origin (Composer Neander, while German, was a Calvinist, and wrote many texts as well as tunes). In the original German it began Thut mir auf die schöne Pforte. Online translators can't provide a literal English version beyond "beautiful gate," but Catherine Winkworth knew how to phrase it.
Open now thy gates of beauty,
Zion, let me enter there,
Where my soul in joyful duty
Waits for God, who answers prayer.
Oh, how blessèd is this place,
Filled with solace, light and grace!
Gracious God, I come before thee,
Come thou also unto me;
Where we find thee and adore thee,
There a heav’n on earth must be.
To my heart, oh, enter thou,
Let it be thy temple now!
Here thy praise is gladly chanted,
Here thy seed is duly sown;
Let my soul, where it is planted,
Bring forth precious sheaves alone,
So that all I find may be
Fruitful unto life in me.
Thou my faith increase and quicken,
Let me keep thy gift divine,
Howsoe’er temptations thicken;
May thy Word still o’er me shine
As my guiding star through life,
As my comfort in all strife.
Speak, O God, and I will hear thee,
Let thy will be done indeed;
May I undisturbed draw near thee
While thou dost thy people feed.
Here of life the fountain flows,
Here is balm for all our woes.
Benjamin Schmolck, 1730
tr. Catherine Winkworth, 1863; alt.
Tune: UNSER HERRSCHER (188.8.131.52.7.7.)
Joachim Neander, 1680
Filled with solace, light and grace! I didn't even know what solace was but it had to be a good thing. This was one of my first "favorite hymns" and it's a good one for children because the first two lines of the melody are repeated, so it's easy to remember. In The Lutheran Hymnal (1941), which we used, this tune is matched with five different texts, but this is the one I remember singing. Also, it's the first hymn in that book, #1. Nowadays I like a little more melodic variety, which is probably why it's moved down my list, but I do still like the tune very much, and it goes well with some other texts too.
As we've seen, when I'm writing a new entry I often come across some odd connection to something that I've recently written about. Timothy Matthews, the composer of the tune MARGARET for Emily Elliott's Thou didst leave thy throne, also wrote a tune that can be used for this text called VILLAGE VESPERS. It's an interesting curiosity (note that his tune's first two lines also repeat) but I'm not surprised it never caught on. Neander's seventeenth-century tune UNSER HERRSCHER (sometimes called NEANDER) may well be sung for another three hundred years.
What are some opening hymns that are used regularly in your churches? I have several in mind, so we won't run out, and maybe we'll get to some of yours.
One Year Ago: Jessie Seymour Irvine