Friday, December 26, 2014

Saint Stephen

December 26 is marked on some church calendars as the Feast of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr, whose story is told in the sixth and seventh chapters of Acts.  Again, because of its prozimity to Christmas, there are probably not many services today where he will be remembered.

There is less speculation about Stephen's death, as it is told in scripture.  When he was brought before the Sanhedrin and accused of blasphemy, he gave a long speech about the history of Israel, and then said that he could see Jesus in heaven at the right hand of God.  This suggestion that the recently-crucified Jesus was alive as the Messiah enraged the crowd of listeners, who stoned him.  A quick Google search will turn up several paintings depicting the scene of his murder.  The three stones seen here are also sometimes used to represent Stephen.

By all your saints still striving,
For all your saints at rest,
Your holy Name, O Jesus,
Forevermore be blessed!
For those passed on before us,
We sing our praise anew
And, walking in their footsteps, 

Would live our lives for you.

Praise for the first of martyrs,
Who saw you there to stand
To aid in midst of torments,
to plead at God's right hand.
We share with him. if summoned
By death our faith to own,
On earth our faithful witness,
In heav'n, the martyr's crown.

We pray for saints we know not,

For saints still yet to be,
For grace to bear true witness
And serve you faithfully,
Till all the ransomed number
Who stand before the throne
Ascribe all power and glory
And praise to God alone.

Horatio Bolton Nelson, 1864; alt.

Hans Leo Hassler, 1601; harm. J.S. Bach, 1729

Five Years Ago: Good King Wenceslas looked out

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Silent Word Is Pleading

What child is this, who laid to rest,
on Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
while shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the King,
whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
haste, haste to bring him laud,
the babe, the child of Mary.

Why lies he in such mean estate
where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for people here
the silent Word is pleading.


William Chatterton Dix, 1865
Tune: GREENSLEEVES ( with refrain)
English ballad melody, 16th cent.

Six Years Ago: Once in royal David's city

Five Years Ago: Where is this stupendous stranger?

Two Years Ago: Hark! the herald angels sing

Monday, December 22, 2014

Saint Thomas

Today's feast day of Saint Thomas usually gets swallowed up in the Christmas season, though they may be some churches named for him that celebrate the day this time of year.  Most likely Thomas is remembered on the Sunday after Easter, when the lectionary reading tells of his encounter with the risen Jesus, whose previous appearance to the disciples Thomas did not believe. (Though I never forget that none of the disciples believed Mary Magdalene's account a week earlier, so it hardly seems fair that Thomas is the only one branded as 'doubting' for the last two centuries.)

In art, Thomas is often depicted carrying a spear, since in some accounts he died of a spear-wound somewhere in Asia.

We have already seen the hymn that I consider the most perfect for the day, as over the last several years I have presented many individual hymns for the various saints on the church calendar. For the next year I am planning something a bit different for our commemorations of the saints.  The hymn below first appeared (in somewhat different form) in 1864, written by Horatio Bolton, Lord Nelson (grandnephew of the famous Admiral).  He wrote a general first and last stanza of praise, then several stanzas for individual saints that would be used as the second, middle stanza on each particular saint's day.  Bolton's text has been much altered over the years but this seems like a useful variation to use throughout the coming year.

By all your saints still striving,
For all your saints at rest,
Your holy Name, O Jesus,
Forevermore be blessed!
For those passed on before us,
We sing our praise anew
And, walking in their footsteps, 

Would live our lives for you.

Praise Thomas, your Apostle,
Whose short-lived doubtings prove
Your perfect two-fold nature,
The fullness of your love.
On all who wait your coming,
Shed forth your peace, O Lord,

And grant us faith to know you,
True God made flesh, adored.

We pray for saints we know not,

For saints still yet to be,
For grace to bear true witness
And serve you faithfully,
Till all the ransomed number
Who stand before the throne
Ascribe all power and glory
And praise to God alone.

Horatio Bolton Nelson, 1864; alt.
English melody; adapt. Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906

Note that Bolton slips in an Advent reference, "all who wait your coming" seasonably suitable to December 22.

The meter of  has proven quite popular over the years so we can try out several different tunes with this text over the coming year as we explore the various middle stanzas of the saints of the church.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Be It According to Thy Word

On this fourth Sunday in Advent many churches hear the lesson of the Annunciation, Mary's encounter with the angel Gabriel who brings news from God.  Mary famously says "yes" to God, perhaps more remarkably than we first realize for a young girl of no stature in her society, who would not have been able to make important decisions for herself.  And yet, she was chosen for this honor and agreed.

Today's hymn is by an old friend, Christopher Wordsworth, and comes from his collection The Holy Year (1865), containing appropriate hymns for each Sunday and major feast day of the church's liturgical year.  Originally published with twelve stanzas, I have brought it down to a more manageable four.

Today the angel comes, the same,
Who once of old to Daniel came;
Tidings of joy has Gabriel,
Tidings of thee, Emmanuel.

"Hail, highly favored! for of thee
Conceived and born a Child shall be,
Jesus our Savior, ever blest,
In human flesh made manifest."

"I am the servant of the Lord.
Be it according to thy word;"
With faith and forthright courage said
Mary, the highly favor

May we thy living Word receive,
Bring forth to life what we believe;
O come to us, and with us dwell,
And be our souls' Emmanuel.

Christopher Wordsworth, 1864; alt.
Tune: ANGELUS (L.M.)
Georg Joseph, 1657

While Gabriel's appearance to Mary is probably his most famous, he had previously visited Daniel in the eighth and ninth chapters of the Book of Daniel.

P.S. - The fifteenth-century painting below is The Annunciation by Filippo Lippi.

Six (Liturgical) Years Ago: Great Gabriel sped on wings of light

Five (Liturgical) Years Ago: Away! with loyal hearts and true

Two (Liturgical) Years Ago: Praise we the Lord this day

Saturday, December 13, 2014

William Walsham How

William Walsham How was born today in 1823 in Shrewsbury. In his later years he was Bishop of Wakefield (1889-1897), and was known in his time as the 'omnibus bishop' because he was often seen riding public transportation.  Throughout his life he always identified with the poor and downtrodden, and avoided his own career advancement for many years.

He was ordained in the Church of England in 1846.  His writings included a Commentary on the Four Gospels (beginning in 1863) and a popular manual, Holy Communion: Preparation and Companion (1854)

Some of his views on religion were quite ecumenical.  As a writer of hymns, he first collaborated with the Congregational minister Thomas Baker Morell, with whom he compiled a collection titled Psalms and Hymns (1854).  Some years later he was the chair of the committee that produced Church Hymns (1871) for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.  This book, for which Arthur Sullivan was the musical editor, was for many years the second-most popular hymnal in England, after Hymns Ancient and Modern.  Some years later, How would collaborate with Sullivan again when they  produced a hymn for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria which was sung throughout Great Britain on Sunday, June 20, 1897.

How wrote about fifty hymns in total, the most famous being  For all the saints.  We have seen several others here over the years (click on his tag below this entry). According to the calendar it may not quite be winter yet but this hymn seems appropriate for many parts of the country this week.

Winter reigneth o'er the land,
Freezing with its icy breath;
Dead and bare the tall trees stand;
All is chill and drear as death.

Sunny days are past and gone:
So the years go, speeding fast,
Onward ever, each new one
Swifter speeding than the last.

But the sleeping earth shall wake,
And the flowers shall burst in bloom,
And all nature rising break
Glorious from its wintry tomb.

So, Lord, after slumber blest
Comes a bright awakening,
And our flesh in hope shall rest
Of a never-fading Spring. 

William Walsham How, 1871
Tune: HALLE (
The Psalmist, 1830

Bishop How died on August 10, 1897 while vacationing in Ireland, and was buried in Whittington, where he has been rector for nearly thirty years (1851-1879, during which time most of his hymns were written).  

How currently appears on Broadway, as a character in the revival of Bernard Pomerance's play The Elephant Man, where he is portrayed by actor Anthony Heald.  Apparently How had some contact with Joseph Merrick when he was Suffragan Bishop of Bedford in East London, which is dramatized in the play.

Six Years Ago: William Walsham How

Monday, December 1, 2014

Hymns in the News

It's a few weeks late, but I did want to mention a special event that took place recently at Goshen College, a private liberal arts institution in Indiana that is affiliated with the Mennonite Church USA.

From Friday evening, November 14 through Sunday, November 16, students and people from the larger community gathered to sing through all 658 hymns in Hymnal: A Worship Book (1992), the Mennonites' current hymnal.  The event was sponsored by the college's Hymn Club (don't you wish your college had a Hymn Club?) to raise funds for Christian Peacemaker Teams.  Five of the students made it all the way through the book, while others came and went as the weekend progressed.

Hymnwriter, pastor, and musician Adam M. L. Tice, a graduate of Goshen College, later wrote down some of his impressions from the event, which is an interesting read.

I congratulate all who planned and participated in the hymn marathon (though I am just a bit envious as well).

Five Years Ago: World AIDS Day

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Come In Our Hearts To Dwell

As you probably know, it's a new (church) year today as we observe the First Sunday in Advent.  Christmas is coming but it's not here yet, in spite of the unavoidable holiday trappings that have sprung up over the past few weeks.  Here, at least, we can slow down a bit and observe this period of waiting.

Anglican hymnwriter Claudia Frances Hernaman provides today's text.  Like most of her other hymns, this one was originally written for children.  

We are more accustomed to hearing the word "Hosanna" on Palm Sunday, but it is also appropriate at this time of year.  The First Sunday in Advent often includes lessons about the second coming of Christ (also seen in this hymn), and the promised reign of peace and justice. We often think of Hosanna as an exclamation of praise, but it is more exactly an appeal for divine help, certainly among the things we do during this time of expectation.

Hosanna! now through Advent,
With loving hearts we sing,
For Jesus Christ is coming
To be his people's King. 
Hosanna! blessed Jesus,
Come in our hearts to dwell,
And let our lives and voices
Thy praise and glory tell.

Hosanna! let this welcome
Ring out through every heart;
Draw near to us, dear Jesus,
And nevermore depart.

So when we see you coming
With angels in the sky,
Hosanna! loud Hosanna
Shall be your people's cry.

Claudia Frances Hernaman, 19th cent.; alt.
Traditional American melody, in The Sacred Harp, 1844

This tune from the American Sacred Harp, or shape note tradition, may never have been matched to this text before. However, like the word Hosanna, the tune is probably not what we would associate with an exclamation of praise, but rather with a plea for assistance.

Six (Liturgical) Years Ago: Lo! Christ comes with clouds descending

Five (Liturgical) Years Ago:
Jesus came, adored by angels

Four (Liturgical) Years Ago:
Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates

Three (Liturgical) Years Ago:
The King shall come when morning dawns

Two (Liturgical) Years Ago:
Once he came in blessing

One (Liturgical) Year Ago: In the Advent light, O Savior

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

James Montgomery

Hymnwriter James Montgomery was born today in 1771, in Scotland. His parents were missionaries in the Moravian church, who left young James with friends while they traveled to evangelize the West Indies, and unfortunately both died there. 

He wrote poetry from a young age (even being expelled from school once because of it), and as an adult became a newspaper editor. He wrote several long secular poems, some on political subjects. However, Montgomery correctly believed that his hymns (about 400 in total) would be most remembered out of all his work. Nearly any hymnal index you check today will still contain his hymns, several of which have already been covered here (click on his name tag below).

Sing we the song of those who stand
Around th’eternal throne,
Of every kindred, clime, and land,
A multitude unknown.

Toil, trial, suffering, still await
On earth the pilgrim throng,
Yet learn we, in our earthly state,
The Church Triumphant’s song.

“Worthy the Lamb!” we join to sing,
“Who died for souls to save;
Henceforth, O death! where is thy sting?
Thy victory, O grave?”

Then, Alleluia! power and praise
To God in Christ be given;
May all who now this anthem raise
Renew the strain in heav’n!

James Montgomery, 1824; alt.
Tune: EVAN (C.M.)
William Henry Havergal, 1846

Following his death in 1854, a monument was erected at his gravesite in Sheffield in 1861. The inscription reads in part: Wherever poetry is read, or Christian hymns sung, in the English language, 'he being dead, yet speaketh' by the genius, piety and taste embodied in his writings.

We're still singing -- both Montgomery's hymns and those of the "multitude unknown."

Six Years Ago: James Montgomery

Four Years Ago: James Montgomery

Another Birthday Today: Augustus Montague Toplady

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Feast of All Saints

Today is All Saints' Day though many churches will celebrate it tomorrow.  My own congregation will mark it both days as today we have more than twenty people being confirmed by a visiting bishop, and tomorrow we will have our regular feast-day liturgy, to which many look forward.

Several of the hymns for this day are fairly long, so today's text might be a good alternative, especially for time-conscious worship leaders.  It still covers all the bases, praising saints both known and unknown and expressing our own aspirations to join that heavenly throng.

Eternal God, we give you praise and glory
For the bright cloud of witnesses unseen,
Whose names shine forth like stars, in sacred story,
Guiding our steps to realms of light serene;

And for your unknown saints, our praise adoring,
Fount of all sanctity, to you we yield,
Who in your treasure-house on high, are storing
Jewels who luster was, on earth, concealed.

Though, in your service, we have often slumbered,
Like the ten maidens, foolish ones and wise;
Yet with your saints, may we at last be numbered,
And at your call with burning lamps arise.

Mary Ann Thomson, 1889; alt.
Tune: EIRENE (
Frances Ridley Havergal, 1871

The parable of the wise and foolish maidens (or bridesmaids, or virgins) is from Matthew 25:1-13, and although that lesson is most often read during Advent it also speaks to our own hopes of heaven.

Mary Ann Thomson (1834-1923) is still known today in many places as the author of O Zion, haste, thy mission high fulfilling, a missionary hymn that some might find outdated.  I recently encountered it after several  years at a funeral for an Episcopal priest, a woman who was active in the work of the church long before she ever had any hope of ordination.  The gathered congregation, including many priests of an older generation, belted it out with enthusiasm, conveying the significance that it clearly held for them.  I began to understand it in a more general way, taking from it the sense of doing the work of the gospel in the world rather than converting the world to one religion.

Six Years Ago: Who are these like stars appearing?

Five Years Ago: For all the saints

Four Years Ago: The saints of God! their conflict past

Two Years Ago: Hark! the sound of holy voices

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Christopher Wordsworth

Bishop Christopher Wordsworth (October 30, 1807, - March 20, 1885) was the son of an Anglican minister and the nephew of England's Poet Laureate William Wordsworth.  He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where his father was also Master.  Successful both in scholarship and athletics, he was nicknamed "Great Christopher" at school for the many honors and awards he received.  

After taking holy orders in 1830 he remained in the education field at Cambridge and Harrow, finally becoming the vicar of the Anglican parish of Stanford-in-the-Vale-cum-Goosey in Berkshire for eighteen years.  He was appointed Bishop of Lincoln in 1869, where he remianed until his death.

He published several books in various areas of scholarship.  Most of his hymns appeared in The Holy Year (1862) a collection he edited which contains hymns for each Sunday of the church's liturgical year as well as for various feast days of the Anglican church.

 O God of heav’n and earth and sea,
To thee all praise and glory be;
How shall we show our love to thee,
Who givest all?

The golden sunshine, vernal air,
Sweet flowers and fruits, thy love declare;
Where harvests ripen, thou art there,
Who givest all.

For peaceful homes and healthful days,
For all the blessings earth displays,
We owe thee thankfulness and praise,
Who givest all.

We lose what on ourselves we spend,
We have as treasure without end
Whatever, God, to thee we lend,
Who givest all.

Whatever, God, we lend to thee,
Repaid a thousand-fold will be;
Then gladly will we give to thee
Who givest all.

To thee, from whom we all derive
Our life, our gifts, our power to give:
O may we ever with thee live,
Who givest all.

Christopher Wordsworth, 1863; alt.
Robert N. Quaile, 19th cent. 

Now this hymn is even more appropriate for the season of stewardship that many churches are currently observing.

Six Years Ago: Christopher Wordsworth 

Five Years Ago: Adelaide Anne Procter

Four Years Ago: Adelaide Anne Procter

Sunday, October 26, 2014

No Act Falls Fruitless

In this time of year many churches are emphasizing the theme of stewardship in preparation of their annual budgets.  Unsurprisingly, this is generally considered to be about money, but sometimes there will be discussion about other gifts we can bring to our communities and to the wider world.  This hymn reminds us of the smallest kinds of things that we can do every day in the stewardship of our spiritual mission.

Scorn not the slightest word or deed,
Nor deem it void of power;
There’s fruit in each wind-wafted seed
That waits its natal hour.

A whispered word may touch the heart,
And call it back to life:
A look of love bid fear depart,
And still discordant strife.

No act falls fruitless; none can tell
How vast its power may be,
Nor what results infolded dwell
Within it silently. 

Work on, despair not, bring your mite,
Nor care how small it be; 
God is with all that serve the right:
The holy, true, and free.

Anonymous, 1845; alt.
Thomas Tallis, 1567

The 'mite' in the last stanza refers to the widow's mite, or offering, in Mark 12:41-44;  Generations of Sunday School children filled mite-boxes with small coins each year (and probably still do).

The language of this text is perhaps a bit more formal than necessary, but I still think there's some value in an older text like this, unknown though it may be..

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Claudia Frances Hernaman

Hymnwriter Claudia Frances Hernaman was born on this day in 1838, in the English village of Addlestone, the daughter of the Reverend W. H. Ibotson, an Anglican priest. She wrote for a number of church publications at a fairly young ago, turning her attention to religious poetry and hymn texts, primarily for children. She also translated several hymns from Latin. and published several collections of her work.

Her most familiar text (perhaps the only one still regularly in use), sung across many denominations, is the Lenten hymn Lord, who throughout these forty days.  Today's hymn for children was written to mark any saints' day in the church calendar.  While we have seen many hymns written for particular saints, there are others such as this that can be sung for any saint's day. October 19, for example, does not mark any well-known saints, but there are still people on the calendar.

All thy saints adore thee, Lord,
Sing thy praise with one accord;
Magnify thy holy Name,
And thy boundless love proclaim.

Saints in paradise at rest,
Saints, by earthly trials pressed,
One in thee, with one glad voice,
Evermore in thee rejoice.

Now, O God, thy praise we tell,
In this saint who served thee well,
Who was strong in Jesus' might,
Conquering evil in the fight.

Grant us, God, with equal faith,
Thee to follow until death,
And, through all eternity,
With the saints to worship thee.

Claudia Frances Hernaman, 19th cent.; alt.
Tune: ST. BEES (
John Bacchus Dykes, 1862

This simple tune by the prolific Victorian composer John Bacchus Dykes, was apparently named for the village of St. Bees in northern England.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Frederick Lucian Hosmer

Frederick Lucian Hosmer (October 16, 1840 - June 7, 1929), Unitarian minister, hymnwriter and hymnal editor,  was born in Framingham, Massachusetts.  He graduated from Harvard Divinity School in 1869, a generation later than Samuel Longfellow, in whose hymnodic footsteps Hosmer would travel.

Today's hymn was written by Hosmer for the January 1891 dedication of the Unity Church of Decorah, Iowa (a Unitarian congregation, building pictured below).  In the nineteenth and early twentieth century there were several different texts written by various poets to be sung to the familiar tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic (or John Brown's Body) such as the one we have already seen by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

From age to age they gather, all the brave of heart and strong;
In the strife of truth with error, of the right against the wrong;
I can see their gleaming banner, I can hear their triumph song;
The truth is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah! The truth is marching on!

The earth is circling onward out of shadow into light;
The stars keep watch above our way, however long the night;
For every martyr’s stripe there glows a bar of morning bright;
And love is marching on!
Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah! And love is marching on!

Lead on, O cross of urgent faith, with thee is victory;
Shine forth, O stars and reddening dawn, the full day yet shall be;
God's dominion quickly cometh, and with joy our eyes shall see,
Our God is marching on!
Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah! Our God is marching on!

Frederick Lucian Hosmer, 1891: alt.  
Tune: BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC (Irregular with refrain)
William Steffe (coll.), c.1856

The theme of the coming reign of God appears in other texts by Hosmer, includimg somewe have already seen here (links below).

Six Years Ago: Frederick Lucian Hosmer

Five Years Ago: Frederick Lucian Hosmer  

Four Years Ago: Frederick lucian Hosmer

Monday, September 29, 2014

Saint Michael and All Angels

Today's feast-day for Saint Michael and All Angels is not celebrated as widely as it once was, but sometimes churches (such as my own) will observe it on the nearest Sunday (which we did yesterday).

I realized that the hymn I posted last week was really perfect for today, but fortunately there are dozens to choose from, as this partial list indicates.

High on a hill of dazzling light
As first creation’s glory shone,
Vast troops of angels stretched for flight,
Stand waiting round God’s heavenly throne.

Go, says the Lord, "my Gabriel, go --
Salute the Virgin's fruitful womb; 
Make haste, you seraphs down below,
Sing and proclaim the Savior come."

Here a bright squadron leaves the skies,
And thick around Elisha stands;
Again a heav’nly soldier flies,
And breaks the chains from Peter’s hands.

Your wingèd troops, O God of hosts!
Wait on your wandering church below:
When we are sailing to your coasts;
Let angels be our convoy, too.

Are they not all your servants, Lord?
At your command they go and come;
With cheerful haste obey your word,
And guard your children to their home.

Isaac Watts, 1709; alt.
Thomas Ravenscroft, 1621

This text reminds us of only a few of the scriptural stories of angels: Gabriel's visit to Mary (Luke 1: 26-38). the heavenly host that appeared to Bethlehem's shepherds (Luke 2:8-14), the angels with flaming chariots that protected the prophet Elisha (2 Kings 6:17), and the liberation of Peter from prison (Acts 12:4-11).

Isaac Watts wrote other hymn texts specifically about Saint Michael's war in heaven, from Revelation 12:7-12, so it may have been a particular interest of his, but not all of them are still likely to be sung in many places.  Texts like From heav'n the sinning angels fell and Down headlong from their native skies are perhaps better left in the past. 

Two Years Ago: O Captain of God's host

Four Years Ago: They are evermore around us

Five Years Ago: Stars of the morning, so gloriously bright

Six Years Ago:  Around the throne of God

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Leading Into Life

God will send the angels to the earth anew,
Bringing joyful tidings, songs the whole world through;
They who first, at Christmas, thronged the heavenly way,
Then, beside the tomb-door, sat on Easter Day.

Angels sing his triumph, as you sang his birth,
"Jesus Christ is risen!. Peace, goodwill on earth."

In the lonesome desert, where the Lord was tried,
There the faithful angels gathered at his side;
And when in the garden, grief and pain and care
Bowed him down with anguish, they were with him there.


Yet the Christ they honor is the same Christ still,
Who, in joy and sorrow, did his Father's will;
And the tomb deserted shines just like the sky,
Since he passed out from it into victory.


God has still these angels, helping, with the Word,
All God’s faithful children, like their faithful Lord;
Soothing them in sorrow, shielding them in strife,
Opening wide the tomb-doors, leading into life.


Phillips Brooks, 1877; alt.
Tune: ARMAGEDDON ( with refrain)
Luise Reichardt, 19th cent.; adapt. John Goss, 1871