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