Sunday, March 12, 2017

Strengthen With Thy Grace

On this day in 2017 we have a convergence of traditions. It's the Second Sunday in Lent on
the Christian calendar, and it's also the Feast of Purim on the Jewish calendar. Neither of
these days is tied to a specific date, so they rarely coincide.  And yet, we can bring them
together through one particular hymn.

Purim celebrates the story from the book of Esther, a woman born an Israelite but later
married to King Ahasuerus of Persia, who kept her origins a secret. At this time the Israelites 
were in exile in Persia. When Haman, an advisor to the king, devised a plot to kill all the
people of Israel, Esther defied convention by appearing before the king to plead for her
people (it was a capital offense to approach the king without permission). The eventual
deliverance of the Jews from the genocidal threat against them is marked by the joyful
celebration of Purim. Though Purim is a movable feast, it generally falls during the
Christian season of Lent.

Today's hymn dates from the sixth century, a text attributed to Pope Gregory the Great
(540-604), which begins:

Clarum decus jejunii
Monstratur orbi coelitus,
Quod Christus Auctor omnium
Cibis dicavit abstinens.

This was translated by Maurice Frederick Bell for the English Hymnal (1906). As was typical,
the text's illustrative exemplars from the Bible were all men, a conceit to which we need no
longer subscribe. In the revision below, the original third stanza (which you can see in the
full text here), referencing Daniel and John, was replaced by one about Esther, and
included in our original hymnal project for the Metropolitan Community Church.  
The glory of these forty days
We celebrate with songs of praise;
For Christ, by whom all things were made,
For us has fasted and has prayed.
Alone and fasting Moses saw
The loving God who gave the law;
And to Elijah, fasting, came
The steeds and chariots of flame.
So also Esther, at her hour,
For such a time was filled with pow'r
To go to the king, prepared to give
Her life, to let her people live.
Then grant us, Christ, like them to be
Full oft in fast and prayer with thee;
Our spirits strengthen with thy grace,
And give us joy to see thy face.
Creator, Christ, and Spirit blest,
To thee be every prayer addressed,
Whom grace and pow'r doth freely share,
With all who turn to thee in prayer.

Gregory the Great, Latin, 6th cent.;
tr. Maurice F. Bell, 1906; alt.
st. 3 Steve Carson, 1989
Joseph Klug, 1543;
harm. J. S. Bach, 18th cent.
stanza3 Copyright © 1989 Steve Carson

Oddly enough, March 12 was also the original feast day of Gregory the Great (the date
of his death), but in 1969 the Roman Catholic Church moved it to September 3 (the
date of his elevation to Pope). So we actually have a triple convergence today.

Though I have sung this hymn many times (most recently at a 2015 hymn festival
celebrating the women of the Bible), I was not aware of the Lent/Purim relationship
until a few years ago, but I have no doubt that my friend Steve Carson knew when he
chose Esther to be the woman included in this hymn.

Eight Years Ago: Paul Gerhardt

Seven Years Ago: Robert Lowry

Six Years Ago: Paul Gerhardt

Another Female Stanza Substitution: Jesus calls us o'er the tumult

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ash Wednesday

There is no sorrow, Christ, too light
To bring in prayer to thee;
There is no anxious care too slight
To wake thy sympathy.

Thou, who hast trod the thorny road,
Wilt share each small distress;
Thy love, which bore the greater load,
Will not refuse the less.

There is no secret sigh we breathe,
But meets thine ear divine;
And every cross grows light beneath
The shadow, Christ, of thine.

Jane Fox Crewdson, 1860; alt.
Edwin Moss, 19th cent.

Nine (Liturgical) Years Ago: Lord, who throughout these forty days

Eight (Liturgical) Years Ago: Awhile in spirit, Christ, to thee (now on Facebook)
Eight (Calendar) Years Ago: Thirsting for a living spring
Six (Liturgical) Years Ago: O Christ, whose tender mercy hears

Six (Calendar) Years Ago: Saint David
Five (Liturgical) Years Ago: All those who seek a comfort sure

Two (Calendar) Years Ago: Sing of Jesus, sing forever

One (Liturgical) Year Ago: Gracious God, my heart renew