Feb24Mon3 reflections on anniversary hymns February 24, 2020
Many of you are familiar with the history of the Golden Hour,
and if not, you can look at the commemorative booklet
you were handed this morning,
or check out the anniversary webpage.
What I find interesting about the beginnings of the Golden Hour,
beyond the technical ingenuity and the pioneer spirit of using this new-fangled medium called the radio in 1930,
was the fact that the original idea was carried forward by a group of 62 men at St. Matthews called the Brotherhood.
Without having done much research,
I’m assuming they are in the lineage of the German pietistic Brüdergemeinde still present today in German (esp. in the South), or perhaps might remind us of the current conservative evangelical denominations calling themselves “Brethren”.
The St. Matthews Brotherhood was a group that gathered to witness to Jesus Christ.
They were evangelical in the true sense of the word.
They wanted to spread the good news, the Gospel.
And they had just organized less than a year before,
when they took on this new project, of a radio transmission of the service called Kirche Daheim” or church at home for those who were too ill to come to church anymore.
Needless to say, this broadcast would not only reach members but anyone within listening radius.
90 years later, we no longer have a St. Matthews Brotherhood,
or a Witness committee,
or any group committed to evangelism,
and this is perhaps indicative of some of our problems.
Our baptismal vows state that we need (all of us) to “proclaim Christ through word and deed”,
and when we don’t have anyone to do this, well, I think something very important is missing.
At least our Golden Hour remains as our only witness “programme” left. And it is nothing to scoff at:
The third-longest continuous radio broadcast in the world,
we’ve outlasted our neighbour Benton Street Baptist’s radio broadcast,
and it requires a good deal of commitment from our radio operators, the Radio Committee and sponsors and supporters,
as well as our friends at Faith FM.
Which brings us to today’s service,
which has a slightly different format than usual.
Deacon Scott came up with the idea of a “Story and Song” service, choosing hymns that had been sung at various anniversary services.
Originally we wanted to choose important hymns from each decade of the radio program, but we settled on a service with a series of 5 reflections in and around the hymns,
and cutting communion to keep the focus on the story and song aspect.
Why are hymns so important for the Golden Hour?
Well…Hymns form an important connection to our Radio listeners
Radio listeners can’t partake in communion with us,
but they can hear the readings, the prayers and the sermon,
and importantly, they can participate with us in the singing of the hymns.
So we announce the hymns verbally, so that in theory,
someone can listen to the service with an open hymnal
and then sing along.
Our Gathering Hymn this morning, “Praise to the Lord”,
is perhaps the most popular of our anniversary hymns,
having been chosen for at least 7 services.
Based on Psalms 103 and 150, it is a "classic hymn of praise”,
and should be sung “Majestically, with movement”.
The text was written (in German) by Joachim Neander
whose family background was possibly Jewish.
He was born in Bremen, with studies in Frankfurt under Philip Spener, where he became a Pietist.
Pietism is a German protestant religious movement of the 17th century, characterized by “pious assemblies”, little church groups who had a lot of emotional fire, and pious fervour,
but who tended to be a little cliquey.
They liked to express their spiritual emotions when they gathered.
Often their hymns had a strong upward motion (to the heavens).
The “pious assemblies” were for teaching, preaching and the nurture of piety, and they were very missional (and remind us of the “St Matthews Brotherhood” I spoke of earlier) (or one might think of these groups as a Lutheran Pentecostal small group tradition).
Joachim Neander who wrote the text of our hymn, was headmaster at a grammar school, but was suspended after disobeying rules
(even headmasters can get suspended)
He wrote 60 hymns, and is called “the Paul Gerhardt of the German Reformed Church”.
Unfortunately he died way too young, at age 30, from tuberculosis.
An interesting anecdote is that Neander took long walks in a valley of the Düssel river.
And the valley was named for him. In that valley the Neanderthal (Neander valley) Neanderthal man (precursor to the modern homo sapiens) was discovered 2 centuries later.
One thing I think is quite fascinating is how this hymn has changed over the years.
First of all the melodies. […]
The original translated text, by Catharine Winkworth,
as found for example in the old Red book (the Service Book and Hymnal) has a lot of archaic langauge,
thees and thous and eths,
which were removed in the Green Book (the LBW),
which forms the translation in our hymn we will sing today, 858.
There is one problem though, with the translation: (at the end of verse 3)
Neander never wrote:
“if with his love he befriends you”
The conditional “if” makes it sound like one is not sure that God will befriend you” “if God will befriend you” (I dunno, will he, won’t he?)
However, the original German is quite clear:
“Who with his love befriends you”
Or literally “who meets you in love”
So in the original, it is declared: God meets you in love,
no “ifs ands or buts”.
So for that reason, actually the newer translation, found at hymn 859,
with gender-inclusive language, is better:
Where it reads: “infinite love here befriends you”
So now we rise as we are able, and sing “Praise to the Lord”
If you turn to your Guides to worship, on page 2, you’ll notice the years when today’s main hymns were sung at various Golden Hour anniversary services.
Deacon Scott reviewed only a collection of anniversary booklets,
so the list is not exhaustive, but it still gives you a sense of the frequency when each of these hymns were sung.
One neat observation is that these popular hymns,
chosen at these important festival Sundays,
were basically all German hymns,
and this fits in with the idea that the Golden Hours started out as a German broadcast, for a German congregation,
in a Germanic city (called Berlin when St. Matthews was founded).
is that though St. Matthews has German roots,
beyond the most popular German chorales, like “Now thank we all our God”, or “Praise to the Lord”,
the vast majority of German hymns in our hymnal have never been sung.
One such German hymn that has been considerably less sung than the favourites is our next hymn,
663 “Spread, O Spread, Almighty Word”.
It has only been sung once in the last 14 years (in July 2007).
And how do I know that?
Well, Sam Weicker started the “St Matthews Hymnology”,
a listing of when every hymn was sung here,
and John McLellan has continued the entries.
It’s an invaluable resource for worship planning.
The text for hymn 663 was written by Jonathan Bahnmaier, around 1827.
Unlike our first hymn today, the German original hymn is no longer sung in Germany ((Walte, walte, nah und fern)).
Bahnmier was born near Württemberg (where my family’s origins are from).
His father was a pastor, he studied at Tübingen, was ordained in 1798, and taught education and preaching there.
However in 1818,
he became associated with a dissident student organization,
so he had to leave Tübingen.
From 1819 onward he was deacon and town preacher at Kirchheim unter Teck, for 21 years, where he supported missions, education, and distribution of the Bible.
“Spread, O Spread, almighty word” is a missions hymn.
It is very evangelistic, talking about spreading God’s word to the whole world.
It’s characterized as being “one of the best and most useful of hymns for Foreign Missions”.
And so it is very fitting for a Golden Hour anniversary, celebrating the missional quality of the radio broadcast.
Although it has hardly been sung in the last 15 years,
It was sung for Golden Hour anniversaries in 1986,88,90,92, and almost yearly from 1980-1996 and seems to have been a favourite of Pastor Brill’s.
When looking at the changes in the text in the various hymnals,
the old Red hymnal has the hymn in the section:
“propagation of the Gospel”,
and instructs the musician to play it “with spirit”.
The first verse originally went like this:
“Spread o spread, thou mighty word, Spread the kingdom of the Lord, that to earth’s remotest bound men may heed the joyful sound”
Which has a much more clearly missionary-and evangelistic focus,
which is toned down in the current translation, which dates from the 70s.
Furthermore, the new red book brought in gender-inclusive language,
and took out the monarchic imagery,
replacing kingdom with reign.
Before we sing it, I do need to say how fortunate we are at St. Matthews to have two talented hymnodists,
Rev. Allen Jorgenson, who wrote an updated version of “A mighty fortress” which we’ve been singing the last two years,
and also especially today, Jim Moses, who wrote
“Golden Hours with Thee” in our centenary year, first sung in 2005.
And now, please rise for hymn 663, “Spread O Spread, Almighty Word”
Our sending Hymn # 840, Now Thank We all Our God,
(Nun danket alle Gott)
is found “virtually in every German hymnal”.
The Text is by Martin Rinkart
and its first 2 verses are based on Sirach (a book in the Apokrypha) Chapter 50, v22-24:
“and now bless the God of all who everywhere works great wonders, who fosters growth from our birth”.
Its 3rd verse invokes the three persons of the Trinity.
It was originally conceived as a table prayer (to be used at meals),
but it also has been sung at large state functions,
such as the completion of the Cologne Cathedral in 1880,
and Queen Victorias’ Diamond Jubilee in 1897.
Written around 1630 during the 30 years war, *(published 1663)
The German original 1st verse in a literal translation goes like this:
“who from our mother’s womb
(present English translation says = from our mother’s arms)
And from our childhood’s first steps
Has done countless [things] for us up until today”
So the original goes back even further in our (childhood) development,
and says that God has done amazing things for us even before we were born. .. in our mother’s womb.
Quite astonishing imagery!
was the son of poor coppersmith, growing up near Leipzig .
He was a chorister at the St. Thomas Church
(where later JS Bach would be cantor).
He was a pastor near Luther’s birthplace in Eisleben.
He died one year after the end of the 30 year’s war,
“marked by the Peace of Westphalia,
when the hymn was sung as part of the celebration”.
Rinkart had 66 hymns published during the 30 years war, but most of his work was lost in the war.
He was pastor in the City of Eilenburg from 1617 till his death in 1649, it was a walled city, but armies plundered nearby,
And life in the city during that time was characterized by starvation, famine, and the plague.
In 1637, he “was the only minister left. He buried his own wife along with up to 40 to 50 people a day, and buried 4,500 in the course of that year”
He was known as a gifted poet, musician and faithful pastor, no stranger to extreme tragedy, loss and grief.
Johann Crüger (not to be confused with Freddie) was
a long-standing Cantor at the St. Nicholas Church in Berlin,
and was quite prolific, composing 71 hymn tunes,
many of which are still sung today.
For Crüger, harmony in his music was central (and his publication of hymns included the bass line (which was rather novel).
And his work played a prominent role in introducing congregational singing with organ.
Which really wasn’t the norm until about the 19th century
(organs being expensive of course).
Usually hymn singing was unison and unaccompanied (at the time)
“Nun Danket alle Gott” by Johann Cruger appeared in 1647
(and the tune we sing is very close to the original version)
One of the cool things, perhaps you haven’t noticed.
Is that the the 3rd line is the same as the first,
but just a fourth lower. Which helps make it such a strong tune, and easy to sing.
Also interesting (in comparison to our first hymn this morning)
Is that not many changes were done to the text
through the old red hymnal to today’s version.
That mainly is since there aren’t many “thees and thous”,
and it is already gender-inclusive.
There are two tune options, 839 and 840, with slightly different rhythms. 840 is a little easier and has a more regular rhythm and is thus more often sung.
At St. Matthews it is a very popular hymn, sung at least on average 2 times a year, and it was sung for our 100th anniversary of our building on May 25, 2014.
It is often sung on Thanksgiving Sunday.
Catharine Winkworth also translated this hymn into English
(she translated the gathering hymn and hymn 663 as well.)
She was the most important 19th century English translator of German chorales, and published two important volumes in 1855 and 1858.
She was an early champion of women’s rights and the education of women.