11 August 2007

O God, My Faithful God

I've certainly been aware of Johann Heermann for some time now, especially because he's commemorated in the very good company of Philipp Nicolai and Paul Gerhardt on the 26th of October. Since we already have our Nicholai and Gerhardt, I figure that, if we are blessed with another son, his name will need to include a nod to Heermann in some form or fashion.

For years now, Heermann's "O Dearest Jesus, What Law Hast Thou Broken" (LSB 439) has been one of my favorite hymns. So I've been excited to discover, in my research of historic Lutheran hymnody in general, that Heermann contributed a good many other hymns. Regrettably, most of those are not readily available to the English-speaking Lutheran Church. The Lutheran Service Book, for example, includes only half a dozen Heermann hymns.

Recently, I've been particularly struck by one of those six LSB Heermann hymns, "O God, My Faithful God" (696). I chose to use it this morning for the Baccalaureate Matins that we prayed at Emmaus for my son Zachary's high school graduation. It worked well for that occasion - and I'll have more to say about the Baccalaureate and Zach's graduation momentarily - but it has occurred to me, over the past several weeks, that this hymn is a good one for me to pray in the wake of the synodical convention and as I engage in discussions within the Church at large. Specifically, I note the following words from the first four stanzas, which I have determined to take upon my lips and take to heart:

"O God, my faithful God . . . grant me the strength to do with ready heart and willing whatever You command, my calling here fulfilling; that I do what I should while trusting You to bless the outcome for my good, for You must give success.

"Keep me from saying words that later need recalling; guard me lest idle speech may from my lips be falling; but when within my place I must and ought to speak, then to my words give grace lest I offend the weak.

"Lord, let me win my foes with kindly words and actions, and let me find good friends for counsel and correction. Help me, as You have taught, to love both great and small and by Your Spirit's might to live in peace with all."

I've honestly found little else, anywhere, that better summarizes and expresses my prayer for the way that I would hope to participate in and contribute to the life of the Church. So I am especially grateful for this hymn, not only for these stanzas I have quoted, but in its entirety. It is a marvelous confession of faith and life in Christ, and of Christian vocation in the world, unto a peaceful death and the resurrection of the body to the life everlasting. Beautiful.

As I said, this hymn worked well for the Baccalaureate Matins this morning, which was a grand occasion all the way around. We were so grateful for the folks who were gathered together to pray, praise and give thanks with us. It was one of those times when we were privileged to be surrounded by lots of our favorite people in the world, including family, friends, and members of our Emmaus Church family. It meant a great deal to me and my wife, and I was very pleased for Zachary, too. For this one glorious weekend, we have all nine of our children together again, as well as our future son-in-law and, God-willing, a future daughter-in-law.

For the record, I put together the following propers for the Baccalaureate Matins (drawing to some extent on the resources provided in the Pastoral Care Companion):

Processional Hymn: "O Holy Spirit, Enter In" (LSB 913)

Psalmody: 111, and 119:33-40 (in addition to the Venite)

Office Hymn: "Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart" (LSB 708)

Proverbs 3:1-18; 1 Peter 3:8-18; 4:7-11; and St. Luke 6:27-45

Hymn of the Day: "O God, My Faithful God" (LSB 696)

Processional Out: "O God, O Lord of Heaven and Earth" (LSB 834)

The reception following the Baccalaureate Matins was a lovely gathering, and I'm glad that so many of our guests enjoyed the chance to hang out with us and visit with one another. One of the highlights was the special Snitch cake that our young friend Anna made for the celebration. You can see a picture of it at Karin's Chickens (see the link at the left). Very cool. For those who don't get it, a "snitch" is the little flying ball that a seeker has to catch in the fictional game of Quidditch in the Harry Potter universe. Harry himself is the seeker on his Quidditch team. For Harry's seventeenth birthday (in The Deathly Hallows), Mrs. Weasely made him a cake in the shape of a snitch, which inspired young Miss Anna's creation of such a cake in real life. Lacking any magic, and not willing to call upon demonic powers, she had to rely upon her "cakousness" to do the job. It was brilliant. It tasted good, too!


William Weedon said...

We sang it the other week as the hymn of the day. One of my members said afterwards: "We need to sing that EVERY week." I think she was right...


Fr John W Fenton said...

As I wrote on Pr Weedon's blog some time ago, it's a shame "O Gott, du frommer Gott (Eins Melodie)" (Christian Worship, 424) has been supplanted by "O Gott, du frommer Gott (Zwei Melodie)" in nearly all of American Lutheranism. Here is one Orthodox priest lobbying for the "resurrection" of Eins Melodie!

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Good to hear from you, friend John. And very good to hear that you retain a love and appreciation for Lutheran hymnody. Indeed, your knowledge of that hymnody surpasses my own, surely, and I can only share your regret that the first melody of this great hymn has largely been lost on us. I'll certainly check it out and join you in your lobbying for it.

Paul Buckley said...

I discovered this great hymn just today. The melody in the hymnal before me is DARMSTADT (or WAS FRAG' ICH NACH DER WELT). Is that the "Eins Melodie" that two of you are praising? If not, what's its name?

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Dear Paul,

Thanks for your comment and question. I'm sorry to be slow in getting back to you on this, but I've been trying to check out the tunes you've asked about.

I don't believe this "Darmstadt" (or WAS FRAG' ICH NACH DER WELT) that you mention is the "eins melodie" (first melody) to which Father Fenton refers. The "Christian Worship" that he indicates is presumably the new Wisconsin Synod hymnal, and I took a look at the hymn in that book when I was at church -- but then neglected to bring it home with me for comment here. If you have access to a copy of CW, that would probably be the easiest way for you to check out the tune.

I'm sorry that I can't be of more immediate assistance on this one. But it is a great hymn, and I'm glad that you've discovered it!

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Okay, here's the scoop, so far as I have been able to determine it.

There are two tunes by the same name, O Gott, du frommer Gott. Presumably, they were both written to accompany the Johann Heermann hymn of the same name, which we have translated into English as, "O God, My Faithful God."

In all of the English hymnals that I've checked, and as Father Fenton also indicated, this hymn is now set to the second tune (Zwei Melodie), which originated in 1693.

Happily, the first tune (Eins Melodie), from 1648, is used in Christian Worship, only not with the hymn in question! It is rather used with CW #424, "O God, Forsake Me Not." In that same hymnal, "O God, My Faithful God" (CW #459), and two other hymns, are set to the Zwei Melodie of the same name, which is perhaps best known through its use with "How Can I Thank Thee, Lord."

To return to Father Fenton's original point, as I understood it, I would also be in favor of restoring Heermann's hymn to the Eins Melodie of 1648.

Along similar lines, I firmly believe that we need more of Heermann's hymns available to us, and that they ought to be sung to their own proper tunes (instead of being set to the familiar tunes of other hymns). We recently sang "If Your Beloved Son, O God" (LSB #568) as the catechetical hymn of the week. It's a great hymn, but, unfortunately, because it is set to Nun Freut Euch (the tune of Luther's "Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice"), I found Heermann's text to be overpowered by the tune all week along.

A happier experience has been had this week, with Heermann's "Jesus, Grant That Balm and Healing" (LSB #421), which shares the tune Der Am Kreuz with the familiar hymn, "On My Heart Imprint Your Image." In this case, the tune is less overpowering, and it fits the text so well, I think it works. It is a marvelous hymn!