Sunday, September 10, 2017

Hymns That Move Me (Week 8)

This is the eighth in my series looking at thirty amazing hymns and songs of the Christian faith. I made three lists, one of my top 10 from the Moravian Church's tradition, one of my top 10 of the great classic hymns, and a top 10 of more "Gospel-type" hymns and songs. I am doing it alphabetically to be fair to all the songs. I hope you are both inspired by these words and learn a little about my own denomination's rich musical heritage.

When choosing videos to accompany the hymns I try to choose ones that best capture the spirit of the song as it has been important to me. I try to stick to the traditional and best known tunes in the case where alternate tunes might be used.

Moravian Hymns
The Savior's Blood and Righteousness- Nicholas von Zinzendorf (1739)
Zinzendorf insisted that the truest language for heart religion is song.... For Zinzendorf and the Brüdergemeine... the truths of the Christian religion are best communicated in poetry and song, not in systematic theology and polemics. (Craig Atwood,
"The Savior’s Blood and Righteousness” is perhaps “the one hymn most representative of his theology.” The count wrote the 33 stanzas of this hymn in 1739 on his voyage home after visiting Moravian mission work in the West Indies. (Christianity Today
(He had gone to the islands to boost the position of the missionaries there who were not welcomed by the landowners since the aim of the mission work was the slaves. He later traveled to Pennsylvania and helped establish Bethlehem on Christmas 1741.)

Theology was not, for Zinzendorf or the 18th Century Moravians an academic pursuit. It was the language of the heart. Again and again the mystical language of union with God in Jesus through the Spirit comes through.

The Savior’s blood and righteousness
My beauty is, my glorious dress;
Thus well arrayed, I need not fear,
When in His presence I appear.

The holy, spotless, Lamb of God,
Who freely gave His life and blood
For all my numerous sins to atone,
I for my Lord and Savior own.

Therefore my Savior’s blood and death
Are here the substance of my faith;
And shall remain, when I’m called hence,
My only hope and confidence.

Lord Jesus Christ, all praise to Thee,
That Thou didst deign a man to be,
And for each soul which Thou hast made
Hast an eternal ransom paid.

This hymn, in the original German and in alternative translations can be found in a number of different denominational hymnals. I could not find a version in either English or German that used the same tune as the American hymnals. Here is one, in German, however, with a more contemporary tone. If you know German, you can see the way translations can vary.

Great Hymns of the Church
Ten Thousand Times Ten Thousand- Henry Alford (1867)
Henry Alford (1810 – 1871) was an English churchman, theologian, textual critic, scholar, poet, hymnodist, and writer. (Link)  Among his best known hymns are "Come, Ye Thankful People Come" and "Ten Thousand Times Ten Thousand."

This hymn, according to is found in over 380 hymnals. It is, for me, one of the truly great hymns of the church. It's language and message reminds us of what is often called the "Church Triumphant," i.e. those who have died and gone on to the immediate presence of our Lord. The joy and wonder of the hymn almost jump off the page. The first time I remember hearing it was at a memorial service held at the 1974 Moravian Northern Provincial Synod in Bethlehem. The service was to remember the pastors who had died in the four years since the previous Synod. It was just about ten years since my father had died when I was 16 and nearly thirteen years since my mother had died. We came to what was then the 3rd verse and I was overwhelmed by the words and sentiment. Here- from the 1969 hymnal:
O then what raptured greetings
On Canaan's happy shore;
What knitting severed friendships up,
Where partings are no more!
Then eyes with joy shall sparkle,
That brimmed with tears of late;
Orphans no longer fatherless,
Nor widows desolate.
I could not sing the last verse. I was moved in ways I have never forgotten. Read the words as words of incredible praise and wonder at the grace of God!

Sadly, in the revision made for the more recent Moravian Book of Worship, the original words were changed to:
no orphans left without a home, nor mourners desolate.
While I appreciate and support the desire to be inclusive, personally I am glad those were not the words in 1974.

One more reason for sadness, this time for every other denomination who uses this hymn. No one else has the same tune that is in the Moravian hymnal. The tune, Eastham, is only found in our hymnal. 

At the 1976 Moravian Music Festival in Bethlehem, band director, Jeffrey Reynolds, then principal trombone of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, commented that the Eastham tune paired with this hymn may be the single best example of perfect melding of words and music. I agree. I wish others could have experienced this amazing hymn the way we have in the Moravian Church. 

Ten thousand times ten thousand
in sparkling raiment bright,
the armies of the ransomed saints
throng up the steeps of light!
'Tis finished, all is finished,
their fight with death and sin.
Fling open wide the golden gates
and let the victors in!

What rush of halleluias
fills all the earth and sky!
What ringing of a thousand harps
bespeaks the triumph nigh!
O day, for which creation
and all its tribes were made!
O joy, for all its former woes
a thousand fold repaid!

O then what raptured greetings
on Canaan's happy shore;
what knitting severed friendships up,
where partings are no more!
Then eyes with joy shall sparkle
that brimmed with tears of late,
no orphans left without a home,
nor mourners desolate.

Bring near your great salvation,
O Lamb for sinners slain;
fill up the roll of your elect,
then take your pow'r and reign!
Appear, Desire of nations,
your exiles long for home;
show in the heav'n your promised sign;
then, Prince and Savior, come.

Needless to say, I could not find a video of the hymn with this tune. So I made one using a recording from the Moravian Music Foundation. Most of the pictures are from God's Acre in Bethlehem, two are from Berea/Our Savior's Churches Easter Dawn, and two are from Costa Rica. It is the more recent revision of the words, but it captures the majesty and wonder in all its fullness. I never tire of this hymn!

Gospel-type Hymns and Songs
Precious Lord, Take My Hand- Thomas A. Dorsey (1938)

Thomas Andrew Dorsey (1899 – 1993) was known as "the father of black gospel music" and was at one time so closely associated with the field that songs written in the new style were sometimes known as "dorseys". Earlier in his life he was a leading blues pianist known as Georgia Tom. (Not the big band leader!)

As formulated by Dorsey, gospel music combines Christian praise with the rhythms of jazz and the blues. His conception also deviates from what had been, to that time, standard hymnal practice by referring explicitly to the self and its relation to faith and God, rather than the individual subsumed into the group via belief. Dorsey wrote "Precious Lord" in response to his inconsolable bereavement at the death of his wife, Nettie Harper, in childbirth, and his infant son in August 1932.

This video begins with Dorsey giving his testimony about its composition. Truly a powerful witness in word and song!

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