Sunday, October 01, 2017

Hymns That Move Me (11) - In a Class All Their Own!

For the past ten weeks I have been posting on hymns that move me, great hymns of the church, Gospel songs and hymns, and specifically Moravian hymns. I posted them in alphabetical order so that I didn't have to choose "the best" ones. One of the reasons I did this was to introduce people to some of the hymns of my rich Moravian tradition. Christianity Today/Christian History has an online article about us and the music. There is also a good Wikipedia article on Moravian Church Music.

Here are some of what they have to say about its power and insight:
  • They are based upon biblical or hymn texts, often the Daily Text assigned for the day of the first presentation of the work.
  • The voice parts tend to move all together so that the words can be understood rather than any imitative writing such as Bach would do. In this way the Moravians resemble Handel more than Bach.
  • They often have elaborate instrumental introductions and interludes, but the instrumental parts provide support when the voices are singing rather than drawing attention away from the text.
  • Thus they are straightforward, well-crafted works like other Moravian arts and crafts.
There were two Moravian hymns that were not included in the previous list, two hymns that we in the American Moravian Church consider our "national anthems!" They are truly in a class all their own. Let me introduce you to them.

Moravian Hymns- The Anthems!

    Jesus Makes My Heart Rejoice- Henrietta Louise van Hayn (1776)

    According to, Henrietta Louise van Hayn (1724-1782) "was a gifted hymnwriter. A fervent love to Christ pervades her productions; and they are remarkably free from the unpleasant sentimentalism and that dwelling on the physical details of our Lord's Passion which mars so many of the Moravian hymns of that period." The hymn, of which this is the traditional and most commonly used English translation, was a children's hymn. I am told that at least some of our German Brethren find it interesting that we Americans have such a fondness to a children's hymn. I think it is because of this translation which moved from the children's hymn to a more adult wording. It captures the simplicity and wonder of following Jesus. As we become like little children in awe and joy, the better we can follow Him.

    Jesus makes my heart rejoice,
    I’m his sheep, and know his voice;
    he’s a Shepherd, kind and gracious,
    And his pastures are delicious;
    constant love to me he shows,
    yea, my very name he knows.

    Trusting his mild staff always,
    I go in and out in peace;
    he will feed me with treasure
    of his grace in richest measure;
    when athirst to him I cry,
    Living water he’ll supply.

    Some like to refer to this as "the leaping song." Somewhere along the line at church camps and retreats, and I may have even been among the guilty parties, we would literally "leap" at the end of the last verse's first line. Even in church many of us will rise onto our toes in a subtle leap. Being a Christian should have a sense of joy. It's quite childlike.

    Should not I for gladness leap,
    led by Jesus as his sheep?
    For when these blessed days are over
    to the arms of my dear Savior
    I shall be conveyed to rest.
    Amen, yea, my lot is blessed.

    Sing Hallelujah Praise the Lord- John Swertner (1789)

    The hymnwriter, John Swertner (1746-1813) was a Moravian minister born in Holland and served various places in England and Ireland. He was the editor for the 1789 British Moravian hymnal, perhaps where this song was first published.

    The composer of the song's tune, John Christian Bechler (1784-1857 was educated at the Moravian College and Theological Seminary in Germany, came to the United States in 1806. When the American Moravian Theological Seminary was founded, he was appointed one of its first professors. He had charge of various churches in Pennsylvania and on Staten Island and was consecrated a Bishop at Lititz, Pennsylvania, in 1835. He was a gifted musician and wrote many varied pieces while in the United States.

    The hymn itself is, for us, priceless. It is the song that ends the liturgy used at the regular worship on Easter (as differentiated from the Easter Dawn service.) It is a moving, soaring hymn. It should not drag, no, in my opinion, should it ever be played too fast. A majestic allegro is how I personally would describe it. Until the last two lines of the song. As the directions in the Moravian Book of Worship indicates, it should be "broadened to a hold on the word 'slain' and continuing to a climax on 'Amen'."

    Sing hallelujah, praise the Lord!
    Sing with a cheerful voice;
    exalt our God with one accord,
    and in His Name rejoice.
    Ne’er cease to sing, O ransomed host,
    praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
    until in realms of endless light
    your praises shall unite.

    There we to all eternity
    shall join th'angelic lays
    and sing in perfect harmony
    to God our Savior’s praise;
    He has redeemed us by His blood,
    and made us kings and priests to God;
    for us, for us, the Lamb was slain!
    Praise ye the Lord! Amen.

    So this eleven-part series comes to an end. Thirty-two hymns and songs that have moved me- and continue to feed my spiritual life. Just putting this series together was a weekly spiritual experience. I hope it has been for you.

    I will do this again from Thanksgiving through Epiphany with hymns of the seasons.

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