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Love in Christ is Strong and Living

 

“Love in Christ is Strong and Living”  A collaboration between composer Ralph Schultz and his wife, Dorothy, who wrote the text, this hymn was written for the wedding of their daughter Deborah to Kevin Cook in 1978. The Schultzes had already published sacred music, including a piece for their own wedding, and subsequently they would compose a piece for the wedding of each of their six children. The couple had selected I Corinthians 13: 4-7 as the wedding scripture, which subsequently became the inspiration for Mrs Schultz as she wrote the three stanzas; Dr Schultz then composed a simple unison anthem (employing cello and oboe) in ABA form to the poetry of his wife.  The musicians for the wedding, colleagues of the bride and groom in the choir at Concordia, Bronxville, sang the piece from the chancel.

Text Discussion

            Although its genesis is as a wedding hymn, the abounding scriptural imagery allows for multiple liturgical uses, and its placement within the sanctification section of the hymnal implies an expanded interpretation.  The first stanza is predicated on an understanding of biblical love far removed from the notion of sentimentality. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:2 that “Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God,” suggesting a priestly act not only motivated by love but itself defining what true love is. Biblical love, then, is characterized primarily by actions, the initial examples of which were demonstrated by the Holy Trinity, God the Father not only creating the world, but sending Jesus Christ to redeem it and the Holy Spirit to sanctify and preserve it.   This activity of selfless giving, or love, constitutes an essence of the Holy Trinity, exemplified in I John 4: 16, “God is love.” This is not an emotion or a sentimental attachment, but a historical reality from the Old Testament to the present. In the words of the first stanza, then, love in Christ is not only “strong” and “binding faithful hearts in one,” this love is “true and giving,” in the spirit of I Corinthians 13, positing that grandiose knowledge and eloquence resounds emptily without the motivating actions of love.  Schultz closes the first stanza reiterating Christ’s own prayer as her own, asking finally that “His will in us be done.”

            The second stanza affirms that Christian love, in its active engagement, is neither frenetic nor harried in a futile effort to fulfill the demands of the law. Rather, as Paul states in Colossians 3: 12-14, “. . . clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these things put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”  Schultz’s words in the second stanza imitate this biblical language nearly verbatim, concluding with words reminiscent of the King James translation of I Corinthians 13, “reaching out in charity.” This “charity” hearkens back to the Greek word reflected in the Latin caritas, an unconditional, altruistic love described in Roman Catholic theology as one of the three great theological virtues. 

            In the third stanza can one most easily find evidence of the hymn’s marriage application as Schultz alludes to the problems always inherent within human relationships as she declares again in rich, scriptural language that love faints “. . . not when ills attend:  Love, forgiving and forgiven shall endure until life’s end.” Although germane to a wedding couple in its allusion to I Corinthians 13 in which Paul states that, “And now these three remain:  faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love,” this also may apply to any Christian whose life intersects with others and with whom the Holy Spirit is engaged in the process of sanctification. Located in the sanctification section of the hymnal, the hymn serves to expand the conventional definition of love beyond merely a romantic sentimentality or emotional functionalism to one of true Christian altruism evidencing Christ’s command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 

Tune and Setting

            During preparations for Lutheran Worship, the Commission on Worship sought new wedding hymns for inclusion in the hymnal, accepting the hymn with the caveat that the tune be reduced to one melody, thereby omitting the melody of the B section in order that the stanzas could be utilized congregationally. No tune name having been assigned until this point, Dr Schultz selected the tune name DOROTHY in honor of his wife and in thankfulness for their past collaborations. 

 

 

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Praise to the Lord

 

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”    Joachim Neander, a German Calvinist, began his life as an unruly child and teenager, not caring much for religion or spirituality.  A pastor from Bremen led him to change his ways, and he soon became a believing Christian.  He was influenced by “Pietism,” a spiritual movement in the church which placed emphasis on emotion and feelings, sometimes at the expense of intellect or objective faith.  As a Calvinist, Neander believed in the complete and demanding sovereignty of God—notice how powerfully God is portrayed in this text.  Neander enjoyed the beauty of God’s creation, which is evident in the natural imagery of the line:  “Who, as on wings of an eagle, uplifteth, sustaineth.”  A rather strict aesthetic (he denied his own physical needs), he died at age 30 of tuberculosis.  The valley in Germany in which he often strolled, and in which he found a cave in which he particularly liked to study, has been named after him:  it is the Neanderthal.  (“Thal” being old German for “valley.”)  It was in this valley that the skeleton of Homo neanderthalensis, supposed Neanderthal man, was discovered in 1856. 

            Christian orthodoxy ascribes to God three primary attributes.   He is omniscent (all-knowing), omnipresent (present everywhere at all times) and omnipotent (all-powerful.)  This hymn focuses upon His omnipotence particularly as found in Nehemiah 9: 6, “You [God] alone are the Lord.  You made the heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them.  You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship You.”  Recognized in this verse and in this hymn is God’s sustaining power over all creation.  The eighteenth-century Deists believed God made the world but then abandoned it.  Christianity has always held that God “still preserves” the world, to paraphrase from Luther’s Catechism.  Consider Neander’s second stanza, “Praise to the Lord, who o’er all things so wondrously reigneth, Who, as on wings of an eagle, uplifteth, sustaineth.”  (An allusion to Isaiah 40: 31.)  The third stanza juxtaposes God’s creative abilities with His sustaining capacities—“Praise to the Lord, who hath fearfully wondrously, made thee;  Health hath vouchsafed and, when heedlessly falling, hath stayed thee.”  (This is an allusion to Psalm 139: 14, “I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;  Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”)  On a side note, these old hymns are so rich with scriptural allusions that we frequently do not even realize that we are singing scripture—but we are committing scripture to memory and imbuing it within ourselves and God will bless us through His Word!

            In this season of Pentecost, we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Paraklete and Comforter.  We may be tempted to think that, after the Ascension, Christ has abandoned us to our own devices.   (The Deists built an entire worldview around this philosophy/theology.)   But, we have been given the Holy Spirit through our baptism and it is this Spirit which sustains us.  Christ is not physically present on earth, but His Holy Spirit is active through the Church Universal.  Because of this, we can praise God in the words of Neander’s fifth stanza:  “Praise to the Lord!  Oh let all that is in me adore Him!  All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before Him!  Let the Amen sound from His people again;  gladly for aye we adore Him!”

 

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