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For All the Saints

 

“For All the Saints.”  This hymn, written by William How in 1864, encompasses the theme of All Saints Day, always 1 November.  All Saints is a celebration in which we recall the true unity of the Church, characterized by Paul in I Cor. 2 as “. . . those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  One’s eternal membership in the Church is secured by the fulfillment of the command to “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2: 38-39.)  The Church, then, is comprised of people either past, present, or future, who profess Christ and who are baptized and as a result are vessels of the Holy Spirit.  (There are arguably exceptions to the command to “be baptized,” as the story of the thief on the cross will attest, but that is beyond the scope of this essay.)  The Church is Lord of Life congregation, and it is also the other faithful, confessional churches throughout the world, or, as Luke writes in Acts, the Church extends to “all who are far off.”

            Christian orthodoxy has always characterized the two-fold nature of the Church;  it is both “visible” and “invisible.”  Obviously, the visible Church is comprised of those who attend Word and Sacrament worship, and it is manifest in our church buildings and in our various “ministries.”  Yet, as stated previously, the Church extends far beyond that both geographically and in time.  And, not everyone who is an outward member of the Church is truly a member of the true, invisible Church, as we read in Matt. 7: 21, “Not everyone who says to me [Jesus], ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven.” 

            The easy commercialism of modern society encourages a type of rugged individualism suggested by advertisements which proclaim, “You deserve it,” “Just do it,” etc.  The Church, often harmfully influenced by society, tends also to think with a similar theological myopia.  We may become so concerned with our own tasks and busy-ness (which we may call “ministry”) and “our” successes and failures that we lose the perspective of the Church Universal comprised of “All the saints who from their labors rest, all who by faith before the world confessed. . .” (stanza 1)  In the words of Jesus, we are the “branches,” Christ is the “vine.”  (John 15: 5)  Today we pause to remember the other “branches,” separated from us by geography and/or time, but part of the Church nonetheless.  We remember, in the words of stanza 2, that Christ only “. . . was their rock, their fortress, and their might, [He] their captain in the well-fought fight.”  This common doctrine and faith echoes Eph. 2: 20:  “You are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone.” 

            All Saints Day generally, and this hymn specifically, 1) encourage us in our daily life and 2) remind us of the vast scope of the Church Universal.  We are encouraged that we, too, will eventually conclude the “race” which is our earthly struggle to achieve, through Christ, the “crown of gold;” we also remember that the Church and its concerns is not limited simply to the four walls of our church building or even our Christian home.

 

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Love Divine

“Love Divine”  Today’s entrance hymn comes from Charles Wesley (1707-1788), the brother of the Methodist reformer John Wesley.  Both John and Charles were born into the Church of England, but only Charles died in it, John having progressively seen himself in opposition to the established Church.  The brothers each had a type of “conversion” experience in which he found his heart “strangely warmed” and when he made an active commitment to Christ.  (Although the writer of music notes must here echo other scholars in noting that, far from being unrepentant heathens before their “conversions,” the brothers were involved heavily in ministry and missions [particularly in Georgia] before their conversion and, whilst it was an important moment for their inner spirituality, there was little noticeable change in the daily lives.  This reinforces the fact that the Holy Spirit worked in them through their baptism even before they felt Him!)  Much like the roughly-contemporaneous German Pietists, John in his preaching and Charles in his over 6,000 hymns sought to “personalize” Christianity and bring God “down” to humanity, rather than to “lift” humanity up to God. 

            To illustrate, consider the opening lines, “Joy of heav’n, to earth come down!  Fix in us Thy humble dwelling, all Thy faithful mercies crown.”  Here is God, in His Incarnation, descending from the cosmic expanse to live within our hearts.  Charles is here concerned with “inward” light and feeling, much as he is in another hymn of his, “Christ Whose Glory Fills the Skies” in which he implores, “Daystar, in my heart appear. . . joyless is the day’s return till Thy mercy’s beams I see, till they inward light impart, Glad my eyes, and warm my heart.”  Wesley’s poetry induces us to look inward to the faith that God gives.  This seems rather straightforward to us moderns, but consider the difference between Wesley and Isaac Watts.  In his hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” Watts is fond of this idea of “survey”—as though one is surveying a landscape on which the surveyor is only a small portion.  Watts continues, “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a tribute far too small;  Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”  To Watts, this “whole realm of nature” represents the magnitude of God.  Not only can we not give to God what is already His—nature—but we are forced to confront our diminutive status within the universe.  This awareness of the cosmic scope of Christianity is what demands “my life, my all.”  Watts starts inward and proceeds outward (and arguably returns inward again.)  But Wesley is always one to remind us that this omnipotent God will “breathe Thy loving Spirit into ev’ry troubled breast.”  (Stanza 2)  The third stanza has Wesley praying that God “return and never. . . Thy temples leave,” the term “temples” being a metaphor for one’s soul. 

            As any great Methodist would, Charles Wesley concludes the hymn with a prayer for sanctification, “Finish then they new creation, pure and spotless let us be.”  We Lutherans often stop at the realization of justification, but Wesley reminds us that the Holy Spirit works in us so that we might be “new creation(s).”  His last lines, “lost in wonder, love, and praise” embody a type of surrender to God which is only possible through God’s initial action, as the glories and splendours of heaven are opened to us and in which our intellects are too limited to comprehend or to respond.  Like Luther, Wesley was not a rationalist—human reason is flawed and subservient to faith, and it is this grand, mysterious, all-encompassing, saving faith which Wesley tries to put forth in all of his hymns, embodying the divine love that not only justified but sanctified humanity.

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