Lord, Thee I Love
“Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart” The anonymous writer of music notes did not become familiar with this hymn until much later in his life than he’d care to admit. In the old TLH, it was one of many chorales, often overlooked due to its stilted translation, odd rhythms, and endless eight systems of music. This hymn seems to have found new life in LSB, quite fortunately, and it has been sung frequently here for funerals.
Text writer Martin Schalling (1532-1608) was a student of Philipp Melanchthon who had set a course for the Reformation along with Martin Luther. Schalling was educated at Wittenberg and found himself in various controversies through the years, at times having to move when the prince of his particular principality decided to become a Calvinist. He died in Nuremburg. This is the only hymn of Schalling’s to have found wide usage, being called one of the “classic hymns of Germany” by one hymnologist, another calling it “a jewel of the Church from the heart of Schalling.” Published in 1571, it was written as a hymn “For the Dying.”
The beauty in this text is not found in cute stories about its writer, or experiences we might have had. True beauty—as in anything beauteous—is determined by the manner in which it conveys the truth of the Gospel. The text is based largely on I Thessalonians 4 in which Paul writes, “We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” This hymn’s title perhaps derives from I John 4:19, “We love because He first loved us.”
It occasionally irritates this writer when people act as though Christians should not be sad nor mourn the deaths of those close to them. It is the fact that death is so permanent, in an earthly sense, that gives it so much power. Death’s power comes through sin, and sin’s evidences are never manifest in a pleasing way—the nature of sin is death and destruction. Sadness and grief are real and legitimate because sin is real and legitimate. To suggest otherwise is to negate the power of the Gospel which conquers sin and death. Schalling expresses it this way, “And should my heart for sorrow break, my trust in Thee can nothing shake. Thou art the portion I have sought; Thy precious blood my soul has bought. Lord Jesus Christ, my God and Lord, my God and Lord, Forsake me not! I trust Thy Word.” Sorrow is real, but the saving Gospel is the ultimate reality. Schalling then continues with the third stanza, which always gives this writer new thoughts each time he reads it:
Lord, let at last Thine angels come, to Abraham’s bosom bear me home,
That I may die unfearing; And in its narrow chamber keep my body safe
In peaceful sleep until Thy reappearing.
And then from death awaken me, that these mine eyes with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glorious face, My Saviour and my fount of grace.
Lord Jesus Christ, my prayer attend, and I will praise Thee without end.
In how many hymns are we able to sing about death in this way? Our fundamentalist friends would laugh at this description of a coffin: “And in its narrow chamber keep my body safe in peaceful sleep until Thy reappearing.” Why are Lutherans singing about coffins when we could be singing about Jesus! We should be just praising God in an “upbeat” way instead of subjecting our parishioners to singing about coffins! Or so they say. This is possibly the only phrase, poetic or otherwise, describing a body in a coffin that can elicit hope and joy, and even anticipation of such time. Death is real. Saddness is real. It cannot be cheated and Satan must have his due on earth. But Schalling here demonstrates that death’s victory is not forever; indeed, its power doesn’t even extend to the casket! Minimizing the power of death minimizes the power of the Gospel to overcome death! Schalling was audacious enough to describe a coffin in his hymn! Let’s not fear death—let’s acknowledge its finality and the sadness and sorrow which follow death as a necessary adjunct. We are not lesser Christians for this. In fact, only when we understand what death really is does the power of the Gospel become all that much more acute.
Our congregation has lost many, many good people to death in the last few years for whom we still mourn. This writer seeks to think of them all when singing this hymn, and that in the midst of our real grief, we have the assurance from Easter morning that death is powerless, as Paul writes, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (I Cor. 15: 55)