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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. 

 

 

Posted by Benjamin Kolodziej with