To Redeem a Hymn

I know that bad church hymnody is to the life of the Church as poison is to the life of a man.  It kills it.  So we always strive to sing orthodox hymns both in music and words.  But we all know that there are plenty of pseudo-orthodox hymns that make it into our services, whether intentional or not.  Some are there because we’re ignorant hymnologists (which I don’t think is a word).  And some make it in because we’re too tired to argue, or to beat to care.  Maybe seminary should require an entry level hymn writing class, which would help with sermons, too.

Anyway, I was asked (as most pastors probably were) to sing a patriotic song on July 3rd.  What to do?  The Divine Service has nothing to do with America, which is why we shouldn’t have American flags displayed in the nave or chancel.  On the other hand, for better or for worse we have a heritage of the last three-quarters of a century of including such things into the Divine Service so that many folks simply think the Church recognizes these secular days as part of its own calendar and activities.  So like a messy room has to be cleaned on area at a time, a messy theology and practice has to be cleaned one area at a time.

So we sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Since the hymn is not in the LSB (it is in LBW), I didn’t have any other way to get it into the hands of the people other than printing it out in the missalette.  I did some research and found that there are a few version with some more and some less stanzas; some orthodox stanzas and some that made little sense to me.  After selecting which stanzas were in and which were out, I further helped it in the orthodox direction by providing an orthodox interpretation of each line or stanza.  Here’s how it appeared in the missalette.

1. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord: (the Sacrament)
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; (the grave)
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword: (His gospel)
His truth is marching on.
Glory, glory, alleluia!  Glory, glory, alleluia!  Glory, glory, alleluia!  His truth is marching on.
2. I have heard a fiery gospel writ in burnished hearts of steel: (the apostles and prophets)
“As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;” (the promise)
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with His heel, (Christ the victor)
This truth is marching on. (Chorus)
3. He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat; (preaching)
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat: (work of the Spirit)
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant, my feet! (faith)
Our God is marching on.(Chorus)
4. In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, (incarnation)
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me: (His love for us)
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free, (our love for others)
While God is marching on.(Chorus)
5. He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave, (His return)
He is Wisdom to the mighty, He is Succour to the brave, (His comfort)
So the world shall be His footstool, and the enemy His slave, (His eternal reign)
Our God is marching on.(Chorus)

I don’t recommend doing this as a regular practice, of course. But on those singular occasions when it may be fitting, perhaps this is a way to redeem a hymn.


One Response

  1. Brother Mark

    I did not even know some of those verses existed. It may give comfort to remember that in A.D. 353 many of our fathers in the faith were confronted with the similar challenge when Constantine tried [and some would argue succeeded] in co-opting the church [note small c] for the State to be his tool for unity. Many a stone worker was chiseling Diana off of statues and temples to put Mary or Anna, or Elizabeth on, chiseling off Apollo to write barnabus -and folly of folly taking the Pantheon to become the church of all saints. To baptize the secular is as dangerous a task as to secularize the holy. still what is a poor preacher to do/

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