Steadfast in Worship — It’s Hard to Follow This Hymn with a Worthy Sermon

May 11th, 2012 Post by

I remember some years ago a friend of mine posted as a Facebook status something along the lines of, “I am using so-and-so’s hymn for the hymn of the day.  Why do I have to preach afterward?  It already says everything I want to say.”  Obviously, that thought has stuck with me.

But then that thought came back to me on the Fifth Sunday of Easter (Three-Year Lectionary, Series B, John 15:1-8).  I selected TLH 206, “Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense,” as the hymn of the day.  And in both services I struggled mightily with the decision to cast aside my prepared sermon and preach instead on this hymn text.  In neither case did I actually do it, and now part of me regrets that.

This is a great Easter hymn, especially when you can sing all ten stanzas.

1. Jesus Christ, my sure Defense
And my Savior, ever liveth;
Knowing this, my confidence
Rests upon the hope it giveth
Though the night of death be fraught
Still with many an anxious thought.

2. Jesus, my Redeemer, lives;
I, too, unto life shall waken.
Endless joy my Savior gives;
Shall my courage, then, be shaken?
Shall I fear, or could the Head
Rise and leave His members dead?

3. Nay, too closely am I bound
Unto Him by hope forever;
Faith’s strong hand the Rock hath found,
Grasped it, and will leave it never;
Even death now cannot part
From its Lord the trusting heart.

4. I am flesh and must return
Unto dust, whence I am taken;
But by faith I now discern
That from death I shall awaken
With my Savior to abide
In His glory, at His side.

5. Glorified, I shall anew
With this flesh then be enshrouded;
In this body I shall view
God, my Lord, with eyes unclouded;
In this flesh I then shall see  
Jesus Christ eternally. 

6. Then these eyes my Lord shall know,      
My Redeemer and my Brother;  
In His love my soul shall glow,–
I myself, and not another!
Then the weakness I feel here
Shall forever disappear.

7. They who sorrow here and moan  
There in gladness shall be reigning;
Earthly here the seed is sown,  
There immortal life attaining. 
Here our sinful bodies die,    
Glorified to dwell on high.

8. Then take comfort and rejoice,
For His members Christ will cherish.
Fear not, they will hear His voice;
Dying, they shall never perish;
For the very grave is stirred
When the trumpet’s blast is heard.

9. Laugh to scorn the gloomy grave
And at death no longer tremble;
He, the Lord, who came to save
Will at last His own assemble.
They will go their Lord to meet,
Treading death beneath their feet.

10. Oh, then, draw away your hearts
Now from pleasures base and hollow.
There to share what He imparts,
Here His footsteps ye must follow.
Fix your hearts beyond the skies,
Whether ye yourselves would rise.

 

There are two themes in hymnody that really drive my passion: one is any reference to Christ as our Priest; and the other, which is very strongly portrayed in this hymn, is that of the Christian conquering death.  Our goal is not merely to “go to heaven.”  Our goal is to overcome death in the resurrection of the dead.

Indeed, we will be in heaven and I certainly don’t wish to deny that.  But the concept of heaven has become so watered down in pop culture and pop theology.  Many Christians view heaven as nothing more than this ethereal existence where we float around as disembodied spirits, strumming golden harps, sitting on clouds.

Nay, for the Christian our goal is the resurrection of all flesh, the reunion of body and soul unto eternal life in the perfectly restored creation.  Notice at the end of the creeds we don’t say, “And I believe in eternal life in heaven.”  We say, “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.  Amen!”  At our funerals we stand next to open graves and say, “Where, O Death, is thy victory?  Where, O Death, is thy sting?”  And to the world we look like fools.

But in the resurrection of Jesus Christ we can “laugh to scorn the gloomy grave.”  In the resurrection of the dead “then these eyes my Lord shall know, My Redeemer and my Brother.”  Because Jesus lives we do not fear death.  We do not hide from death.  We do not sweep death under the rug and pretend that it doesn’t exist.  We face death with all boldness and confidence because Death is dead and Jesus is alive.

“Shall my courage, then, be shaken?  Shall I fear, or could the Head rise and leave His members dead?”  Absolutely not.  Jesus lives.  So will we.  Death has done its worst and Death has lost.

I was not astonished that many people disagreed with me about the content of Walther’s Easter hymn.  But what did astonish me was the number of people who claimed that his hymn was their favorite, especially when there are far superior texts such as this one out there.  I’m not sure that I could narrow myself down to one solitary favorite Easter hymn.  My disagreement with Walther aside, that one still wouldn’t make my top ten.  This one, however, would probably be in the top three (along with the Easter Sequence and “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands”).

This hymn really does almost have it all.  It proclaims Christ’s victory over death, our salvation through grace by faith, the powerlessness of death, the hope of eternal life, and the comfort for all who mourn that is found only in He who rose again from the dead.  And that’s what Easter is all about.  I’d be even more excited if a stanza pertaining to Holy Baptism and Holy Communion could be worked in there; but I am more than content with how the hymn stands.






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  1. Rev. Weinkauf
    May 11th, 2012 at 10:43 | #1

    Likewise, after singing LSB 458 they just heard the finest of preaching. I would say this is our greatest of Easter hymns.

  2. Old Time St. John’s
    May 11th, 2012 at 11:10 | #2

    A few years ago I had a cancer scare, (which thankfully turned out not to be cancer), and as I was waiting to find out whether I had cancer or not, I sat in church one Sunday, picking out funeral hymns for myself. My favorite Easter hymn is Awake My Heart With Gladness, but as I read the words to all of the Easter hymns in the hymnal, Jesus Christ My Sure Defense, which I had been only marginally familiar with, jumped out at me as the one that I would want my unchurched and churched friends to hear, as it teaches so well the essentials of ‘the hope that is within us.’ I applaud your lauding of this hymn, and can well imagine that it would be difficult to preach beyond it.

  3. Pastor Rolf Preus
    May 11th, 2012 at 11:17 | #3

    This is clearly one of the very best Easter hymns. “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands” is another. And another, sadly dismembered and forgotten, is the great Easter hymn by Thomas Kingo: “Like the Golden Sun Ascending.” It has ten verses in ELH, six verses in TLH, is absent from LW, and occurs in LSB under a different name without most of the verses (including the first one).

    Still, when it comes to what we expect from and need in a hymn, “Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense” is an outstanding hymn.

  4. Rev. Clint K. Poppe
    May 11th, 2012 at 11:54 | #4

    I prefer “He’s Risen.”

    Just kidding…

    :)

  5. May 11th, 2012 at 11:56 | #5

    My favorite Easter hymn–perhaps the best hymn of all, period–is “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands” (LSB 458), Luther’s hymn based on the medieval “Christ Is Arisen” (Christ ist erstanden, LSB 459). But that doesn’t mean I don’t like most all of the other Easter hymns too! I do.

    Below are the hymns in LSB’s Easter section (457-490). My little congregation can and does sing 26 of the 34. The other eight, it’s only because we haven’t learned them yet (460, 462, 472, 479, 481, 485, 486, 489). I try to use all the hymns we know (and the choir helps introduce less-familiar ones into our repertoire) every year over the course of the season.

    457: Jesus Christ Is Risen Today
    458: Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands
    459: Christ Is Arisen
    460: Christians, to the Paschal Victim
    461: I Know That My Redeemer Lives
    462: All the Earth with Joy Is Sounding
    463: Christ the Lord Is Risen Today; Alleluia
    464: The Strife Is O’er, the Battle Done
    465: Now All the Vault of Heaven Resounds
    466: Christ Has Arisen, Alleluia
    467: Awake, My Heart, with Gladness
    468: I Am Content! My Jesus Ever Lives
    469: Christ the Lord Is Risen Today
    470: O Sons and Daughters of the King
    471: O Sons and Daughters of the King
    472: These Things Did Thomas Count as Real
    473: Our Paschal Lamb, That Sets Us Free
    474: Alleluia! Jesus Is Risen
    475: Good Christian Friends, Rejoice and Sing
    476: Who Are You Who Walk in Sorrow
    477: Alleluia, Alleluia! Hearts to Heaven
    478: The Day of Resurrection
    479: Christ Is Risen, Christ Is Living
    480: He’s Risen, He’s Risen
    481: Scatter the Darkness, Break the Gloom
    482: This Joyful Eastertide
    483: With High Delight Let Us Unite
    484: Make Songs of Joy
    485: Long before the World Is Waking
    486: If Christ Had Not Been Raised from Death
    487: Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain
    488: He Is Arisen! Glorious Word
    489: Hail Thee, Festival Day
    490: Jesus Lives! The Victory’s Won

  6. #4 Kitty
    May 11th, 2012 at 12:16 | #6

    What is meant in the sixth verse by
    In His love my soul shall glow,–
    I myself, and not another!

    For me anyway, the line “I myself, and not another!” resists interpretation. Is he referring to our sinful flesh?

  7. Uncle Milo
    May 11th, 2012 at 12:36 | #7

    @#4 Kitty #6
    I believe he’s using Job 19:27 language. Perhaps almost like saying “I myself, MYSELF!”

  8. Diane
    May 11th, 2012 at 14:12 | #8

    Dear Pastor Osbun,

    I’ve been following your posts about the Walther hymn and the above mentioned hymn with interest. From my perspective as a layperson, I’m somewhat taken aback by your strong opinions especially in regards to a hymn that is in a doctrinally approved hymnal of the LCMS. Of course, ‘Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense’ is an outstanding hymn. I find it interesting that in LSB it is in the section titled, ‘Hope and Comfort.’ However, that seems appropriate to me.

    I’m just curious. Would you deny your congregation the joy and comfort of singing, ‘He’s Risen, He’s Risen’ during the Easter season if it was requested by one of your parishioners? I suspect that I already know your answer.

    BJS is a fun and educational site to follow for Lutherans. Thank you Pastor Osbun for your thoughts.:)

    PS Maybe my comment belongs on the ‘Walther’ posting, but it looks like that thread has died.

  9. Old Time St. John’s
    May 11th, 2012 at 20:00 | #9

    @Charles Henrickson #13
    Right.

    We must not let our rightful scruples about implying decision theology remove from our use our vetted, broad, rich hymnody heritage.

    That would be like giving up the use of the rainbow to symbolize God’s promise simply because others use it to symbolize other things that we reject.

  10. Rev. Weinkauf
    May 11th, 2012 at 20:02 | #10

    A good post could be, “Hymns we’ll never sing in my church from LSB”
    LSB 817 Earth and all test tubes
    LSB 770 What A Friend We Have In Jesus (overplayed, too sappy, moratorium until 2112)
    LSB 660 Stand Up, Stand Up (just sit down and sing a better hymn),
    LSB 657 A Mighty Fortress (not the true Lutheran version)
    LSB 570 Just as I Am (we’ll sing it 100 yrs after Billy Graham’s last heretical altar call)
    LSB 456 Were You There (No, so please stop asking)
    LSB 388 Go Tell It on the Mountain (we live on the plains, 600 miles from a mountain)
    LSB 744 Amazing Grace -unless played 3 times as fast
    LSB 761 Rock of Ages, cleft for me. (no one knows what a ‘cleft’ is)
    LSB 803 Joyful, Joyful Crystal Cathedral -so LSB 477 too
    LSB 543 What Wondrous Love is This, O My Soul (you shouldn’t have to ask)
    LSB 789 Praise and Thanksgiving (Isn’t it the theme from Lassie or a bad 60’s pop song)
    LSB 837 Lift High the Cross (played enough in the 80’s to last til 2080, also your arms will get tired because the world will never adore His name)
    I know there are a few other bad ones, but I’ll have to find them later.

  11. John Rixe
    May 11th, 2012 at 21:37 | #11

    @Rev. Weinkauf #15

    Oh no – all my favorites.   This is a list of the most requested at my church.     :-)

  12. May 12th, 2012 at 00:56 | #12

    @Rev. Weinkauf #15
    I just had to post a reaction to your un-favorites.

    817 – Had to look it up to believe it. Augsburg Fortress? Shocker.
    770 – Sung it a total of 3 times in my life, and I grew up a Baptist!
    660 – This is indeed a gospel song. Might as well include “I’ll Fly Away,” “Victory in Jesus,” or “When We All Get To Heaven.”
    657 – I love Bach, but he ruined this hymn. After I discovered 656, I couldn’t understand why anybody would insist on the newer version.
    456 – You did not just diss a negro spiritual. The PC police have issued their fatwa. My problem with it is that it’s totally a lent/good friday hymn, which renders the last stanza effectively useless. Unless you want to mourn the crucifixion all through Easter season.
    388 – Oh, come on. Hillbillies can be Lutherans, too.
    744 – And without the melodramatic “…my chains are gone.” If I have to sing that one more time, I will issue a fatwa against Chris Tomlin. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but he’s killing both me and that hymn.
    761 – Cleft trumps Ebenezer any day of the week.
    807 – Obligatory Beethoven cameo. To prove we’re not completely stuck in the Baroque/Renaissance periods.
    543 – I do have to ask. Was it the repetition (like Psalm 136)? Or are you just complete prejudiced against anything remotely hillbilly in origin?
    789 – At least the text wasn’t written by Cat Stevens. …or Paul Simon on 449.

    At least we have been spared the likes of “Mothering God, who Gave Me Birth.”

  13. Pastor Charles McClean
    May 12th, 2012 at 10:39 | #13

    The presence of Hymn 817 in LSB is unbelievable! It gives a whole new meaning to the word bathos and is finally – so it seems to me – just plain silly. How very sad that such a text could find a place in our authorized hymnal while such great hymns as “Jehovah, Let Me Now Adore Thee” (TLH 21) – in reality a wonderful reflection of the teaching of the historic Gospel for Rogate Sunday – and Paul Gerhardt’s great Pentecost hymn, “Oh, Enter, Lord, Thy Temple” (TLH 228) with the wonderful tune by Johann Crueger are now missing!

  14. Old Time St. John’s
    May 12th, 2012 at 11:13 | #14

    @Pastor Charles McClean #19
    Nope. That would crowd out another hymn. Continuation hymns are an abomination. Sing all 10 verses in a row to get their full impact/story, and add another strong doctrinal hymn after the sermon. More hymns = better teaching.

  15. helen
    May 12th, 2012 at 11:18 | #15

    @Pastor Charles McClean #20
    Paul Gerhardt’s great Pentecost hymn, “Oh, Enter, Lord, Thy Temple” (TLH 228) with the wonderful tune by Johann Crueger are now missing!

    And Starke is not better!

    To those who say, “He didn’t do it; the committee did”, I reply, “He was chairman. He could have done something other than simper, “Well, gee, guys, if you really think so.” He could have included more Gerhard… and Luther… maybe in place of some of the fluff rightly castigated above, if he couldn’t bear to edit himself.

    My first choice for elimination: “Earth and all test tubes”! :(

  16. Pastor Charles McClean
    May 12th, 2012 at 12:02 | #16

    @Old Time St. John’s #21 I agree that is generally undesirable to divide up a hymn, but surely “circumstances alter cases.” For example, many congregations sing one or more stanzas of “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” at various points in the reading of the Passion on Good Friday. Since the LSB funeral service does not direct the singing of a hymn after the sermon, the continuation of “Jesus Christ, My Sure Defence,” could not possibly “crowd out another hymn.” It is also arguable whether “more hymns equal better teaching.” It seems to me that there can be such a thing as a surfeit of hymns, in fact so many in one service that none of them makes much of an impression on the worshipper. In his thoroughly amusing book, The Trouble With Nowadays, the late Cleveland Amory remembers how his mother urged him to be sparing in giving instructions to servants (!): “Bestow too many facts and you only confuse.” I think much the same thing can be said of a surfeit of hymnody – or of preaching for that matter! At times “less is more.” In all the discussion of the doctrinal content of hymnody I think it is helpful to remember that hymnody is not rhymed dogmatics. A hymnal is surely not a rhymed version of Calov’s Systema Locorum Theologicorum or Quenstedt’s Theologia Didactico-Polemica, nor for that matter of Pieper’s or Hoenecke’s splendid dogmatics. Dogmatics and poetry are different languages, and people will undoubtedly differ concerning what is permissible poetic expression and what is in fact contradiction of the Truth. In singing from the time I was a little boy the final stanza of that wonderful Advent hymn, “Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates,” I never supposed that the words (as given at TLH 73) in any way contradicted the blessed truth that “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him.”

  17. Old Time St. John’s
    May 12th, 2012 at 13:53 | #17

    @Pastor Charles McClean #23
    I have never personally experienced a surfeit of hymns, but would be delighted to have an opportunity to attempt to do so. Unfortunately our church only sings 2-4 hymns per service–usually 3. Short rations.

  18. May 12th, 2012 at 14:00 | #18

    TEST TUBES IN SPACE!
    Tune: “Earth and All Stars” (LW 438, LSB 817)

    Test tubes in space!
    Loud clashing symbols!
    Sing like we’re stuck in the Sixties once more!
    Turtle-necked profs!
    Loud boiling classrooms!
    Sing like we’re stuck in the Sixties once more!
    This is such mar-gi-nal stuff.
    Why are we singing such an odd song?

  19. Old Time St. John’s
    May 12th, 2012 at 14:10 | #19
  20. helen
    May 12th, 2012 at 17:50 | #20

    @Charles Henrickson #25
    Bless you, Charles! That sums it up!

  21. May 12th, 2012 at 18:12 | #21

    Yes, I agree that “Earth and All Stars” (817) is trapped in a ’60s-’70s time warp, and it sounds silly to sing it today. However, in defense of Herb Brokering, the author of the text, I do like his other hymn set to the same tune, “Allleluia! Jesus Is Risen” (474). And I think his “Thine the Amen, Thine the Praise” (680) is terrific stuff, full of excellent biblical/liturgical poetic imagery, set to Carl Schalk’s beautiful tune. I’m not familiar with Brokering’s other LSB entry, “Stay with Us” (879).

  22. Rev. Weinkauf
    May 12th, 2012 at 19:31 | #22

    For all our critiques of works produced by fallen man, LSB is a treaure. Thanks be to God and for those who helped bring this gift to the Church.

  23. May 12th, 2012 at 22:57 | #23

    Beginning of a new verse?
    Facebook and Tweet, loud sounding texting…

  24. helen
    May 12th, 2012 at 23:10 | #24

    @Andrew #30
    Facebook and Tweet, loud sounding texting…

    Makes as much sense as “loud rushing planets”
    [where there is no sound!] :(

    Carry on, Andrew!

  25. Nathan Redman
    May 13th, 2012 at 03:37 | #25

    Great thread, thank you pastor. It is going to make me start watching my hymns more. – I have to say we have some smart people on here – and test tubes in space – eek! :-/

  26. Rev. McCall
    May 13th, 2012 at 06:06 | #26

    Any guesses on the second “F” rated hymn? I may lean towards, “I’m But a Stranger Here”.

  27. Redeemed
    May 13th, 2012 at 18:20 | #27

    Anyone care to comment on 661 “The Son of God Goes Forth to War”? I know, I know – we can’t do anything without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but it seems to give folks the ability of follow on their own accord. Or am I reading it wrong?

  28. Diane
    May 13th, 2012 at 19:54 | #28

    @Redeemed #34
    This hymn is also in TLH 452. In the Handbook to The Lutheran Hymnal it states,’This hymn, by Reginald Heber, appeared in his posthumous Hymns Written and Adapted, etc., 1827. The reference in stanza two is to St. Stephen. It was written for St. Stephen’s Day.’ He’s the first martyr of the Church and his commemoration day is December 26. To me, this is a powerful hymn and it’s made all the more so because the tune is wedded so well to the text. I’m assuming you’re distressed about the fifth line of the last stanza, ‘They climbed the steep ascent of heaven…’ I guess I’ve never been bothered by that line. The imagery of the text is so brilliant and so fitting for St. Stephen’s Day. In LSB the Biblical references are Rev. 19:11-16; Luke 9:23-24; Acts 7:54-60; 1 Tim.6:12.

  29. Pastor Ted Crandall
    May 13th, 2012 at 19:59 | #29

    As the title says, “It’s Hard to Follow This Hymn with a Worthy Sermon.”

    At the risk of sparking another sanctification skirmish, I’m always intimidated to preach after the congregation has sung “Salvation Unto Us Has Come.” I’ve been know to have them sing it after I preach, just in case I mucked it up too badly!

  30. John Hooss
    May 14th, 2012 at 12:02 | #30

    @Charles Henrickson #25
    Charlie!

    You ruined a whole Saturday!

    I wanted to share your verse of Earth and Stars to my wife and sang it to her while at the computer.
    I then went out to the garden to work on the beans and okra and had that tune stuck in my head. Then really messed it up and had “large flying testubes”.
    24 hours it was stuck in my head. Every time it got quiet, there it was, even until we went to church at 8 am Sunday service .
    AH at last it was gone.

    There are times I really hate you guys.

    I haven’t been this upset about a hymn since my wife called “Just as I am’
    the sweet potato song. (Just as I Yam.) That’s one is stuck forever.

    Good Grief.
    J

  31. May 14th, 2012 at 14:18 | #31

    John Hooss:
    had “large flying testubes”.

    Ouch! That sounds painful!

  32. helen
    May 14th, 2012 at 17:54 | #32

    @Charles Henrickson #28
    I do like his other hymn set to the same tune, “Allleluia! Jesus Is Risen” (474).

    I said that to a Pastor. He said, I think it is an excuse to keep the tune and therefore “Earth and all Stars” in LSB. :( He has people who like the latter. :( :(

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