Bowing, Genuflecting, A Little Green Hill Far Away and Other Liturgical Miscellany, by Pr. Rossow

I categorize the following as the semi-rational musings of a once pietist (childhood), once contemporary worship practitioner (first call) current devotee of traditional, Scriptural and Lutheran worship (last twenty years). I would advise against reading any further unless you have nothing better to do. If you do have nothing better to do and keep reading and finish the post and still have nothing better to do, be sure to drop a comment or two if I strike a chord.

When I was a kid I remember singing “There is A Green Hill Far Away” from the little green Children’s Hymnal published by CPH. Does anyone else remember that Sunday School hymnal?

I am a mentally challenged visual learner and so that little hymn stuck in my craw because it was so picture-packed. I can’t remember the last time I sang “There is a Green Hill Far Away” but each time we sing “Glory be to Jesus” (LSB #433) I am reminded of that little green hill, probably for at least two reasons. First, they are both very visual hymns and secondly, because it seemed like we sang “Glory be to Jesus” at every midweek Lenten service when I was growing up. It too stuck in my craw and is an indelible symbol of Lent for me.

I am no liturgiologist but my hunch is that neither of these hymns is considered musically sophisticated (probably another reason they made such an impression on this simpleton) and I think I remember somewhere even hearing liturgomaniacs criticizing one or both of these hymns. That’s OK. I respect liturgiologists and submit to them for the most part because they offer such a necessary correction for the narcissistic fire of contemporary worship that is still ablaze in our synod.

So where does the bowing and genuflection come in? For our morning Lenten service we do not have acolytes so the pastors fill in. A few years ago our cantor took over the acolyte program which has been a great blessing to our parish. He has taught them and us many wonderful things about acolyting. Since then, in addition to the traditional pietistic, Lutheran acolyte bow, we added in the even more traditional and liturgical Lutheran genuflect (not sure that word can be used as a noun). There are probably other ways to understand it but as our cantor taught us, we bow when the candles are not lit but genuflect once they are lit because then they are a symbol of the presence of the Light of the World in our midst.

So this morning, as usual, I lit the candles during the prelude, bowing at first and then genuflecting after the candles were lit. I did the same at the end of the service, only in reverse. The closing hymn was “Glory be to Jesus.” It was one of the few hymns that this attention-deficit child has memorized (just the first verse and an occaisional line from other verses). How wonderful that as I was genuflecting, while I was on one knee, I was singing glory be to Jesus! The glory of which I sang was put into action by the humble act of genuflection.

There actually is a point to all of this. When we first started having our acolytes genuflect there was a bit of hesitation as we wondered about the typical Lutheran reaction – “that’s too Catholic.” That liturgically lacking attitude harkens back to my “Green Hill Far Away” days. The parishes I grew up in would have never thought to have acolytes genuflecting and if they did I am sure they would have rejected it as too Catholic. This is what I now consider to be the “Green Hill Far Away” worship culture, not only because I associate that hymn with that era of my life but also because there is a certain lack of liturgical adornment to both that song and that era.

So both worlds came together for me this morning with genuflecting while singing “Glory be to Jesus.” Genuflecting and other liturgical adornment are appropriate and fitting glory for the Lord Jesus. Not only that, they are Scriptural as I was later to discover. Read the book of Revelation and you will find people bowing, genuflecting, wearing robes and sashes, lighting candles and practicing all other sorts of liturgical adornment. Glory be to Jesus. Soli Deo Gloria.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Bowing, Genuflecting, A Little Green Hill Far Away and Other Liturgical Miscellany, by Pr. Rossow — 18 Comments

  1. Strong memories of my ultra-liturgical parents. Dad was the substitute organist when I was growing up. My mother’s preferences in particular were well know to the congregation. Once the regular organist launched into some popular pietistic hymn and Mom audibly groaned. The whole pew shook with people trying to suppress their laughter.

  2. That wonderful hymn, “There is a Green Hill Far Away,” also appeared in the “Sunday School Hymnal” published by the English Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio and Other States which became Synod’s English District in 1911. That old “Sunday School Hymnal” was still in use when I was growing up at old Martini Church in Baltimore in the 1940s and 50s and I have always loved the hymn. I think that it speaks with great simplicity and beauty of Christ’s redeeming love. The hymn was intended to be a children’s hymn and was written by Mrs.C.F.Alexander who also wrote “Once in Royal David’s City.” “Glory Be to Jesus” has also been a favorite hymn of mine since childhood: it, too, speaks clearly of the atoning work of the Savior. Some may be disquieted to learn that it is of Roman Catholic origin, but there is surely nothing in it that contradicts the Gospel.
    I think it a great pity that the Lutheran Service Book does not include the splendid Lenten hymn, “When O’er My Sins I Sorrow.” Both the text by Justus Gesenius and the music by Michael Praetorius are simply wonderful; both appeared in The Lutheran Hymnal. And how can anything by Praetorius not be wonderful?

  3. @Pastor Charles McClean #3 I think it a great pity that the Lutheran Service Book does not include the splendid Lenten hymn, “When O’er My Sins I Sorrow.”

    My choir will be singing a choir/congregation setting of that hymn next Wednesday evening for our Midweek Service of Compline. I, for one, am looking forward to it.

  4. I also grew up with the “Green Sunday School” hymnal, maybe if more churches had continued using it the “cowo” fad wouldn’t be such a big issue now.

  5. Preached recently on the link between Abraham nearly sacrificing Isaac and Calvary. During Communion we sang “There Is A Green Hill” because it fit well thematically. Copiers make it easy to add hymns like that one without copyright restrictions. Mrs. Alexander was a bishop’s wife and wrote a series of catechetical hymns for children based on the six chief parts. “All Things Bright and Beautiful” for example is her rendition of the First Article. “Once in Royal David’s City” is the first portion of the Second Article. “There Is A Green Hill Far” is the second portion of the Second Article. In Lutheran Service Book she was also the translator, and to a large extent author, of “I Bind Unto Myself Today.” In The Lutheran Hymnal she authored “Jesus Calls Us O’er the Tumult.” She was a good lay theologian and serious hymn writer.

  6. I sometimes think that younger Lutherans do not understand the strength of the label “too Catholic” in years past. At least through the mid-1960s, that was a final judgment and an argument ender for many Lutherans. It was almost an understood qualifier for Lutheran identification: “I am Lutheran, not Catholic ” Many Lutherans, at least to some extent, identified what they were, by what they were not. The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope seemed entirely natural. No need to read it. We all knew what it must say about the archenemy.

    Don’t know where that all came from. Northern Europeans vs. Eastern and Southern Europeans? American nativism? Pietistic plainness vs. Pietistic excesses? Pan-Protestantism vs. anything different? Suburbs vs. cities? Maybe those things and lots more.

    But it surely is interesting to me how our perceptions of some of the practices of our Roman brothers and sisters have changed in recent years. And probably for the better.

  7. Yes, Pastor, I remember “the little green hymnal.” In fact, I still have my family’s copy of it. Also, I included a setting of “Glory Be to Jesus” in my preservice music yesterday. I miss the richness of worship at Bethany, and remember the efforts Elaine and I took to research and lay the groundwork for purchasing a corpus for Bethany’s cross, lest people reject it as “Catholic.” Coincedentally, Paul McCain just (March 6) posted on his blog about “The High Church Danger” and I’m wondering if you saw that and have any comment about it?

  8. backinthefold :But it surely is interesting to me how our perceptions of some of the practices of our Roman brothers and sisters have changed in recent years. And probably for the better.

    Your right,
    Perceptions and practices have changed on both sides and mostly for the better and as a result we are learning from eachother in some ways. Asl a cradle catholic with 12 years now as a Lutheran pastor I see the Lutheran gift to the church catholic is having both the plain gospel and reverence for God coming to us in Word and Sacrament.
    Catholics with a liturgy they know, in a language they understand, have a firmer footing in the 21st century than in the 20th. Lutherans made the move 450 years earlier, maybe now we can start seeing some more commonalities in the future.
    Pax, John

  9. Tim,
    As someone else that grew up with the green Sunday School hymnal I found it amazing to read your post because in my sermon last week I had quoted from the hymnal for the first time ever. Preaching from the OT lesson where Abram and Sari are renamed Abraham and Sarah I though about a song we sang every week in the Sunday School opening as we celebrated the baptismal birthdays for that week. The tune is even simplier than “There is a Green Hill Far Away”

    I was made a Christian
    When my name was giv’n,
    One of God’s dear children,
    And an heir of heaven.
    In the name of Christian
    I will glory now
    Evermore remember
    My Baptismal vow.

    I have often wished we had a church where the baptismal font was in the entrance of the nave so I could dip my hand in the water and make the sign of the cross upon my forehead and remember from whence I came, but I suppose that would be too “catholic.”

  10. I remember “There is a Green Hill Far Away” from Sunday School back in the ancient of days.

    There is a green hill far away
    Outside a city wall
    Where our dear Lord was crucified.
    He died to save us all.

    And I still remember it. 🙂

  11. I remember the green hymnal, too. In fact, I own a copy of it.

    I recognize the hymns cited so far, and wonder whether others also remember fondly “We Plow the Fields and Scatter the Good Seed”? I grew up in a very concrete city, and the visceral link to the land and to God giving us food was quite a revelation to me as a child. Years later I recognized these words when they were sung in Godspell, albeit to another tune. And further years later, playing alto recorder for a little German church locally, this song resurfaced, with its original tune, as originally written, in German. The church did not have it in her hymnal, so I questioned playing it for Thanksgiving. “But of course everyone knows the words. It’s not necessary to print them!” was what I was told.

    In most cultures, I have learned, memorized hymns and songs are the norm rather than the exception; and there is usually a specific body of such knowledge that is common and shared. As Lutherans, we have an outstanding hymnody, and should teach it, learn it, and enjoy it.

  12. The Times They Are a-Changin’ ………..

    The Question always is How will We be a-Changin’ ……….?


    Words: Ce­cil F. Al­ex­an­der, 1847. Al­ex­an­der wrote this hymn as she sat up one night with her ser­i­ous­ly sick daugh­ter. Ma­ny times, tra­vel­ing to town to shop, she had passed a small grassy mound, just out­side the old ci­ty wall of Der­ry, Ire­land. It al­ways made her think of Cal­va­ry, and it came to mind as she wrote this hymn. She pub­lished it in her Hymns for Lit­tle Child­ren in 1848.

    There is a green hill far away,
    Outside a city wall,
    Where the dear Lord was crucified,
    Who died to save us all.


    O dearly, dearly, has He loved,
    And we must love Him, too,
    And trust in His redeeming blood,
    And try His works to do.

    We may not know, we cannot tell,
    What pains He had to bear;
    But we believe it was for us
    He hung and suffered there.


    He died that we might be forgiv’n,
    He died to make us good,
    That we might go at last to Heav’n,
    Saved by His precious blood.


    There was no other good enough
    To pay the price of sin;
    He only could unlock the gate
    Of heaven and let us in.


    O dearly, dearly has He loved,
    And we must love Him, too,
    And trust in His redeeming blood,
    And try His works to do.


  13. @Mark Huntemann #14

    We may not know, we cannot tell,
    What pains He had to bear;

    GOOD! THAT’s the Whole Point!

    That was, essentially, the theme of my sermon one year on Good Friday.

    I don’t remember a refrain, though, now that I think about it. That was simply the last stanza.

  14. Jerry :
    We’ve replaced the “too Catholic” with “too ELCA”

    How true! We have so much more in common with our
    Catholic friends,
    We learned “There is a Green Hill..” by heart starting in Kindergarten. I don’t remember a refrain but I remember the hymn. We taught it to our preschoolers a couple of years ago.
    This discussion takes me back 50 years.

  15. I remember singing this song from the green hymnal as well. I have not heard it in decades. Has this song been abandoned by LCMS congregations?

    Perhaps a revised green children’s hymnal is being planned by CPH? I could only hope.

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