Some Thoughts on Hymn Texts 

September 15, 2020

I grew up in the church, quite literally. Our mother took us to Sunday School and church every week (want to see my collection of “Perfect Attendance” pins??); I sang with the tiny tots choir, then junior choir, then adult choir. At that time all the kids stayed in worship rather than leave for children’s church and so we learned the hymns very early, whether we were aware we were learning them or not. In college I learned how to be an organist and music director and started working for churches even before graduating.

So it can be very easy for me to go through the motions of singing hymns without actually paying attention to the words. With the arrival of screens on the worship scene, it usually falls to me to type in the texts for the screens, but given the time pressures of my work, typically I have been more focused on “get it done” than on paying attention to the words.

But as we have gone through these past several months, reeling from the changes and the traumas affecting so many people on so many levels, I have found a renewed connection with hymn texts. This week’s hymn: “God of Grace, and God of Glory” struck me as profound and deeply meaningful for this unprecedented time. The opening lines set the stage: “God of grace, and God of glory, on your people pour your power.” Translation – we NEED you! The second verse particularly spoke to me this morning:

From the evils that surround us and assail the Savior's ways,
from the fears that long have bound us-- free our hearts for faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the living of these days, for the living of these days.

 As is often the case in texts using a repeated phrase, that phrase gains new and deeper meaning each time it recurs. In this case the repeating phrase is “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage” and, oh, how we need both of those right now!! Note that the request is FIRST for wisdom, and THEN for courage.

The repeated phrase is followed in each verse by a specific request articulating why we need wisdom and courage --  Vs 1: “for the facing of this hour;” Vs 2: “for the living of these days;” Vs 3: “make our broken spirits whole;” Vs 4: “in the quest for liberty;” and Vs 5: “serving you whom we adore.”

As you join in worship this Sunday and sing this hymn in your own space, I invite you to reflect on these words. They were written by Harry Emerson Fosdick in 1930--90 years ago for the opening service and dedication of Riverside Church in NYC, one of our sister UCC churches.

Topics: Church Life


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Read the related article: This Sunday at Plymouth: February 28, 2021


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