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Hymns from a Plague

October 26, 2020

“But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.'” 1 Corinthians 2:9

During the pandemic, we have chosen not to sing in community at Grace. Many churches have made this choice, and it’s the right thing to do. But it is a loss! I look forward to joining our voices together again in praise of our God. I wonder, though, what new music will emerge from this time?

The pastor and hymnodist Philipp Nicolai served a congregation in Westphalia in which 1,300 members were killed by the plague, including 170 who died in one week. During this time, he wrote the hymns “Wake, awake, for night is flying” and “O Morning Star, how fair and bright!” These hymns, known as the King and Queen of Chorales, have inspired musicians ever since, including Bach, and are still widely sung. The church commemorates Nicolai today, on the anniversary of his death in 1608.

We also commemorate Johann Heermann and Paul Gerhardt today. Heermann, who died in 1647, wrote in a way that departed from the Reformation’s more objective style. He explored the emotions of faith, as seen in what happens to be my favorite hymn for Holy Week, “Ah, holy Jesus”. Gerhardt, who was fired from St. Nicholas Church in Berlin because he refused to promise that he would not make theological arguments during his sermons, died in 1676. He hymns include “Awake, my heart, with gladness” and “O sacred head, now wounded”.

We give thanks for those who have given words and music to our faith, helping us sing praise to the risen Christ. What joy it will be when we join our voices together again at Grace! Until then, the song of faith still sings in our hearts.

Be well, friends. You are loved.

God of life, the song of resurrection can never be silenced. Thank you for Philipp, Johann, Paul, and all whose gifts have blessed the church with Spirit-inspired music. Let the song of faith fill our hearts today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Image: Bildnis von Philipp Nicolai, Heinrich Ullrich (public domain).

From → COVID-19

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