LCMS Worship Institute 2014: Hymn Festival Meditations

Meditation 1: Evening and Morning

Comfort. Everyone wants to be comfortable, whether it is a quality bed, good furniture, a favorite chair, or maybe good friends whom you know and who really know you.

In the mouth and from the hand of pastor and hymn writer Paul Gerhardt, however, “comfort” is more than a word and has to do with much more than mere relief from physical or emotional troubles, difficulty or anxiety.

Gerhardt was surrounded by death—the death of his father and mother when he was barely a teenager, then his brother and later his first-born daughter, then two more of his children and finally his wife—surrounded by destruction and warfare as long as he lived. As a young pastor he felt the same hunger, fear and poverty as the rest of the people he served. But he especially felt abandoned when he was forced out of his office as a pastor at the Church of St. Nicholas in Berlin (a nascent form of the dreaded CRM status!) finally to be reinstated in another town just a few years before his death. For Gerhardt, “comfort” was more than a word. It is, as he says in our first hymn, above all a work and glory and gift of God to those who belong to Him.

The comfort he preached he himself discovered as he knew what it meant to “lay in fetters, groaning,” his “shame bemoaning.” For it was precisely in and through those troubles and pains that he discovered comfort. It is the comfort of God’s love that caused the Savior’s incarnation, His blessed death that gives the peace of sin forgiven.

He sings the song of the Christmas angels with great joy and asks, “should we fear our God’s displeasure, Who, to save, Freely gave His most precious treasure?” This Jesus he preached. He is the Son of God, He is the Lamb of God who came uncomplaining to bear our griefs and carry our sorrows (Is 53:4). He carried them to the cross where His sacred Head, now wounded, became the icon of joy to call Him mine.

Having taken our sin, our despair, our solitude and our death to the grave once and for all, by Jesus’ resurrection He now awakens every believer’s heart with gladness that nothing ever saddens the joy within the heart. And how is such gladness, faith and joy attained and held on to even amid the threats and troubles of believing in a faithless world? “O Christian, firmly hold this gift…Your baptism stands and makes you whole And then in death completes you.”

Tonight we sing this faith, this hope, this joy this night.


Meditation 2: Entrust Your Days and Burdens

So there you’ve got it! Got what? The Gospel that brings comfort and joy at all times, even times of stress, or doubt, or fear. But in order for that to happen you need to hear it. Gerhardt wrote 134 hymns.[1] We have sung only a few tonight. In some hymns he puts words of prayer in our mouths. In others words of praise to God. Occasionally he even has us turning to sing encouragement to one another. One hymn, however, is more of a sermon, Pastor Paul Gerhardt preaching to us. Just the first words of each stanza form a mini-sermon: “Entrust your days and burdens To God’s most loving hand;” “Rely on God your Savior;” “Take heart, have hope…and do not be dismayed;” “Leave all to His direction; His wisdom rules for you.” And then he always points us to our final deliverance: “O blessed heir of heaven You’ll hear the song resound Of endless jubilation When you with life are crowned.” Then, at the end of his sermon we pray the Lord to strengthen our hands and feet and spirits with joy, “Until we see the ending Of all our life’s distress.” And will we see it?

Well, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” God’s Word awakens our faith and makes it explode in bold confidence and confession, saying, “If God Himself be for me, I may a host defy.”

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Was that Pastor Gerhardt preaching? “No,” you say, but the Apostle Paul. But is that not to be what every sermon should be by every pastor? The very Word of God, the voice of God that speaks and sings repentance, forgiveness, faith, life and hope into us and into the world? What shall separate us, tear us away from the love of Christ? Have no fear. Paul the pastor gives us an even longer list than Paul the Apostle: “No danger, thirst, or hunger, No pain or poverty, No earthly tyrant’s anger…No fire or sword or thunder…. No angel and no gladness, No throne, no pomp, no show, No love, no hate, no sadness, No pain, no depth of woe, No scheming, no contrivance, No subtle thing or great Shall draw me from Your guidance Nor from You separate.”

As a final word, then when our warfare is ended: Peace. Rest and Peace. God Himself has given us the words of prayer in the psalm, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8). It is the peace of sins forgiven, the peace that the world cannot give, peace and quietness for this night and forever.

[1]  Eberhard von Cranach-Sichart, Paul Gerhardt: Wach auf, mein Herz, und singe, © 1982 Wuppertal und Kassel, Oncken Verlag, p. 6.