The lyrics of the anthem you will hear in worship this Sunday (both online and drive-in!) were written by Lutheran minister, theologian, and hymnwriter Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676). The music was written by contemporary British composer Richard Shephard (b. 1949). In my opinion, the tune is inspiring, and the lyrics make it even better!
God is my strong salvation, no enemy I fear;
He hears my supplication, Dispelling all my care:
If he, my head and master defend me from above,
What pain or what disaster, can part me from his love?
Pain? Disaster??? Some of us have had quite enough of that this year already!! And here is a reminder that none of it will "part me from his love" because just in this first verse alone, God hears us, God defends us, God saves us. If you miss the rest of the hymn, you've heard the most important part! But since Gerhardt was famous for writing LOTS of stanzas for his hymns, let's read on...
I fully am persuaded and joyfully declare,
I'm never left unaided, my Father hears my prayer;
His comforts never fail me, He stands at my right hand;
When tempests fierce assail me, they're calm at his command.
Tempests?? Hmmm.... where have we heard that before?? Right! Remember back when this whole (pandemic) thing started, and we heard the sermon series about storms? And let's look up "assail." Merriam-Webster defines it as "to attack violently or angrily with blows or words." So we're not talking about how good God is to us when he sends us 4 drops of rain... we're talking about how loving and comforting and present he is with us when the hurricane comes and wipes out our home, family, job... to the point where we can still declare that God hears us, God defends us, God saves us, God calms the storm with his command. Jesus is in the boat with us, remember?
The ground of my profession is Jesus and his blood;
He giveth me possession of everlasting good.
To me his Spirit speaketh full many a precious word
Of rest to him who seeketh, a refuge in the Lord.
This verse brings to my mind every time we refer to Jesus as the solid rock, the firm foundation, the mighty fortress... this "ground" cannot be washed out from under our feet by any tempest. God, our refuge, is always stronger.
My merry heart is springing, it can no more be sad;
With laughter and with singing, in God's own sunshine glad;
For Christ is now preparing his city new and bright,
Where saints his throne are sharing and faith is turned to sight.
So what is our response to God's great love and care for us? Gerhardt's "merry heart" was "springing" with joy! Why?? What were his tempests about?? Well, if you look at his family life alone, only one of his five children lived beyond childhood, and his wife died after a long illness. What an example of being assailed!!!
I believe this last verse is about hope. This is about the new Jerusalem, "coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband." (Revelation 21:2) This is the place Christ is preparing, where "faith is turned to sight!" The end of the storms... where social distancing is not required, and we can all see each other's faces and fearlessly embrace. Of course, these are NOT safe practices anywhere currently on this earth during this pandemic. We can't rush medical progress as much as we want to.
So let's worship together this Sunday... in our parking lot... and/or online... and we will worship God, our refuge and strength, and respond to his great love with our thanks and praise!