Music in Lent?

GesangbuchSometimes it’s strange being  Lutheran and worshiping in an Anglo-Catholic church, aside from the possible accusations of Syncretism and Unionism that are so popular these days. Today, for example, we sang two Lutheran hymns, one of which was “Ein Feste Burg,” or “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” This hymn is of great importance to Lutherans (it was the opening to Davey and Goliath after all) and to me–two different arrangements for organ were the prelude and the postlude at my wedding. The thing that was so strange about singing this hymn in church today was not the fact that we sang it in Lent (a thing a Lutheran would not consider) but rather the translation of this oh-so-very-familiar hymn. The Anglican translation, although very much in concord with the Lutheran translations, is just enough different and just enough the same to feel a bit odd in the mouth and to sound a bit queer in the ear.

This is the translation that I somehow keep in my head:

Ein feste BurgA mighty fortress is our God,
A sword and shield victorious;
he breaks the cruel oppressor’s rod
And wins salvation glorious.
The old satanic foe
Has sworn to work us woe!
With craft and dreadful might
He arms himself to fight.
On earth he has no equal.

No strength of ours can match his might!
We would be lost, rejected.
But now a champion comes to fight,
Whom God himself elected.
You ask who this may be?
The Lord of hosts is he!
Christ Jesus, mighty Lord,
God’s only Son, adored.
He holds the field victorious.

Though hordes of devils fill the land
All threat’ning to devour us,
we tremble no, unmoved we stand;
They cannot over pow’r us.
Let this world’s tyrant rage;
In battle we’ll engage!
His might is doomed to fail;
God’s judgment must prevail!
One little word subdues him.

God’s Word forever shall abide,
No thanks to foes, who fear it;
For God himself fights by our side
With weapons of the Spirit.
Were they to take our house,
Goods, honor, child or spouse,
Though life be wrenched away,
They cannot win the day.
The kingdom’s ours forever!

But these are the three translations that I’ve from time to time heard in the Lutheran church:

A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers,
No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

A mighty fortress is our God,
A trusty shield and weapon;
He helps us free from every need
That hath us now overtaken.
The old evil foe
Now means deadly woe;
Deep guile and great might
Are his dread arms in fight;
On Earth is not his equal.

With might of ours can naught be done,
Soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the Valiant One,
Whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye, who is this?
Jesus Christ it is.
Of Sabbath Lord,
And there’s none other God;
He holds the field forever.

Though devils all the world should fill,
All eager to devour us.
We tremble not, we fear no ill,
They shall not overpower us.
This world’s prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none,
He’s judged; the deed is done;
One little word can fell him.

The Word they still shall let remain
Nor any thanks have for it;
He’s by our side upon the plain
With His good gifts and Spirit.
And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child and wife,
Let these all be gone,
They yet have nothing won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth.

A mighty fortress is our God,
A sword and shield victorious;
He breaks the cruel oppressor’s rod
And wins salvation glorious.
The old evil foe,
Sworn to work us woe,
With dread craft and might
He arms himself to fight.
On Earth he has no equal.

No strength of ours can match his might!
We would be lost, rejected.
But now a champion comes to fight,
Whom God himself elected.
Ask who this may be:
Lord of Hosts is he!
Jesus Christ our Lord,
God’s only son, adored.
He holds the field victorious.

Though hordes of devils fill the land
All threat’ning to devour us,
We tremble not, unmoved we stand;
They cannot overpow’r us.
This world’s prince may rage,
In fierce war engage.
He is doomed to fail;
God’s judgement must prevail!
One little word subdues him.

God’s Word forever shall abide,
No thanks to foes, who fear it;
For God himself fights by our side
With weapons of the Spirit.
If they take our house,
Goods, fame, child or spouse,
Wrench our life away,
They cannot win the day.
The Kingdom’s ours forever!

This is the version we sang today:

A safe stronghold our God is stillA mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing;
Our helper he, amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
were not the right man on our side,
The man of God’s own choosing:
dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabbaoth, his Name,
From age to age the same,
And he must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us;
the prince of darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That Word above all earthly powers,
No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through Him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s Truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

One of the reasons I no longer worship in a Lutheran church is the most recent hymnal from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: Evangelical Lutheran Worship, or the cranberry book as it is called. I don’t quite understand why it’s called the cranberry book: perhaps it goes well with turkey, or perhaps cranberry is a new liturgical colour. I prefer to call it the scarlet book–scarlet, after all, is a liturgical colour.

One of the problems I have with the scarlet book is the way in which it translates or interprets some of the older hymns and adds hymns from other traditions that don’t actually reflect a confessional Lutheran belief. Each of the translations above, even the Episcopalian version, is full of Lutheran doctrine. After church today in the undercroft, I was talking to another parishioner who comes from an ELCA Lutheran background. (My background is actually Missouri, although I did worship in an ELCA church for nearly twenty years.) We were discussing just how strange it is to sing an old familiar hymn with an ever-so-slightly different set of lyrics. We then went on to imagine in just what direction a hymn like “Ein Feste Burg” might be pushed with a politically correct gender neutral contemporary worship translation…

A comfy sofa is our god, an ottoman reclining;
what god does best is smile and nod, our conscience never binding.
The old satanic foe…what’s that? Oh, we don’t know!
But we have naught to fear: we’re all good people here.
Yes, we deserve a cookie!

By the way, have I ever mentioned that I like banjos?

8 thoughts on “Music in Lent?

  1. That is a brilliant translation that perfectly fits the problem of many contemporary churches–well done!

    It seems the words do change a lot. I’ll never forget the year I accidentally worshiped at a Presbyterian church on Reformation Sunday, and when we sang “A Mighty Fortress” it was… interesting.

    Sometimes I really like the ELW hymnal, and sometimes I don’t. There are some really awesome additions, but there are some changes and omissions that puzzle me. Overall, I think it’s a worthy resource, but I like taking things from other hymnals every now and then.

    • Thanks for your comment!

      I too like using other hymn resources, usually older, for hymns and spiritual songs, but I’m painfully aware when I’m in a church and they’ve gone to a source that has nothing to do with their tradition and hammer that square peg in to their round hole. A friend that goes to church with me tells of her childhood congregation in Texas that uses the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer, and says prayers in languages that no one in the congregation speaks.

      My main problem with ELW is that there are too many worship options, making every option adiaphora, including a Lutheran identity. I believe that even the Creeds are optional in the ELW liturgy. How can a statement of what we believe be an option?

      I’m glad you liked my parody lyrics.

      Blessings,
      Erich

      • The creed is actually one of the biggest complaints I have about the book–specifically, that the Athanasian creed isn’t in the book. Yeah, no one ever said it, or they did, it was once a year, but I think it was important to have it in there so that people knew it was there.

        I looked up the notes on the Creeds in the ELW, it’s companion volume “The Sunday Assmebly”, and the Leader’s Edition. All of them say the Creed may be said–and, so does the older, 1978 Lutheran Book of Worship (green book). It notes that the Nicene Creed only came to be used regularly in the liturgy in the eleventh century and the Apostles’ in the twentieth–they were originally used as teaching, not liturgical documents. The rationale, then, is that they are not strictly essential to worship, though they are essential to the life of faith.

        Now, that being said, I don’t know any pastors personally who have decided to jettison the Creeds from worship. It is uncommon that I”m in a Lutheran service where the Creed is not said. The rubrics may say “may”, but the Creeds have been important enough that we’re keeping them.

        I share the sentiment about the plethora of options. While I appreciate ten possible communion liturgies right at my fingertips, the options within each option are so many that it can be overwhelming to even seasoned veterans.

      • I actually am aware of a congregation that jettisoned the creed for their traditional worship service because it made the service too long and would run in to the contemporary worship service. They also cut the readings down to two.

        I have similar feelings about the Athanasian Creed. Although it was never in the rubric as a substitute for the Nicean Creed, even on Trinity Sunday, it is appropriate for Matins on feasts of the Apostles and many other major feasts of our Lord. I questioned a pastor about why we don’t use it or sing it as an anthem, or offertory, and she said it was too difficult to understand. I asked her if it wasn’t part of her job to explain such things. She didn’t like that. The odd thing about that is that she is also a seminary professor.

        You may want to dig a little deeper in my blog. I’ve written quite a few times on the Athanasian Creed here.

      • I just pulled out my LBW, and the rubric does say may, but it continues with:

        “The Nicene Creed is is said on all festivals and on Sundays in the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. The Apostles’ Creed is said at other times. The Creed is omitted here if the service of Holy Baptism or another rite with a creed is used.”

        This would tell me that the “may” implies an option of creeds and situations where the creed may have already been said in the service making a repetition of the creed unnecessary, or the use of the Nicene inappropriate as the Apostles’ is being used and, again, two creeds are not necessary.

    • Re: Jettisoning the Creed because it is too long and the service will run into the next.

      Ugh, I hate when churches do this. One, as Pastor, I’d never want to run straight from one service to the next without even a break to catch my breath, so this is just bad planning plain and simple. If taking an extra 45 seconds (how long it just took me to casually recite the Apostles’ Creed) makes the service too long, it’s time to seriously consider the rest of the service and the schedule. Two, the practice of separating two services into “traditional” and “contemporary” I am more and more convinced is an unproductive road. I don’t know too many contemporary services that are actually contemporary in the way the church intends, and the separation is a false one to begin with.

      • “the practice of separating two services into “traditional” and “contemporary” I am more and more convinced is an unproductive road.”

        I would not even call them traditional and contemporary. I’m more likely to call them Lutheran and Presbyterian, or even Baptist. The ELCA is in communion with the Episcopal church, and I really hope that they are open enough to take the idea of Lex Orandi Lex Cradendi on board. A service of the Divine Liturgy that follows the rubrics and uses doctrinally sound hymnody actually does say something about what a Lutheran believes, nearly as much as the Creeds.

        I’ve not mentioned it in this thread, but there are two books that I think are indispensable to the Lutheran liturgist:

        1) The Conduct of the Service by Piepkorn and McClean
        2)Faith and Act by Ernst Walter Zeeden.

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