Wednesday Worship – Songs of Thankfulness and Praise

Wednesday is normally the day when I coordinate the details for worship on Sunday.  I’ve already begun musing on the readings for the day with my Reading Ramblings from Saturday night/Sunday morning.  Guided by the liturgical calendar (usually), I begin the process of thinking first about the readings and what they say, and then what they say together, combined.  This begins to lead me in a direction for a sermon based from the readings.  Next comes the process of selecting music that is in keeping with the above elements.

I’ve decided to start including some information about at least one of the songs or hymns that we’ll be using for Sunday worship.  An examination of the song along with biographical details.  As important as music is to worship (and theology in general), I’d personally like to learn a bit more about these songs and thought I’d share it here.  Hopefully it will be of interest to y’all as well.  I undertake this as someone with no formal musical training, so if I say something incorrectly, feel free to correct me!

This is Epiphany Sunday coming up, which emphasizes the mystery that the human in the person of Jesus of Nazareth is also divine, the Son of Mary is also the Son of God.  It’s a counterpart to Christmas, which celebrates the mystery of the divine taking on human flesh.  I’m blessed to have a faithful parishioner who assists in selecting more contemporary, praise-style songs for worship, while I select the hymns.  Our worship is a fairly liturgical format, but we utilize different types of music.

I selected two hymns for this Sunday (since it’s not a Communion Sunday) – both are associated with the Epiphany season in terms of their theological content.  The first is The People that in Darkness Sat and the second is Songs of Thankfulness and Praise.  I’ll talk about the second one today.

Songs of Thankfulness and Praise was penned around 1862 by Christopher Wordsworth (1807-1885), a nephew of the poet William Wordsworth.  Christopher was a prolific hymnist, and composed hymns around the liturgical calendar.  The key term used repeatedly in this hymn is manifest.  The definition of this word as an adjective is to make readily apparent or easily seen.  I consider it as closely linked with revelation and revealing – something that was obscured or hidden is now revealed and disclosed, soas to be readily apparent.  This is the primary theme of Epiphany – the deity of Jesus of Nazareth revealed in conjunction with particular events in the Biblical narrative of his life – the adoration of the magi, his baptism, and the Transfiguration.   The theme of the hymn has to do with how the divinity of Jesus is disclosed to us, made manifest in the events of his life.

Songs of thankfulness and praise, /  Jesus, Lord to thee we raise,

Manifested by the star / To the sages from afar,

Branch of royal David’s stem / In thy birth at Bethlehem:

Anthems be to Thee addressed, / God in man made manifest.

This is a song of praise, just one of many that are appropriate and proper to Jesus, who is our Lord.  Why is He our Lord, and not simply another obscure historical figure?  Because of the manifestation of his identity in the star the magi followed, based on the prophecy of Balaam in Numbers 24:17.  Jesus further fulfills prophecy about a ruler from the line of David (Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5, 33:15) who will be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).  Jesus is not acknowledged as Lord apart from how he manifests his identity as the Messiah, the prophesied offspring of David.

Manifest at Jordan’s stream, / Prophet, Priest and King Supreme;

And at Cana wedding guest / In Thy Godhead manifest;

Manifest in pow’r divine, / Changing water into wine;

Anthems be to Thee addressed, / God in man made manifest.

Wordsworth continues to elucidate the moments that demonstrate Jesus’ divinity and worthiness to be called Lord.  First he refers to Jesus’ baptism and the divine declaration and manifestation of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:13-17, 28:18; Deuteronomy 18:15; Hebrews 7:26-27; John 18:36-37).  This is then linked to his first miracle, his first demonstration of power at the wedding of Cana (John 2:1-11).

Manifest in making whole / Palsied limbs and fainting soul; 

Manifest in valiant fight, / Quelling all the devil’s might;

Manifest in gracious will, / Ever bringing good from ill;

Anthems be to Thee addressed, / God in man made manifest.

Wordsworth moves on in the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ miracles, prophesied beforehand (Isaiah 61:1-3; Matthew 4:23, 9:35, 4:1-11, 11:4-5, 8:26, 8:13).

Sun and moon shall darkened be, / Stars shall fall, the heav’ns shall flee; 

Christ will then like lightning shine, / All will see his glorious sign;

All will then the trumpet hear, / All will see the Judge appear;

Thou by all wilt be confessed, / God in man made manifest.

Wordsworth now moves from the events of Christ’s incarnation to events associated with his return in glory.  He draws on both prophetic Old Testament sources (Joel  2:10, 31; Isaiah 13:10, 34:4) as well as New Testament quotes (Matthew 24:27; 29-31; Mark 13:24-27; Luke 17:24, 21:25-27; Acts 17:31; Philippians 2:11; Revelation 1:7) which highlight Jesus’ role on that day as judge, identifying those who have placed their faith in him.

Grant us grace to see Thee, Lord, / Present in Thy Holy Word – 

Grace to imitate Thee now / And be pure, as pure art Thou; 

That we might become like Thee, / At Thy great epiphany

And may praise Thee, ever blest, / God in man made manifest.

Wordsworth concludes with the application.  As Lutherans we tend to get a little nervous here, never wanting anyone to confuse the process of sanctification with what Christ has accomplished in justification, and never wanting sanctification to eclipse justification.  But sanctification has a worthy place in hymnody topics as well.  We are called to imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1; Ephesians 5:2) in anticipation and consistency with who we will be revealed to be, as children of God on the day of our Lord’s return (1John 3:2).

So there you have it.  For another analysis of the song and the themes contained, here is a good, short article.  It takes issue with more modern tweakings of this hymn to be more politically correct – and I concur with the author completely on this subject!




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