Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Recognition Long Overdue...

There is in the Old South a surprising personality whose love includes translating old German Lutheran hymns that heretofore have remained out of reach to non-German speakers and to those without access to the original sources.  His blog is called Hymnoglypt and his name is Matthew Carver.  Recently he prepared a wonderful text from more recent history called Walther's Hymnal and available from Concordia Publishing House or Amazon (though I might prefer you order from CPH to encourage the powers that be so that such future volumes might be published).

Walther's Hymnal: Church Hymnbook is the first of its kind: an English translation of the first official hymnal of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. This was the hymnal that C.F.W. Walther edited and used, and that provided Christians throughout the LCMS a common experience during the Church's early years in America, in the same way that Lutheran Service Book provides a common experience for us today... Now presented for the first time in English, this is an invaluable resource for history enthusiasts, church musicians, and anyone who wants insight into how our grandfathers sang and prayed. This is a chance to share in that song and prayer of the saints gone before us.

Matthew Carver, MFA, is a translator of German and classical literature. He resides in Nashville, TN, with his wife Amanda and their young son, where they pursue interests in art, orthodox Lutheran theology, liturgy, and hymnody.  Matthew's gift for poetic translation faithful to the original not only in accuracy but in tone has been a hidden gem for a long time.  His blog is an amazing treasure of resources and an impressive body of work.

Many have wondered why it is that the riches of his hidden treasure are not more prominent in hymnals today.  Some have wondered why more of these were not included in Lutheran Service Book (2006).  Some (like me) have wondered why CPH and the LCMS have not marshaled the full potential of Lutheran Service Builder in order to make these available as electronic supplement to LSB.  [In case you are reading this Paul McCain and William Weedon, here is another thorn in the flesh to push you forward on this cause.]

To be sure, I fully understand why more was not included.  We have a tremendous body of hymns considered treasures by the singers in Lutheran parishes (if not so much by theologians and liturgists).  I fully understand why weaker (musically, theologically, and poetically) were found room when room was not made for some of the texts Matthew has so eloquently provided.  Hymnody is even more touchy than liturgy when it comes to the folks in the pew.  It is a process that continues even while the book of the hymnal captures but a snapshot in time from that ongoing path of yesterday's legacy into the present moment which shapes the future.  But I would plead for making these available in electronic format so that these can begin to be used, set to tuneful melody (original or new) that enables us to recapture the riches of both form and content that mark these gems.  I would argue that they will remain only curiosities until we have both the will and purpose to make them available in electronic format to supplement the hymns in the book.  Only then will they be recaptured into the repertoire of hymnody in which the faith is sung as well as confessed .

Kudos to Matthew.  Your gift has made available many gifts to the Church.  Take a gander at one below:

O MIGHTY Work, of myst’ry full,
Most worthy of all praises!
O Work, whose pow’r is never dull
But e’er in us increases
Repentance for the sins that weigh,
Love, faith, and hope to bide the day,
Fear, conduct, and all virtues right!—
O high Delight!
O Feast all-worthy, fair, and bright!

2. Here stands the Tree of Life foretold,
Whose leaves are for salvation,
To heal the sting of Satan old,
And purge us of transgression;
Here is the Tree of essence pure,
Of sweetest fruit, of mighty cure,
Whose savor noble and divine
To those who pine
Doth sweeten o’er death’s bitter wine.

3. Here is the very heav’nly Bread
By God’s own action given,
That, by the Savior’s death, the dead
Restores to life and heaven:
This meal sustains the pilgrim soul,
It renders fit and maketh whole,
This is the food of angels high,
For which I’ll sigh
And thank my God unceasingly.

4. Here is the Ark that Israel bore,
The Lord’s own Body gracious,
Of truth and good the Source and Store;
Herein the vision gracious
Of heaven’s Temple I may trace,
The Mercy-Seat, the Holy Place,
Yea, here I find the highest Good,
The precious Blood,
Of soul and mind the quick’ning Flood.

5. Here is the heav’nly Gate and Veil,
The Ladder without measure,
The Chosen Plot of Israël,
The Readier of her pleasure,*
Here we in Christ the passage climb
To heights more blessed and sublime,
Hereby the Lord doth us allege—
O glorious pledge!
That heav’n is now our heritage.

6. Behold, how deeply He adores,
How much He doth esteem us,
To give Himself, and not by force
but tenderly to win us;
Mark how He makes us citizens
Of glorious light in which He reigns,—
And how He raised our flesh with might
To such a height
And seated it upon His right.

7. That flesh that now is raised on high,
On Zion’s mount residing,
Christ yet has promised to supply
To those on earth abiding.
Thus He Himself our portion makes,
And thus our soul salvation takes,
Securely in God’s favor laid;
Our debts are paid
And peace with God for us is made.

8. How then can He against us be,
Who with such kindness gives us
His flesh and blood to taste and see,
As orphans never leaves us?
How can He turn His eye from those
Whom here He keeps and holds so close,
For whom He cares, who deigns to be,—
O high decree!—
The Lamb for their iniquity.

9. What can the devil ever do
To make God’s people cowèr,
Since by this perfect Work of grace
We find such mighty powèr?
This Feast instills such strength and life,
No foe can win, though fierce the strife,
So come, thou fiend, and raise thy hand,
We ready stand
To put to shame thy wicked band.

10. No cares of body do we heed,
No hindrance or commotion!
Here is the salve for every need,
The heart’s unrivaled potion.
The flesh of Christ the pow’r contains
That all things healeth and sustains,
Here from His side those rivers swell
Which evil quell
And douse the fiery darts of hell.

11. O Flesh of God, O holy Blood
Adored by angel spirits,
O heav’nly Food, O highest Good,
How wondrous are Thy merits
That all the ranks of heav’n revere!
How happy, Lord, my soul is here,
Amid this grief to have in sight
Such bliss of light—
O Feast all-worthy, fair, and bright!
* i.e., Jesus, who in the Holy Supper prepares great spiritual refreshment for the spiritual Israel —Steinmetz et al., Neu-eing. K. u. H. G.B. 1832, p. 231.
Translation © 2013 Matthew Carver.

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