Hymn of the Month

I Am the Lord Your God

The story of a hymn usually begins with a text, but this one starts with a tune. A little over 150 years ago, Nicholas I, Czar of Russia, ordered Alexis Lvov to compose a national hymn tune. For years Russians had been singing a Russian text to the English melody for "God Save Our Gracious King." Nicholas thought it was time his people had their own hymn. Lvov responded by composing the melody we now know as RUSSIA, or RUSSIAN HYMN. Many of us first learned this melody from listening to Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.

Almost as soon as the Russians stopped borrowing the English tune, the English author Henry Chorley picked up this new Russian tune and wrote a text for it. That text, published in 1842, was entitled "In Time of War" and began with the words "God the All-Terrible!" Later, during the Franco-American war, John Ellerton added two more stanzas to Chorley's text.

The finished hymn is a stirring and powerful plea for peace, one that is included in many contemporary hymnals. Some hymnals have altered the hymn a bit, changing the first line to "God the Omnipotent." Others, such as the Trinity Hymnal, have retained the original text. The text below is taken from Rejoice in the Lord:

God the Omnipotent! King,
who ordainest
thunder thy clarion, the
lightning thy sword;
show forth thy pity on high
where thou reignest:
give to us peace in our time,
O Lord.

God the All-merciful! earth
hath forsaken
thy ways all holy, and slighted
thy word;
bid not thy wrath in its
terrors awaken:
give to us peace in our time,
O Lord.

God, the All-righteous One!
earth hath defied thee;
yet to eternity standeth thy
falsehood and wrong shall
not tarry beside thee:
give to us peace in our time,
O Lord.

God the All-provident! earth
by thy chastening
yet shall to freedom and
truth be restored;
through the thick darkness
thy kingdom is hastening:
thou wilt give peace in thy
time, O Lord.

The Psalter Hymnal provides a new text for the Russian tune. Helen Otte, member of the "Poets' Workshop" that versified many psalms and other passages, was asked to work with Jeremiah 31, that great passage on the covenant. She fulfilled that assignment by writing "I Am the Lord Your God."

Otte, now living in Downs, Kansas, is a published author of children's stories as well as hymn texts. In addition to this text, she wrote fourteen psalm versifications and one hymn text for the Psalter Hymnal.

"I Am the Lord Your God" is appropriate in worship as an expression of gratitude to God for his covenant faithfulness. This hymn would be especially fitting for baptism, profession of faith, or a service that emphasizes the evangelistic mission of the church "which will extend to each nation and race."

Little introduction is needed for this song; most congregations will find the melody familiar. Organ music based on the tune includes a prelude by Wilbur Held ("God the Omnipotent") in The Concordia Hymn Prelude Series, vol. 36.

Hallelujah, Praise the Lord

Psalm 150 has inspired many poets. In fact, "Hallelujah, Praise the Lord" is one of six texts in the 1987 Psalter Hymnal based on that psalm of praise.

This metrical paraphrase of Psalm 150 catches the universal greatness of the Lord and the wideness of our response of praise in a delightfully playful way. Though the psalm is appropriate during any season of the year or of our lives, we present it during the season of Thanksgiving in a setting particularly appropriate for children.

The text was versified by Marie Post, a published poet of both religious and general poetry. Post, a member of the Psalter Hymnal Revision Committee, contributed thirty-five versifications and ten hymn texts to the Psalter Hymnal.

The tune ORIENTIS PAR-TIBUS is more than six hundred years old, so old that we don't know quite how it was sung. Some hymnals today use just the first four lines in even notes in 4A; some choose the lilting triple meter. The Psalter Hymnal chose the lilting meter, with all five lines. Rejoice in the Lord did too— to the text for "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today."

The tune gets its name from an old church pageant song. In the Middle Ages the church celebrated the Feast of the Donkey on January 14 to commemorate the flight of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus into Egypt. During the pageant, a woman holding a child would ride a donkey (or an "ass," as it was called then) through town in a procession that came right into the church, down the aisle, to the altar. During the procession everyone sang this song:

Orientis partibus
adventavit asinus,
pulcher et fortissimus
sarcinis aptissimus.
Hez, sire Asne, hez.

Out from lands of Orient
was the ass divinely sent;
strong and very fair was he,
bearing burdens gallantly.
Heigh, sir Ass, oh heigh.

In the center of this issue of RW you will find John Ferguson's setting of "Hallelujah, Praise the Lord" for children's choir with instruments. The setting calls for Orff instruments and flute (see RW 7 for an introduction to Orff instruments). If you do not have access to Orff instruments, the accompaniment can also be played by two people at one organ or piano. In fact, the accompaniment is simple enough to be played by children who can maintain a secure and steady rhythmic beat. The setting will be included in a new recording of Bible Songs scheduled for release by CRC Publications this fall.

In introducing this song to your congregation, teach it hrst to your children, then have them sing it for the adults. Later, have the children sing the first stanza or two, then ask the congregation to join in.

Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming

Two passages in Isaiah inspired an unknown poet/composer to write this song more than five hundred years ago: "There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots" (Isa. 11:1, KJV); and "the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose" (Isa. 35:1b, KJV. The RSV and NIV use "crocus" rather than "rose.").

As first published in 1599, the text had twenty-three stanzas that told the events of the Christmas story as recorded in Matthew 2 and Luke 1-2. Although"Lo…" is a Christmas song, sometimes called a "Twelfth-Night Carol," the hymn is also appropriate during Advent, when we remember the prophecy of Isaiah that looked forward to the coming of Christ.

The first two stanzas, translated by Theodore Baker (1851-1934), American scholar and musician, have remained favorites. The third stanza was translated by Gracia Grindal, an English teacher, editor, poet, translator, and hymnologist, who currently serves as associate professor of pastoral theology and ministry at Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.

In introducing this lovely meditative hymn to your congregation, the organist may well begin with one or two of many organ settings. The just-published Bibliography of Organ Music Based on Tunes in the Psalter Hymnal and Rejoice in the Lord lists more than a dozen (see p. 47). The setting straight out of the Psalter Hymnal is lovely with unison children's voices or in harmony with an adult choir. A choir may also wish to try one of the settings by Hugo Distler (Arista, AE 109).

When the congregation sings this hymn, the organ should play just loud enough to lend support; a soft, gentle accompaniment fits the character of the song.


John Ferguson is professor of organ and church music, and minister of music to the student congregation at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota. He served as music editor of the 1975 Hymnal of the United Church of Christ, has written two books and coauthored a third, and has published and recorded several of his compositions. Ferguson is well known as a speaker at church music conferences. His preparation of and playing at hymn festivals have received national acclaim.

Upcoming Hymns
Reformed Worship 10

January: How Bright Appears the Morning Star (WIE SCHON LEUCHTET)
February: Psalm 136: Let Us with a Gladsome Mind (GENEVAN 136)
March: Ah, Holy Jesus, How Have You Offended (HERZLIEBSTER JESU)

Reformed Worship 11

April: O Sons and Daughters of the King (O FILII ET FILIAE)
May: Holy Spirit, Truth Divine (SONG 13)
June: Psalm 134: You Servants of the Lord Our God (GENEVAN 134/OLD HUNDREDTH)

Emily R. Brink (embrink@calvin.edu) is Senior Research Fellow for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and former editor of Reformed Worship.


Reformed Worship 9 © September 1988, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.