Friday, March 13, 2009

Happy Pi-Day weekend!

I'm letting my math geekiness show in my title, but I hope that you all enjoy Pi Day on Saturday.

This Sunday we're singing a hymn from the Bethany Hymnal that is arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams (#1021, O God of Earth and Altar). Vaughan Williams was an English composer who lived from 1872 to 1958, and he is famous for, among other things, editing the Church of England's hymnal, published in 1906. His work on that volume shaped the sound of the Anglican church for the remainder of the 20th century.

Vaughan Williams especially loved to arrange English folk tunes as hymns, like the tune for this Sunday's closing hymn. It's also full of fantastic, earthy poetry, the kind of text you might miss on Sunday morning as you try to sing along.

The hymn's title alone points out that God is of the earth and the altar. Christ, the word made flesh, is a logical inversion of human dreams. After all, don't we love comic books in part because we want to have god-like powers? At Christmas, that story is inverted when God comes to earth, humbly becoming a God of earth.

I also want to draw your attention to verse 3, in particular. In a very Anglican way, it speaks of drawing together prince and priest. Beyond nationalism, though, the text asks God to tie us all together - what Lutherans might think of as the priesthood of all believers. In corporate worship, we join our voices together in praise. The poetry is beautiful, and the tune is a lovely, flowing folk tune. I hope you enjoy it. I'll close with the text of verse 3 as a text to ponder before, during, or after worship:

Tie in a living tether
The prince and priest and thrall;
Bind all our lives together;
Smite us, and save us all;
In ire and exultation,
Aflame with faith, and free,
Lift up a living nation,
A single sword to thee.


  1. This was a favorite hymn of mine in LBW that didn't make it into the ELW. I'm not sure why the "powers that be" decided not to include it (probably so they would have room for "Shine, Jesus, Shine"), so I decided to add it to The Bethany Hymnal. I find the text by Chesterton to be especially powerful and poignant.

  2. An area that has caught my attention in considering hymns is whether the words of the past contain images that "work" for most people today. What do city people know about lambs or sheep? Can Americans really relate to kings or princes? Maybe it would be an interesting project for the ELCA to create alternative versions to some of the verses. Perhaps we could replace the sheep with cats, or the kings and princes people in power? Let's hear some suggestions from the rest of you on this one!