Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Singing with our Brothers and Sisters in Japan

All of the news and pictures coming from Japan beg our contant prayers. In addition to our prayers, we might also find ourselves in the company of our Japanese brothers and sisters by singing one of their hymns in our Sunday assemblies. Consider adding one or both of the hymns with Japanese origins included in Evangelical Lutheran Worship over the next weeks.

ELW Hymn 718, "In a Lowly Manger Born" at first glance looks like a Christmas or Time after Epiphany hymn, but it is broader in scope. Stanza three reads:
Then, to rescue you and me, Jesus died upon the tree. See in him God's love revealed; by his passion we are healed. Now he lives in glory bright, lives again in pow'r and might; come and take the path he trod, son of mary, Son of God.
Set next to John 3:16 ("God loved the world in this way..."), this hymn would be a welcome addition on the Second Sunday in Lent in Year A.The tune name MABUNE comes from the first word of the hymn in Japanese and it means "manger."

ELW Hymn 530, "Here, O Lord, Your Servants Gather" was written for the Fourteenth World Council of Christian Education Convention held in Tokyo in 1958. In the ELW Hymnal Companion, Paul Westermeyer writes:
The hymn was written when fear and suspicion were mingles with new possibilities. Beyond the world's perplexity the church, as is its birthright, looked for sustenance and help to Jesus as savior, teacher, healer, and master. The hymn presumes passages like John 14:12, Romans 10:12-13, Ephesians 1:7-14, 2:13-22, and Psalm 102:25-27 along with John 14:6 as context for the world's confusion and need: servants old and young from many tongues and scattered lands gather at the cross of Christ -- with love's demands, hope in darkness, and nature's secrets opened wide -- facing change, looking for peace in the midst of distress and endless strife, praying for help to work in an age of renewal.
The tune TOKYO sounds considerably more Japanese than MABUNE, but is still easily sung. Also, if assemblies learned to sing it this Lent, it could very well be repeated on the Fifth Sunday of Easter this year when we have the passage from John's gospel as Jesus "the way, the truth, the life."

Singing an ever-widening repertoire of global hymnody is important for every Christian assembly, whether the congregation is monolithic or quite diverse. Singing words and music from other times and places reminds us that the church exists beyond the four walls of a building, beyond the confines of our city, state, or country, beyond the cultural make-up of one particular congregation or church, and beyond the boundaries of time and location. Singing global hymnody is not about trying to create a church that is more enticing to people of diverse cultural backgrounds, as if we were marketing Jesus to a particular demographic ("Let's sing an Asian hymn to get Asians to come to our church"!!) Nor is singing global hymnody a task that is motivated by somehow being "politically correct." Instead, singing global hymnody is about the incarnation -- it means that God comes enfleshed in diverse colors, tongues, and styles. We sing what the body of Christ -- the church -- looks like.


  1. Mark, this is spot-on! Thanks for your words of wisdom. May I print the last paragraph in our church newsletter? We're learning the Kyrie in (gasp!) Greek during Lent - and this is an excellent summary of what I'm trying to teach the congregation.

  2. Carol: sorry to be so late in reply...of course you may reprint any portion of this blog in your newsletter.