Friday, October 8, 2021

Saturday prior to Proper 23


Sunday’s hymn of the day, Thee Will I Love, My Strength, My Tower (LSB 694) is a hymn of resolute determination to love God above all things, not of our own selves, but prayerfully asking, Permit me nevermore to stray (v. 4).

At first the language of this hymn seems to be about my fervent love of Jesus, a kind of “You Are My Sunshine” song. Instead, for the Christian who knows the words of Jesus, it turns out to be a strong reflection on the relationship between “light” and “life.” The “light of the world” is Jesus and Jesus is the one who gives me new “life.” No Jesus, no new life— just the old rebellious self.

The poet, Johann Scheffler (1624-1677), at the end of the first stanza makes reference to this connection between light and life (“Thee will I love, O light divine, so long as life is mine”) and he repeats the same thought in the closing stanza.

Scheffler, an enthusiast for mystic poets like Jacob Boehme (1575-1624), sought to reach for the Infinite and a sense of oneness between Creator and creature. This hymn, not surprisingly then, reminds today’s singer of what was said in the opening to John’s gospel about Jesus, the “Word,” through whom all things were made: “In him [Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4).

 Scheffler rightly associates life with light and the “divine Light” is his central poetic image. Indeed, in stanza three Jesus is called the “Sun from heaven, whose radiance hath brought light to me.” For this I give thanks because Jesus’ lips (in the German: “golden mouth”) revealed the Father’s love; because Jesus gave up of his life for me I am “glad and free.” The poet develops the light image in various ways but since not everything comes through in translation permit some reference to his original wording. In the German of the first stanza Scheffler says he loves the “strength” (vigor, intensity) and the “powerful affect” of this light (the translator’s paraphrase says it gives me “hope” and “joy”).

In the second stanza Jesus is “my life” (cf. John 1:4) and “truest friend.” Then in the second part of this stanza where Scheffler’s German text had three Biblical images for Jesus, namely, that Jesus’ “splendor” (brightness) enlightens a believer, that Jesus is the sacrificial “Lamb of God,” and that Jesus is the “bridegroom” of the church, the translator settled for a single summarizing word, “Redeemer.” In either version the language makes clear that Christian life is sourced in Jesus.

Since Christian life is enlivened by the radiance of the Light, stanza four prays for its power. Scheffler’s original German asks Jesus to “keep me” on the narrow path, from straying in the wrong direction, and from stepping in the wrong places. It also prays for Jesus’ heavenly “brightness” to enlighten my “life and soul.”

Finally, in stanza five Jesus is my “Crown” and, in times of greatest need and at my death, the “Light Divine” will always be my “God.” The poetry concludes with a statement of trust.

Since the Light, Jesus, is the source of my life, everything that he does for me causes me to love, praise, and thank him. I recall Jesus’ words: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). When I sing this hymn it becomes my song of trust in Jesus, who enlightens me and gives me life.

James L. Brauer

Professor Emeritus, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri[1]

Collect for Pentecost 20Enlighten our minds, O God, by the Spirit who proceeds from You, that, as Your Son has promised, we my be led into all truth. .[2]

Collect for Proper 23Lord Jesus Christ, whose grace always precedes and follows us, help us to forsake all trust in earthly gain and to find in Your our heavenly treasure; for You live and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen [3]– 09 October 2021

[2] Collect for Pentecost 20, Lutheran Worship © 1980 Concordia Publishing House, St, Louis

[3] Collect for Proper 23, Lutheran Service Book, © 2006 Concordia Publishing House, St., Louis

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