Monthly Archives: March 2017

Our Music During Lent – “Amazing Grace”

“Amazing Grace”

 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” John 8:12


Sunday’s gospel is the story of Jesus giving sight to the blind man and so much more…spiritual blindness. If you read John 9, you’ll see the many layers of the story. “Amazing Grace” contains the message that forgiveness and redemption are possible regardless of sins committed and that we can be delivered from despair through the mercy of God.

The hymn was written by English poet and clergyman John Newton (1725–1807). Newton grew up without any particular religious conviction, but his early life was marked by his headstrong disobedience.  This disobedience led to being pressed into the Royal Navy, and after deserting, becoming involved in the Atlantic slave trade. In 1748, a violent storm battered his ship so severely that he called out to God for mercy, a moment that marked his spiritual conversion. In 1754 he ended his seafaring altogether and began studying Christian theology.

Ten years later, after his ordination, Newton wrote “Amazing Grace,” using his personal experience and the New Testament as the basis for many of the lyrics: the first verse can be traced to the stories of the Prodigal Son and the blind man.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The hymn has been associated with more than 20 melodies, but in 1835 it was joined to a tune named NEW BRITAIN.  A folk tune typical of the Appalachian tunes from the southern United States, NEW BRITAIN is the tune to which “Amazing Grace” is most frequently sung today.

DID YOU KNOW? “Amazing Grace” is probably the most famous of all folk hymns; it is performed about 10 million times a year.  Its universal message has led to its crossover into secular music: it has been sung in various venues (including Woodstock) by such popular music greats as Mahalia Jackson, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash, and is often played on bagpipes during funerals.


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Music for Lent – “My Heart is Longing to Praise My Savior”

“My Heart is Longing to Praise My Savior”

Choir anthem

She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”  (from John 4, Sunday’s Gospel)


I love the story of the woman at the well. It is a story of inclusion, forgiveness, and witness. The disciples were surprised Jesus was talking to a woman, especially a Samaritan (inclusion; see note). In their conversation,  Jesus told her about the “living water” he would provide (forgiveness). After the amazing experience, the woman went back to her friends and told them about him; “and many believed in him” (witness).

I discovered the tune for Sunday’s anthem 10 years ago when I found a prelude I liked, “I Am Longing to Praise My Savior” by Cassler. But  even when I recently came across this Bradley Ellingboe anthem, I didn’t realize it was a hymn found in 7 hymnals. The Norwegian folk tune, Princess Eugenie, is a melody that even without lyrics is lovely.

The text is a poem written by Princess Eugenie of Sweden and Norway. Her poor health and the death of her brother gave Eugenie a great interest in religion. The daughter of a Protestant and a Catholic, she disliked division and discord between the different Christian branches. This poetic expression of both the heavy sorrow and immense joy of the gospel is a treasure for us all. I think of the woman at the well when I read these lyrics.


My heart is longing to praise my Savior, 

And glorify his name in song and prayer;

For he has shown me his wondrous favor

And offered me all heav’n with him to share. Rejoice!


O Christian friends, let our song ascending

Give honor, praise to him who set us free!

Our tribulations may seem unending;

But soon with him we shall forever be. Rejoice!


NOTE: The Samaritans were a racially mixed society with Jewish and pagan ancestry. Although they worshiped Yahweh as did the Jews, their religion was not mainstream Judaism. They accepted only the first five books of the Bible. Because of their imperfect adherence to Judaism and their partly pagan ancestry, the Samaritans were despised by ordinary Jews. Jesus indicated a new attitude must be taken toward the Samaritans when he passed through their towns instead of crossing the Jordan to avoid them (John 4:4-5), and when he spoke with a Samaritan woman, contrary to Jewish custom (John 4:9).  When asked whom to regard as our neighbor, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan precisely because Samaritans were despised.


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Music During Lent – March 12

March 12 – 2nd Sunday in Lent

from Sunday’s Gospel


 Wondrous Love

Hymn 85


“What Wondrous Love Is This” grabs our attention from the start with its simplicity and persistence: “What wondrous love is this” is sung three times. This repetition is not the sign of a weak poet, but of someone who has experienced the sacrificial love of Christ and must  express it again and again. And it is the kind of repetition that gains strength and power through singing.

We have few clues as to the author and composer of this profound hymn of wonder at the love of Christ for all humanity. The text is sometimes attributed to Alexander Means, a physician, professor, and preacher. While an impressive person, he would have been only ten years old when the text appeared in 1811!  Our hymnal doesn’t list an author.

Hymnologist Harry Eskew suggests that the tune first appeared in the second edition (1840) of William “Singing Billy” Walker’s shaped-note collection, The Southern Harmony. Whether or not this is true, we can say that The Southern Harmony put this song on the lips of many Christians in the post-Civil War south.

The six-stanza original is reduced to three in The Presbyterian Hymnal. The song of the lone singer in stanza one takes on cosmic proportions in stanza two as “millions join the theme.”  Stanza three expresses our response to Jesus’ sacrifice: “And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on!”

Wondrous Love is included in 200 hymnals and is frequently sung during the Lenten season.


What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the heavy cross for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the heavy cross for my soul.


This Sunday at 8:30 or 11:00 am


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