For Lent at church we’ve been reading NT Wright’s ‘The Challenge of Easter’ which is an excerpt from his ‘The Challenge of Jesus’. It resonates SO deeply in my soul – he challenges the ‘my own personal Jesus who died for my sins’ theology and talks about the historical implications of a resurrected Savior, and of the redemption of ALL of creation, not just my escape plan from the flames. Last night I shared with the group that for many years I had life divided into Christian Things and Non-Christian Things…. Christian Music. Non-Christian Music. Ministry. Secular employment. So many categories. I had moved far from that sort of thinking already, but when an opportunity to play music at the local upscale supper club came up, I couldn’t figure out why it was resonating SO deeply in my soul. I’ve played at Royal Albert Hall, with some of the best Bible teachers in the world. I kept hearing whispers of ‘you were made for this!’ and would think, ‘how is that possible? Made for THIS? Made for Henry Mancini, Cole Porter, REO Speedwagon and Barry Manilow?’

Resoundingly, I respond – YES! For this! Redemption comes in strange places. [thank you, Sara Groves]. My Mom didn’t like coming to church. But she loved hearing me play. She ALWAYS came when I sang at the karaoke bars. [paid for college. ;)]. She eventually tired of the church services. But she would have absolutely LOVED this place, this job, this thing, this beauty. Adding to the beauty – to God’s common grace, perfectly created order that is GOOD – is redemptive. So I’m going to be the best supper club pianist you’ve ever heard. AND, as relationships build, and trust grows, invitations will be extended to hear the reason for the music. I have to believe it.


We come with beautiful secrets
We come with purposes written on our hearts, written on our souls
We come to every new morning
With possibilities only we can hold, that only we can hold

Redemption comes in strange place, small spaces
Calling out the best of who we are

And I want to add to the beauty
To tell a better story
I want to shine with the light
That’s burning up inside

It comes in small inspirations
It brings redemption to life and work
To our lives and our work

It comes in loving community
It comes in helping a soul find it’s worth

Redemption comes in strange places, small spaces
Calling out the best of who we are

And I want to add to the beauty
To tell a better story
I want to shine with the light
That’s burning up inside

This is grace, an invitation to be beautiful
This is grace, an invitation

Redemption comes in strange places, small spaces
Calling out our best

And I want to add to the beauty
To tell a better story
I want to shine with the light
That’s burning up inside

-Sara Groves


Advent II – and a snow day

Hark, A Thrilling Voice is Sounding

Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding.
“Christ is nigh,” it seems to say;
“Cast away the works of darkness,
O ye children of the day.”

Wakened by the solemn warning,
let the earth-bound soul arise;
Christ, her Sun, all sloth dispelling,
shines upon the morning skies.

Lo! the Lamb, so long expected,
comes with pardon down from heaven;
let us all, with tears of sorrow,
pray that we may be forgiven;

that when next he comes with glory,
and the world is wrapped in fear,
with his mercy he may shield us,
and with words of love draw near.

Honor, glory, might, and blessing
to the Father and the Son,
with the everlasting Spirit,
while eternal ages run.

Words: Latin, sixth century;
trans. Edward Caswall (1814-1878) as “Hark, an awful voice is sounding”.
Murray’s Hymnal of 1852 changed the first line to “a thrilling voice”
and Hymns Ancient & Modern of 1861 altered the text further into its present form.

First of all, as Scott and I always say when we encounter a video or snippet from a church service that delights us, ‘I would TOTALLY go to church here.” Can you imagine? That organ! That chancel! Those ROBES! That BRASS! Oh my, a feast for the senses, all pointing to the King of glory, declared in Advent terms to be the one who not only has come, but will come again in glory. The fourth stanza above gives me goosebumps every year when we sing it – the very person who has come will shield us by Himself from the judgment of the One who is coming – by Himself, by His blood, by the forgiveness of sins offered to us in the person of the Lord Jesus. It’s a spinning spiral of now and not yet; redeemed and fallen; sinner and saint. It is precisely in the middle of this paradox where we live our lives… knowing the end, watching for a King, clinging to one who has already come – oh, the drama! Perhaps this is why I
am so continually drawn to liturgical worship, too  – to participate in the retelling of the story, the drama of the light and the darkness, the visual of the Gospel lesson being processed to the center of the church every Sunday – a picture of the Incarnation week after week.

It is into this darkness that He comes. And it is my commitment this week, to that end, to cast away as many of the works of darkness that I can, and to be a bringer of light into the darkest corners. Come, Lord Jesus.

We spent last weekend in South Carolina for the Ordination to the Priesthood of our great friend Marcus Kaiser. Marcus and his wife Kim were our seminary housemates for a year, and for the two years that we served in Racine, they traveled to do Marcus’ field education with us at St. Michael’s. Every Sunday. And most Tuesdays. Scott and I marvel at our friendship with them for many reasons, but the simple fact is that this is a couple that we love equally, met at the same time, and enjoy in the same manner. I love Kim. Scott loves Kim. I love Marcus. Scott loves Marcus. Our kids love their kids. It’s an absolute delight. They are too far away for our liking, but the roadtrip was actually quite fun, and the Ordination service was one for the record books. Scott preached an extraordinary sermon – I mean, I’m biased, but I’m also opinionated. This one was a keeper. My spirit was emboldened by Scott’s work.

I played organ for part of the service, and sang a song or two. I felt like Jacob while I was playing that instrument – it was a wrestling match for sure, and I wasn’t going to let it go until it blessed me. And bless me, it did. Holy cow. Festival trumpets, and a Rutter arrangement. That’s all I need to say about that. But it was thrilling – THRILLING – to participate in this service together. I married up. I highly recommend it.

We made it home between blizzards. Today the kids have been given a snow day, so we’re all cozy inside and watching the foot and a half of snow that has fallen through icy windows. It’s appropriate that it’s cold, and so dark now. Because we’re getting close to the shortest day of the year, which comes right before the Darkness Turns to Dawn. But that’s our next Advent hymn. So stay tuned.

Advent I – On Jordan’s Bank

When singing this at church yesterday, I just knew that this would be our hymn to begin our Advent
series. I love the sense of expectant preparation in this text. Many Advent hymns focus on the now-and-
not-yet of the season, but this one, to me, simply says ‘He’s coming. Make way.’ That’s exactly what I intend
to do in these next weeks.

On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry
announces that the Lord is nigh;
awake and hearken, for he brings
glad tidings of the King of kings.

Then cleansed be every breast from sin;
make straight the way for God within,
prepare we in our hearts a home
where such a mighty Guest may come.

For thou art our salvation, Lord,
our refuge and our great reward;
without thy grace we waste away
like flowers that wither and decay.

To heal the sick stretch out thine hand,
and bid the fallen sinner stand;
shine forth and let thy light restore
earth’s own true loveliness once more.

All praise, eternal Son, to thee,
whose advent doth thy people free;
whom with the Father we adore
and Holy Ghost for evermore.
Words: Charles Coffin, 1736;
trans. John Chandler, 1837
Music: Winchester New

But how do I prepare? How do I endeavor to allow the Lord to use me to “let thy light restore
earth’s own true loveliness once more”? For me, it’s simple ways – more time in the scriptures, a prayer book with me, and at least making an effort – at least for these first 2 weeks – to avoid straight-on Christmas music. That’s the hard part. Our culture doesn’t help us – most throw away their Christmas trees on Dec. 26th, the Christmas music stops – we don’t even put ours UP until the 24th!

I’m not intending or recommending scrooginess. Not at all. But a tempering to the Christmas celebration now will
bear significant fruit in your experience of the Christ child, and of Epiphany!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, we wait in expectation. In anticipation. And even in a bit of tension. For
this is Advent, and a King is coming. Make straight a highway for our God.

The One In Which She Attempts The Impossible.

… that is, making a top 10 list of favorite hymns.

Here goes. 


Jesus, The Name High Over All – Lyrics – Charles Wesley,

tune – ? ACK! My hymnals are already packed and do you know that I can’t find the tune that I use anywhere on the World Wide InterWeb*? PHIL, it’s in Hymns II – can you look it up for me?!?! 

When my friend Bobbi was dying of cancer, leaving behind a husband and sweet 2 year old girl, this was one of the hymns that anchored her family – at the last moments of her life, Fred (her husband and partner in every way) crawled into bed with her, whispered this final verse into her ear – and she was gone. What mercy! We sang this hymn at our wedding (along with 12 others. It was a bit of a marathon – but a fun one!). I’ve only ever run across it in Hymns II – the InterVarsity Hymnal – which is why I can’t find the tune. Hmm. I’ll keep looking.

  1. Jesus, the name high over all,
    In hell, or earth, or sky:
    Angels and men before it fall,
    And devils fear and fly, and devils fear and fly.

  2. Jesus, the name to sinners dear,
    The name to sinners giv’n;
    It scatters all their guilty fear,
    And turns their hells to heav’n, and turns their hells to heav’n. 

  3. Jesus the prisoner’s fetters breaks,
    And bruises Satan’s head;
    Pow’r into strengthless souls He speaks,
    And life into the dead, and life into the dead.

  4. Oh, that the world might taste and see,
    The riches of His grace!
    The arms of love that compass me,
    Would all mankind embrace, would all mankind embrace.

  5. His only righteousness I show,
    His saving truth proclaim:
    ‘Tis all my business here below,
    To cry, ‘Behold the Lamb’, to cry, ‘Behold the Lamb!’

  6. Happy, if with my latest breath
    I might but gasp His name:
    Preach Him to all, and cry in death,
    “Behold, behold the Lamb! Behold! Behold the Lamb!”

Love Divine, All Loves Excelling  – lyrics – Charles Wesley, tune – Hyfrydol, Pritchard [is there any other? :)]

Of course Hyfrydol would make the list. The trick was in choosing which set of lyrics. I had to go with this one because of the final verse:

Finish then thy new creation, pure and spotless let us be,
Let us see thy great salvation perfectly restored in thee.
Changed from glory into glory, ’til in heaven we take our place,
‘Til we cast our crowns before thee, lost in
wonder, love, and praise.

                                                                                [and you wondered where the blog got its name… ] 

Spiritual transformation has always been one of the ‘big ideas’ of following Jesus that has captured my attention, probably because of how hyper-aware I am of all the areas in my life that need CHANGE. I cling to Paul’s promise in II Corinthians 3 that, by the very virtue of walking with Christ, I am indeed BEING transformed. What hope!! We, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being changed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory.. now that’s what I’m talking about. And Love Divine sums it up so perfectly in that final verse, I can hardly stand it. There’s no better way to sing this one, in my opinion, than on a screaming organ as bright and loud as it can go, at a leading tempo, not a dragging one – in a sanctuary with a wide enough reverb so that the worshipping community can be heard in all its glory. Bring it on!

At The Lamb’s High Feast We Sing – you can see why I love this one here.

The Church’s One Foundation – Oh man. I had to include this one because of the verse that is left OUT of most hymnals. The Episcopal Hymnal – 1982 – which is notorious for leaving out any verses that have much of anything to do with personal accountability – actually includes this verse, and it makes me cry when I think that the broken and battered Episcopal Church is the one that actually sings the verse of hope and victory with schism on the horizon.

Yet with a scornful wonder men see her sore oppressed, 
By schism rent asunder, by heresies distressed,
Yet saints their watch are keeping, their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song. 

Too much to bear – such language is too wonderful for me to attain… 

Fairest Lord Jesus – in my life as a Lutheran this hymn was referred to as ‘Beautiful Savior’. It’s nostalgic, I know, and it talks about meadows and trees and stuff, which isn’t usually my kind of hymn language. But this hymn is a master class in text writing – the way it moves to the final verse blows my mind.

The first verse introduces Jesus, the Lord, who is lovely. The second and third [and fourth, if you’re one of *those* churches 🙂 ], compare his loveliness to the fairest and most beautiful things of the earth – and clearly state that none of them can compare with him. But that final verse – finally using personal language for this Lord – Beautiful SAVIOR – Lord of the Nations – and ending doxologically – glory and honor, praise, adoration now and forevermore be Thine – well, again, it’s unbearably moving. And the melody is beautiful. If you want to hear it sung well, find some German Lutherans. 

Abide With Me – I suppose this might fall a bit in the same camp as ‘Fairest Lord Jesus’. But I love this hymn for its masterful anchoring in the Gospel of John – as we’re told that if we abide with Christ we will bear lasting fruit for the kingdom, this hymn is a simple prayer asking for God’s continued presence in every circumstance. When the organist kicks it up a notch for that final statement ‘Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee – in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me‘- – oh my. The best organ playing is the kind that you can’t just hear, but you can feel. This is one of those. 

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross Lyrics – Isaac Watts, Music – HAMBURG –

Not much to say about this one. It’s pretty much perfect. Other tunes are often used, but I think they’re too sing-songey. I can’t sing about the cross in 3/4. If the song lends itself to a beer stein in the hand, then it’s not a cross-worthy hymn. 😉

Jesus Shall Reign So, Carol and I have this one in common. As to singability, this tune – Duke Street – has to be one of the finest and most intuitive for the congregation to sing. And it lends itself perfectly to an 8-bar interlude with a power shift key change before the call-to-worship final verse ‘Let EVERY creature rise and bring peculiar anthems…‘ 

For All the Saints – Words – William Walsham How, tune – Sine Nomine – Ralph Vaughan Williams (sine nomine… no name…. love that guy. RVW is a hoot.)

I will often play this one at the conclusion of funeral services when the casket is being recessed out of the church into the hearse as it makes its journey to the burial ground. I play it simply, elegantly – an understanding of this hymn text was integral in my beginnings of understanding the great cloud of witnesses, the sainthood of all believers, to coin a phrase – and I think it’s the perfect soundtrack for the final journey of the shell. When the casket is covered with the pall representing baptism… well, I’m such a worship geek that I even get goofy at the thoughts of funeral music. Indeed, Carol. We’re cut out of the same cloth. Get it? 🙂

Back to Sine Nomine – but lo! There breaks a yet more glorious day/the saints triumphant rise in bright array/the King of Glory passes on His way – alleluia, alleluia! Yeah. Great, great stuff.

Lift High the Cross – George William Kitchen and Michael Robert Newbolt, tune ‘Crucifer’. 

Again, with my Lutheran youth – I was blessed to attend a church with a great organist. Denise was fabulous. She brought the hymns to life for me at a time when I was looking for something to believe in. My love of music and latent faith were a perfect storm of readiness when it came to the hymnal. 

I have never seen all of these verses in one place. Holy smokes, what a great hymn:

Lift high the cross,
the love of Christ proclaim
till all the world adore
his sacred Name.

Come, brethren, follow where our Captain trod,
our King victorious, Christ the Son of God. Refrain

Led on their way by this triumphant sign,
the hosts of God in conquering ranks combine. Refrain

Each newborn soldier of the Crucified
bears on the brow the seal of him who died. Refrain

This is the sign which Satan’s legions fear
and angels veil their faces to revere. Refrain

Saved by this Cross whereon their Lord was slain,
the sons of Adam their lost home regain. Refrain

From north and south, from east and west they raise
in growing unison their songs of praise. Refrain

O Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree,
as thou hast promised, draw the world to thee. Refrain

Let every race and every language tell
of him who saves our souls from death and hell. Refrain

From farthest regions let their homage bring,
and on his Cross adore their Savior King. Refrain

Set up thy throne, that earth’s despair may cease
beneath the shadow of its healing peace. Refrain

For thy blest Cross which doth for all atone
creation’s praises rise before thy throne. Refrain

We Come, O Christ, to Thee – I prefer to sing this to the tune ‘Darwall’s 148th’ [Rejoice, the Lord is King]. This was the single most important hymn of my college years – also found in the InterVarsity Hymnal. It was one of the first that I memorized intentionally. My devotional life has been marked by a Bible in one hand and a hymnal in the other ever since [except now there’s usually a Book of Common Prayer involved, too]. This is the most remarkable rally cry of a hymn – we worship You, Lord Christ, our Savior and our King/ to Thee our youth and strength adoringly we bring… as the years have gone by, I have realized that it isn’t asking for me to muster up strength – it’s simply asking that I bring that which I have at this moment. Today. That has been of remarkable help to me for many, many years.

We come, O Christ to thee, 
true Son of God and man,
by whom all things consist, 
in whom all life began:
in thee alone we live and move, 
and have our being in thy love.

Thou art the Way to God, 
thy blood our ransom paid;
in thee we face our Judge 
and Maker unafraid.
Before the throne absolved we stand, 
thy love has met thy law’s demand.

Thou art the living Truth! 
All wisdom dwells in thee,
thou source of every skill, 
eternal Verity!
Thou great I AM! In thee we rest, 
sure answer to our every quest.

Thou only art true Life, 
to know thee is to live
the more abundant life 
that earth can never give:
O risen Lord! We live in thee:
and thou in us eternally!

We worship thee, Lord Christ,
our Savior and our King,
to thee our youth and strength 
adoringly we bring:
so fill our hearts that men may see
thy life in us, and turn to thee!


Words: Margaret Clarkson (1915-);
© 1957 Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.




Honorable Mention – The Nashotah House Seminary Hymn – Firmly I Believe and Truly – Click here to find out why. Tune written by Canon Joseph Kucharski, Organist at All Saints Episcopal Cathedral in Milwaukee and music prof/organist at Nashotah House since… well, since eternity past. He’s like a piece of furniture there. How we love Joseph and his playing! 

Nashotah House Seminary Hymn

1. Firmly I believe and truly
God is three, and God is One;
And I next acknowledge duly 
Manhood taken by the Son.

Sanctus fortis, Sanctus Deus,
de profundis oro te, 
Miserere, judex meus, 
parce mihi Domine.

2. And I trust and hope most fully 
In that Manhood crucified; 
And each thought and deed unruly
Do to death, as He has died.

3. Simply to His grace and wholly 
Light and life and strength belong, 
And I love, supremely, solely, 
Him the holy, Him the strong.

4. And I hold in veneration, 
For the love of Him alone, 
Holy Church, as His creation, 
And her teachings as His own.

5. Adoration ay be given, 
With and through the angelic host,
To the God of earth and heaven, 
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Paraphrase of the Refrain:
Holy mighty, Holy God, 
from the depths I beseech thee,
have mercy, O my judge, 
spare me, O Lord.

Text from The Dream of Gerontius
John Henry Newman, 1801-1890

Tune composed by Canon Joseph A. Kucharski, Nashotah House


As I have looked over this list tonight, believe it or not, I would like to change it. If I do, it will never get posted – because tomorrow my top 10 will be different. And Can it Be… May the Mind of Christ my Savior… Holy God, We Praise Thy Name.. Blessed Assurance.. I mean, how can a top 10 leave those out??? Oh, this has been fun. Thanks, Carol, for spurring me on – and for helping me to waste a day sitting in a cluttered kitchen whilst thinking on these things. This was a whole lot more fun than folding laundry!


Note regarding anything contemporary – that will be another post. I, too, am a huge fan of Keith Getty and Stuart Townend [In Christ Alone, How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, The Power of the Cross], but because of the conference worship leading circles in which I run, these songs are coming close to running the risk of becoming the ‘Shine Jesus Shine’ of this generation.. a song that is SO GOOD that it is sung TOO MUCH.. it loses all meaning when done so often. I have to figure out how to avoid that. 


Back soon with more hymns!!! Thanks so much for stopping by. Consider yourself tagged to post your own – on your own blog, or in the comments here.

My Partner in Hymn-geek-ology


This is Carol. She gets me.


She knows that flying over the mountains makes my lips numb.


She knows that a well placed key change means that the car has to pull over.


She knows that phrases like ‘Christ the Victim, Christ the Priest’ are almost too perfect to sing.


She hears the ocean waves like I do in ‘O The Deep Deep Love’.


She knows the consternation I feel at the elimination of hymnals in my generation’s worship life, and she

shares my heartbreak.


And she just might be the smartest woman I know… whom I’ve never met. But one day…. one day, indeed.


I’ll be playing her top-10-hymn list in the next few days. Join us! Link up! Let’s rejoice in our hymnals, the

jewels of the church, handed down from generation to generation — stones of remembrance, moments of


Easter Triumph! Easter Joy!

For the past 5 years, I have had the privilege of being the organist for the Nashotah House Theological Seminary Easter Vigil, as I served as associate organist there while my husband was a student, and we live near enough for me to continue to participate even now. This year, when I was invited, though I really REALLY wanted to play, we decided that we would instead attend an Easter Vigil where we could sit together as a family.  (Scott is beginning a new job as Rector of Trinity Church in Baraboo, WI in June, and we are eager to participate in their historic Easter Vigil once we start there. More on that in a future post!)

So we all piled into the van last night – all SIX of us, from 7 months on up – and drove about an hour to downtown Milwaukee to the Episcopal Cathedral of All Saints.  Getting there on time, with babies fed, children pottied, and all coloring books/reading material in place was no small task. But we did it. It’s a 2-hour service – and this was a shortened one! – so we settled in. 


And oh. my. word.


I am so glad that we did!


(and the kids did great. that helped!!)


The Easter Vigil is, without a doubt, my most favorite service of the church year – the holiest night – the night when the drama that is Eucharistic worship comes to a passionate climax. We begin with the lighting of the New Fire outside — the church is mostly dark as dusk has fallen… the sound and smell of the fire are distinct in the chilly [ok. COLD. it was like 37 degrees] spring air… from that fire, after prayer, the new Paschal Candle for the year is lit and slowly processed into the church, as the deacon sings “The Light of Christ” and the congregation replies “thanks be to God”. We all have candles, and the light from the Paschal Candle is shared with the room, one candle at a time. 


It is in this hushed light that the Deacon then comes to the front of the room and sings the Exsultet – pretty much the reason to go to a vigil. It kicks into high Theological gear at the bold section near the end – the part where the goosebumps start for me:

Then the Deacon, or other person appointed, standing near the Candle,
sings or says the Exsultet, as follows 

Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels, 


and let your trumpets shout Salvation 
for the victory of our mighty King.

Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth, 
bright with a glorious splendor, 
for darkness has been vanquished by our eternal King.

Rejoice and be glad now, Mother Church, 
and let your holy courts, in radiant light, 
resound with the praises of your people.

   All you who stand near this marvelous and holy flame, 
   pray with me to God the Almighty 
   for the grace to sing the worthy praise of this great light; 
   through Jesus Christ our Lord, 
   who lives and reigns with him, 
   in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
   one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

              The Lord be with you. 
Answer      And also with you. 
Deacon      Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. 
Answer      It is right to give him thanks and praise.


It is truly right and good, always and everywhere, with our

whole heart and mind and voice, to praise you, the invisible,

almighty, and eternal God, and your only-begotten Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord; for he is the true Paschal Lamb, who
at the feast of the Passover paid for us the debt of Adam’s sin,
and by his blood delivered your faithful people.

This is the night, when you brought our fathers, the children
of Israel, out of bondage in Egypt, and led them through the
Red Sea on dry land.

This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered
from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness
of life.

This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, 
and rose victorious from the grave.

   How wonderful and beyond our knowing, O God, is your
   mercy and loving-kindness to us, that to redeem a slave, you
   gave a Son.

   How holy is this night, when wickedness is put to flight, and
   sin is washed away. It restores innocence to the fallen, and joy
   to those who mourn. It casts out pride and hatred, and brings
   peace and concord.

   How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined
   and man is reconciled to God.

Holy Father, accept our evening sacrifice, the offering of this
candle in your honor. May it shine continually to drive away
all darkness. May Christ, the Morning Star who knows no
setting, find it ever burning–he who gives his light to all
creation, and who lives and reigns for ever and ever. 


Keep in mind that this is one deacon, singing unaccompanied, the most glorious
chant melody – oh man. It’s fabulous.


Salvation history is recounted through the reading of God’s holy acts in the OT – from creation to the flood, to a new heart, a sea parted – it’s amazing. Then the celebrant – the priest leading the service – stands in the still-darkened room and sings:

Alleluia, Christ is Risen

and we reply

The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia.

At that point, Lent is over and we begin the official par-tay.


Like you, I have several hymns that say EASTER to me – Jesus Christ is Risen Today, The Strife is O’er,
Low in the Grave He Lay – but since becoming a worshipper at an Episcopal church, this is the hymn that screams ALLEUIA to me – without even saying the word.  For the festal victory is now assured – Christ the victim is now Christ the priest – we are ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven because Christ, the living Manna from above, has won the complete victory over sin and death.

Death’s sting?? GONE.

Grave’s victory?? GONE.

So even at the grave we can make our song –




At The Lamb’s High Feast We Sing

At the Lamb’s high feast we sing
praise to our victorious King,
who hath washed us in the tide
flowing from his pierced side;
praise we him, whose love divine
gives his sacred Blood for wine,
gives his Body for the feast,
Christ the victim, Christ the priest.

Where the Paschal blood is poured,
death’s dark angel sheathes his sword;
Israel’s hosts triumphant go
through the wave that drowns the foe.
Praise we Christ, whose blood was shed,
Paschal victim, Paschal bread;
with sincerity and love
eat we manna from above.

Mighty victim from on high,
hell’s fierce powers beneath thee lie;
thou hast conquered in the fight,
thou hast brought us life and light:
now no more can death appall,
now no more the grave enthrall;
thou hast opened paradise, 
and in thee thy saints shall rise.

Easter triumph, Easter joy,
These alone do sin destroy;
from sin’s power do thou set free
souls newborn, O Lord, in thee.
Hymns of glory songs of praise,
Risen Lord, to thee we raise;
Holy Father, praise to thee,
with the Spirit, ever be.

Words: Latin, 1632;
trans. Robert Campbell, 1849Music: Salzburg, St. George’s Windsor






Meter: 77 77 D

A Journey of Devotion – Arrival. Holy Week Begins.

Our Palm Sunday service yesterday was.. well, just like Palm Sunday services from the prayer book pretty much always are… living in the tension of the celebratory (Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! All glory laud and honor to Thee, Redeemer King!!) and the penitent (and the crowd cried ‘Crucify Him’… and he thirsted, and they gave him vinegar… – for at the Palm Sunday service we read the full Passion Narrative – the Gospel account of the crucifixion).

The service begins in joy.

And ends in silence.

Holy Week, I think, is nothing if not a study in contrasts… and an exercise in learning to live into the tension of what was, what is, what will be — and to try, if for a moment, to remove the advantage of hindsight, and of history.


My favorite Palm Sunday hymn is one I grew up with… (I know I’m a day late, here, but I hope it will still help get you started on the right foot this week.) We always sang it to the tune “Ellacombe“. 

Hosanna, loud hosanna, the little children sang;
Through pillared court and temple the lovely anthem rang.
To Jesus, who had blessed them close folded to His breast,
The children sang their praises, the simplest and the best.

From Olivet they followed mid an exultant crowd,
The victor palm branch waving, and chanting clear and loud.
The Lord of men and angels rode on in lowly state,
Nor scorned that little children should on His bidding wait.

“Hosanna in the highest!” that ancient song we sing,
For Christ is our Redeemer, the Lord of heaven our King.
O may we ever praise Him with heart and life and voice,
And in His blissful presence eternally rejoice!

Details and citation here.

It’s a little… oh, cherubic? Childish? Overly sentimental? Yeah, I think so. But the celebratory text is such a perfect paradox with what’s about to happen… that works for me, somehow.. the thought of singing this while the kids are processing with palms.. well, that pretty much sums up the day for me. 


So, the service ends with no blessing, no closing hymn — we enter in celebration, we leave in quiet – and with a prayer that our finite minds can suspend belief for a week so that we can enter the story, see the end from the beginning, and know Christ and the power of sharing in His sufferings. 


It begins.

A Journey of Devotion – A text for where I’m ‘at’ today


When wounded sore the stricken heart
Lies bleeding and unbound,
One only hand, a pierced hand,
Can salve the sinner’s wound.

When sorrow swells the laden breast,
And tears of anguish flow,
One only heart, a broken heart,
Can feel the sinner’s woe.

When penitential grief has wept
Over some foul dark spot,
One only stream, a stream of Blood,
Can wash away the blot.

‘Tis Jesus’ Blood that washes white,
His hand that brings relief;
His heart is touched with all our joys,
And feels for all our grief.

Lift up thy bleeding hand, O Lord,
Unseal that cleansing tide,
We have no shelter from our sin
But in Thy wounded side.

Mrs. C. F. Alexander, only notation I can find right now.


By this time in Lent, I’m usually a mess. It might be less Lenten than seasonal – come ON spring, would you just get here?? – and this year it might coincide with just a major amount of upcoming transition – Scott has taken a new job in Baraboo, WI – more on that later – and a hugely busy March for me – three consecutive weekends away – but somehow I don’t want to miss the fact, too, that it’s still Lent.


There’s a weariness in weeks three and four that will only be assuaged by a Resurrection.


There’s an emptiness as we near holy week that will only be filled as we start the steps of the via dolorosa – the suffering way – and do what we can to know Christ and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings.


There’s a fasting-fatigue that catches up with me by this time in the journey… probably the point where I most need to listen, and to surrender. And keep fasting.


There’s a selfishness in me that rears its head long about now when I’m ready to stop sacrificing all my ‘alle**ia’ songs that I had to skip in 4 weeks’ worth of gigs. [BTW, have you ever tried that?? Leading worship for non-lenten-types who aren’t the least bit concerned about a poorly-timed ‘alle**ia’? It was a good challenge – one I met head on, and one in which the Lord led me around to 3-4 new songs (to me) all of which were blissfully alle**ia free. 🙂 ]


Truth be told, though, all of these externals only reveal the internal, which is that I’m at the end of myself, and I’m selfish, and undone, and while I’m ready to celebrate a Resurrection, I also need one. 


I need a new begetting, a beginning and a birth,
I need a visitation from the Holy here on earth..
I need a death of ‘halfway-done’, of my complacencies,
I need a fuller, more-completed ideology….


I have no shelter from my sin but in His wounded side.


There, as in the cleft of the rock, I shall rest. 


Sunday, April 5th is the Sunday of the Triumphal Entry. Palm Sunday.

I will see you then, ready to walk.



A Journey of Devotion – O Sacred Head

I’m posting the YouTube video way up here at the top of the post, so that perhaps you can hit play, and then scroll down and listen to the music w/o necessarily watching the video.

{ok, hit play now, then scroll down and let the song keep playing as you read.}


[ok. scroll down.]









For some reason, I can’t post audio to this account, but I can embed YouTube videos. This particular one uses images from the film The Passion of the Christ, a film which I did not see (quite intentionally) and I don’t want to presume that any of you, either, want to see a filmmaker’s interpretation of Christ’s crucifixion every time Holy Week rolls around. [I have no problem with the fact that this film was made. I’m just a very visual creature, and I know that the images would stay with me forever in a way that might not be helpful].

However, this particular video has Fernando Ortega‘s recording of our hymn for today, and it was worth it to me to risk posting these images in order for you to hear his song.


Phwew. That was a really long disclaimer.


The Lenten way continues its forward journey toward Palm Sunday… then Passion week – step by step, the Lord’s love on display – and the failure and betrayal of the crowds around every corner of the final week of the earthly life of Jesus. The crowd, by the way, well, that’s you. And that’s me. Just FYI.


Today’s hymn of devotion is a very familiar one to readers of every denominational stripe – I sang it as a Chreaster ELCA Lutheran [different translation, very similar in tone], a mega-church Evangelical, and now as a liturgy-loving Episcopalian. That it could cross such wide denominational lines and be published in so many ‘kinds’ of hymnals is testimony to the import of the text, I think, and its marriage to such a timeless, singable melody.

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded is based on a long medieval poem attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, ‘Salve mundi salutare’. This poem talks about Christ’s body, as he suffered and hung on the cross. It has seven sections, each addressing a part of Jesus’ body-his feet, knees, hands, side, breast, heart, and head. Our hymn is a translation of the seventh section ‘Salve caput crucentatum’, focused on Jesus’ head.


O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
O sacred Head, what glory, what bliss till now was Thine!
Yet, though despised and gory, I joy to call Thee mine.

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

Men mock and taunt and jeer Thee, Thou noble countenance,
Though mighty worlds shall fear Thee and flee before Thy glance.
How art thou pale with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How doth Thy visage languish that once was bright as morn!

Now from Thy cheeks has vanished their color once so fair;
From Thy red lips is banished the splendor that was there.
Grim death, with cruel rigor, hath robbed Thee of Thy life;
Thus Thou hast lost Thy vigor, Thy strength in this sad strife.

My burden in Thy Passion, Lord, Thou hast borne for me,
For it was my transgression which brought this woe on Thee.
I cast me down before Thee, wrath were my rightful lot;
Have mercy, I implore Thee; Redeemer, spurn me not!

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

My Shepherd, now receive me; my Guardian, own me Thine.
Great blessings Thou didst give me, O source of gifts divine.
Thy lips have often fed me with words of truth and love;
Thy Spirit oft hath led me to heavenly joys above.

Here I will stand beside Thee, from Thee I will not part;
O Savior, do not chide me! When breaks Thy loving heart,
When soul and body languish in death’s cold, cruel grasp,
Then, in Thy deepest anguish, Thee in mine arms I’ll clasp.

The joy can never be spoken, above all joys beside,
When in Thy body broken I thus with safety hide.
O Lord of Life, desiring Thy glory now to see,
Beside Thy cross expiring, I’d breathe my soul to Thee.

My Savior, be Thou near me when death is at my door;
Then let Thy presence cheer me, forsake me nevermore!
When soul and body languish, oh, leave me not alone,
But take away mine anguish by virtue of Thine own!

Be Thou my consolation, my shield when I must die;
Remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfolds Thee. Who dieth thus dies well.


Things I wish….


….that hymns weren’t being phased out of the church. Our culture emotes very well – to songs about us. Don’t believe me? Count how many times you sing ‘I’ in church next Sunday. Silly, I know. But cumulatively, it matters. I love those songs too, but a steady diet of them… well, it remains to be seen what the outcome will be. But to stop singing this, and songs like it, seems more than a shame to me. It seems a disaster.

….that at least once a year we’d sing all of these verses – anywhere. somewhere. please.

….that, when my last hour of this earthly life draws nigh, I would have the capacity to think of this text …


Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfolds Thee. Who dieth thus dies well.

My, oh my. 


….that I would take the time to contemplate. I make excuses instead of contemplations. I believe a hymn text like this can only be borne of a contemplative life. There’s a reason this text is by Bernard of Clairvaux. He was a mystic. Mystics might have been a little theologically out to lunch in SOME ways, but at the end of the day, I think they’re on to something. Like Bernard, here. He made space for greatness.


The first time I heard Fernando’s recording of this song was, actually, the first time I ever heard Fernando. It was the summer of 1996, and I was working at a little Bible church as a worship director. I had just graduated from college, and was also raising support for my part-time InterVarsity staff work. I was on I-94 near Racine heading South [which, as all Wisconsinites know, is actually labeled East] listening to Moody Radio. This lovely version of ‘O Sacred Head‘ that you’ve been enjoying began and I was smitten quite quickly. By the second verse, my jaw was dropped. But the magic moment for me was the key change from C to Eb using the most surprising, but not jarring, transition on the opening measure of the final verse – what sounded like a simple altered melody note was actually the leading tone to a new key – and that was the moment in which I had to pull over, because the reaction I was having in the car was not safe for highway speeds. I remember staring at the radio of my 1985 Escort Hatchback and saying aloud ‘He plays the way I think!’ I have never forgotten that moment, for it is one of only two times when a song on the radio made me pull over in response to its beauty and, I believe, as a moment of the quickening of the Holy Spirit in my life. For reals. (The other, by the way, was Sara Groves – the first time I heard Generations. Highway 41, heading south near the windmills…… )


Words: Attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, 1153 (Salve caput cruen tatum); translated from La­tin to German by Paul Gerhardt, 1656 (O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden), and from Latin to Eng­lish James W. Alexander, 1830.

Music: Passion ChoraleHans L. HasslerLust garten neuer teutsch er Gesäng, 1601; harmony byJohann S. Bach, 1729 (MIDIscore).

A Journey of Devotion-To know this Love that surpasses knowledge…


I thought about saving this hymn for Holy Week, but I decided that since it’s been such an influential text – and tune – in my life, that you might want to have it for the remainder of this Lenten season.


My Song is Love Unknown, text by Samuel Crossman, is in and of itself a speaking of the Gospel story, a devotional masterpiece, and a humbling, challenging, moving portrait of the ‘love that surpasses knowledge’ of which Paul speaks in Ephesians. It has been set to several tunes, but my favorite and the one that seems the most evocative of the deepest parts of the text is Love Unknown, by John N. Ireland, written in 1918. A story is told about Geoffrey Shaw and John Ireland. When Shaw was editing the English Hymnal, shortly after WWI, he took John Ireland to lunch. Halfway through it he handed a slip of paper to him across the table and said, “I need a tune for this lovely poem.” It was Samuel Crossman’s poem, written in 1664. Ireland read it and re-read it, then wrote some music for a few minutes on the back of the menu and handed it back to him, “Here’s your tune.” It was the music to the hymn: “My Song Is Love Unknown”.

Must be nice.

Text is below, with thoughts between each verse.

My song is love unknown,

My Savior’s love to me;

Love to the loveless shown, 
That they might lovely be.

O who am I, that for my sake
 My Lord should take, frail flesh and die?
—–My song – my theme – all my glory – is this love that surpasses knowledge that we are still compelled to know more fully. Thus, there is no end to the depths we may plumb of the marvelous love of God, particularly as displayed in His Son. I stand amazed!

He came from His blest throne

Salvation to bestow;

But men made strange,  and none
the longed for Christ would know:

But O! my Friend, my Friend indeed,
 Who at my need His life did spend.
—a definition of ‘strange’ – [ predic. ] ( strange to/at/in)  unaccustomed to or unfamiliar with : “I am strange to the work”. So, in this case, unfamiliarity led to contempt. Yet he spent – gave away – His life for you, for me.

Sometimes they strew His way,

And His sweet praises sing;

Resounding all the day
 Hosannas to their King:

Then “Crucify!” is all their breath,
 And for His death they thirst and cry.


They strew his way with, of course, palm branches, at the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. 
Such manic people wi
th their praises and curses! From the same tongue, in nearly the same breath. I stand
convicted. So familiar.

Why, what hath my Lord done?

What makes this rage and spite? 
He made the lame to run,
He gave the blind their sight,

Sweet injuries! Yet they at these
 Themselves displease, and ’gainst Him rise.


Sweet is the injury that leads me to an encounter with the Living God. The blind – sighted. The deaf – hearing.
The lame – running. Physical, spiritual, emotional – healing. And yet, we condemn. This is the mystery of Holy Week. We are among the crowd. 

They rise and needs will have

My dear Lord made away;

A murderer they saved,
 The Prince of life they slay,

Yet cheerful He to suffering goes,
 That He His foes from thence might free.


The Lord ‘made away’ – fulfilled – their needs… yet He is slain. Yet, to suffering He goes with
cheer – one of the synonyms for ‘cheerful’ is ‘agreeable’. Resolved. Resigned. Resplendent
In life, no house, no home

My Lord on earth might have;

In death no friendly tomb
 But what a stranger gave.

What may I say? Heav’n was His home;
 But mine the tomb wherein He lay.


Our Lord Jesus was the ultimate sojourner. A wanderer from embryonic state – a visitor, literally. 
And to the end, He remained a sojourner – with only a borrowed tomb. I suppose, since He wouldn’t
need it for long…. But yet, I think there’s a very appropriate summation of the story in this simple statement –
What may I say?

Here might I stay and sing,

No story so divine;

Never was love, dear King!
 Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise
 I all my days could gladly spend.

Oh, Lord, keep me near to the cross, where I am reminded – daily – to sing the song of Your suffering,
Your sacrifice, and Your glory. May this Lenten journey bear lasting fruit in my Alle—ia life – that
the glory songs of life would be more significant because of the experience of the cross songs of
difficult days. Keep me ever-faithful, dear Lord…


Born: 1623, Bradfield Monachorum, Suffolk, England.
Died: February 4, 1683, Bristol, England.
Buried: South aisle, cathedral church, Bristol, England.
Crossman earned a Bachelor of Divinity at Pembroke College, Cambridge, and was Prebendary of Bristol. After graduation, he ministered to both an Anglican congregation at All Saints, Sudbury, and to a Puritan congregation as well. Crossman sympathized with the Puritan cause, and attended the 1661 Savoy Conference, which attempted to update the Book of Common Prayer so both Puritans and Anglicans could use it. The conference failed, and the 1662 Act of Uniformity expelled some 2,000 ministers from the Church, including Crossman. He recanted shortly thereafter, and was ordained in 1665, becoming a royal chaplain. He received a post at Bristol in 1667, and became Dean of Bristol Cathedral in 1683.


There are several tune options for this text. My favorite is here

A lovely more-folky tune is here, and you can finda great recording of it on ‘Night of Your Return’ by Fernando Ortega. He uses a more contemporary setting of the text, as well.