The Hymn of the Day this weekend is not one that necessarily jumps off parishioners' lips when asked about their favorite Eastertide hymnody, yet it is one through which I can illustrate how well good hymns serve the Church. Though the rhythm can be a bit tricky for singers new to the tune, and though this is a hymn many congregations only sing once a year (like "On Jordan's Bank"), this song has endeared itself to many. Let me share two examples of this:
When I was a young Cantor at Trinity-Peoria, my children's choir was scheduled to sing the Third Sunday of Easter, so I proceeded to teach them the Hymn of the Day, so that they would prepare their own stanza for the Divine Service. Not "knowing" what the typical self-appointed expert "knows" about children & song (i.e. the non-singing parents and FedEd-influenced teachers who think that kids just need camp songs and pop ditties so that they can 'have fun' and 'build community'), I had the choristers singing this hymn quite boisterously in short order, and soon their beautiful headtone was projecting nicely across the sanctuary. When Sunday came, I remember a young boy named Jonathan who was so excited about this hymn that he literally was bouncing around when he sang the third line of the second stanza: "'And yours shall be like victory O'er death and grave,' said He, who gave His life for us, life renewing."
Later in the Lord's ministry at that parish, I wrote a trumpet & trombone duet on the tune (MIT FREUDEN ZART) for a couple of high school kids who then were after me the next three years asking if we could sing the hymn more often so they could play it again. The point: kids like what they know, and if they are taught good stuff, they will like good stuff. Of course, to successfully teach them good stuff the teacher also has to know and like good stuff, but that is a topic for another day. But kids do not come into the choir loft or the classroom with a repertoire of schlock. They are blank slates. It is up to us to instill in them a love for the best the church has to offer.
My other story regards a gentleman who travelled on business to Germany and attended a congregation of our sister synod there, the SELK. He doesn't speak much German, but reported that he really enjoyed going to church over there because he could follow the liturgy. That point has been made many times: that a common liturgy unites Christians and allows them to worship together despite Babel. But an additional layer of Lutheran catholicity was enjoyed by my friend because he just happened to be in Germany for the Third Sunday of Easter and the parish he attended that Sunday sang Mit Freuden Zart! So he was able not only to say the Creed and the Lord's Prayer in English while the congregants spoke in German, and understand the sung parts of the liturgy such as the Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei, he was also able to sing "With High Delight" along with the congregation. (Granted, he admitted that he didn't know all the words of this hymn, but he knew a few and could hum the tune and keep in his mind the meaning of the words being sung.) And so my friend Ken was connected more deeply with his fellow Lutheran Christians in a far away land by virtue not only of our common liturgy, but also of our common hymnody.
Joy in the hearts of children and youth. A common bond between Lutherans who speak different languages. A song that passes from generation to generation and spans across the seas, manifesting the unity we have in the Lord, and sharing the joy of His resurrection. I hope you enjoy this wonderful hymn this Lord's Day. Let us be glad that we have songs like this to teach our children, and to share with the holy Church throughout all the world.