Yesterdays blog quoted a verse from a hymn but never identified that hymn. I have been wracking my melody brain for the memory of what that hymn could be and it came to me last night just before I went to sleep. It is a verse from the great hymn “Jesus Christ My Sure Defense”, which is played for Easter and sometimes at funerals. It is a marvelous hymn that suffers from two problems. First, it is for most organists, almost impossible to play at a tempo that a congregation can follow. Please understand that I am not criticizing organists. They do something that I cannot do and I have nothing but respect for them. However, a hymn like this seems to force organists to play at a drawn out funeral tempo that leaves the congregation gasping for wind. The second issue, and not to be taken lightly is that it has 8 verses, and 8 verses at that tempo will leave the church exhausted. Many folks can’t take singing more than 4 verses in any hymn.
All that aside, it is a theological marvel and a wonderful devotional exercise. Just reading the verses is a great help and opportunity to think about our own death and be strengthened in the hope that we have in Christ. We will be looking at this hymn for the next few days.
Since this is also a mission blog it is interesting to note that a Lutheran Missionary to India in 1717 had established 2 mission stations in Madras and Cudalore. His name was Bartholomew Ziegenbalg. Suffering from a lack of support and zeal for the mission from the folks that sent him into the field in first place, Ziegenbalg was probably depressed and became ill from some kind of fever. With his friends gathered near his sick bed, he is reported to have said, “How is it so bright as if the sun were shining in my eyes?” He asked them to sing his favorite hymn; you guessed it – “Jesus Christ my sure Defense”. As they probably wheezed and struggled through a stentorious and plodding rendition he died. A servant of Christ dying half way around the world from his home asked for this hymn at the end of his life. You can read more about this in “A History of Lutheran Missions” by Preston Laury, Pilger Publishing House 1905.
Jesus Christ, my sure defense
And my Savior, now is living!
Knowing this, my confidence
Rests upon the hope here given
Though the night of death be fraught
Still in many an anxious thought.