Hymn of the month

JUNE
God of the Prophets

Pentecost, the celebration of God's gift of the Holy Spirit to the church, falls on the first Sunday of June this year. At this time of the year we also find ourselves in the midst of a variety of ordinations, making "God of the Prophets" a good hymn to sing.

If you select this hymn as part of a minister's ordination service (in keeping with its original purpose), sing as many verses as you can manage, either in a long processional or scattered throughout the ordination liturgy; the prophet, priest, and king verses could be sung during or after the laying on of hands, for example. If there isn't a ministerial ordination in your plans, this hymn is appropriate for the ordination of elders and deacons, as well as for other commissioning services or celebrations of ministry.

If you choose to celebrate lay ministries, might I suggest the use of the first, second, fourth, and fifth stanzas of my own version (see "What We Sing Is Not What He Wrote," version 4, p. 33)? These verses bring in the appropriate ideas of call, response, commissioning, and expected promise, without tying these roles strictly to ordained ministry; you might even change the third-person references to first-person plural.

Throughout the month you may wish to emphasize different stanzas each week by singing and praying in turn for the prophetic, priestly, and royal aspects of ministry in the congregation.

JULY
Praise the Lord (Psalm 113)

Psalm 113 only appears once in the Common Lectionary, on the first Sunday in June of Year C. And when the Easter-Pentecost cycle runs into June, as it does this year, even that appearance is eliminated. Psalms of praise, however, are always appropriate, especially settings as bouncy and rhythmic as this—which is very suitable for warm summer Sundays.

The setting itself is one of several international collaborations by American author Marjorie Jillson and German composer Heinz Werner Zimmerman. When this text was written in 1970, Ms. Jillson worked at Gallaudet College, a liberal arts college for the deaf in Washington, D.C.; she now resides in Detroit, Michigan. Zimmerman is on the faculty of the State Music Academy at Frankfurt am Main, and is a widely published composer of choral music with various instrumental accompaniments.

The simple, repetitive text and the rhythmic tune suggest several possible uses in worship. You may wish to have children accompany the hymn with percussion instruments, for example. At the very least, they can clap their hands whenever "praise the Lord" is sung. Or give the hymn new meaning by teaching children the signing for "Praise the Lord!" or other portions of the text. Consider singing the repeated middle lines of each stanza antiphonally, perhaps helping the group learn them by depicting the images of each stanza on posters.

Use your imagination, try different techniques over several weeks, and let the congregation have fun with their praise.

AUGUST
When Morning Gilds the Sky

In August, the Scriptures appointed by the Common Lectionary lead us into discussions of God's providence and our response of discipleship. Our Reformed theology tells us that all discipleship is an act of praise, and so "When Morning Gilds the Sky" is a wonderfully appropriate hymn.

Like so many of our old favorite hymns, this one began as a German text, "Beim fruhen Morgenlicht," printed anonymously in the Katholiches Gesangbuch in 1828; no less than fourteen stanzas were paraphrased into English by Edward Caswell. The hymn first appeared to Joseph Barn-by's tune laudes DOMINI in the 1868 supplement to Hymns, Ancient and Modern. Each hymnal committee seems to have chosen its own favorites from the many stanzas, and it can be fun to compare and contrast. Yet every version contains the exclamation "May Jesus Christ be praised!"

Since this hymn is familiar to so many of us, you'll want to spice it up a bit. Chimes, fanfares, randomly rung handbells, or Orff and percussion instruments could be added whenever "May Jesus Christ be praised!" is sung. Consider putting ribbons or streamers on sticks, and having the children wave them at those points for a visual fanfare.

Draw the congregation's attention to the images in the hymn—to the mention of praise in every aspect of life. From time to time, use the text as a prayer—or use individual stanzas as a springboard for intercessions and thanksgiving.

James Hart Brumm (JHartBrumm@aol.com) is pastor and teacher of Blooming Grove Reformed Church (RCA) in DeFreestville, New York. He is editor of Liturgy Among the Thorns: Essays on Worship in the Reformed Church in America (Eerdmans, 2008). A new collection of his hymns, Rhythms of Praises, has recently been published by Wayne Leupold Editions.