Sunday, August 25, 2013

Gerhardt, the Cross, and the Art of the Hymn

The past two weeks, we have sung glorious hymns written by the Blessed Rev. Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676), whose works are filled with unmuted Christian joy in spite of his horrific experiences and life in this fallen world.

Gerhardt understood the Theology of the Cross, not through theoretical considerations, but in profound and relentless suffering of the effects of the fallen world: war, plague, and persecution.  And yet, his corpus of hymns are always upbeat and confident, bursting at the seams with hope and faith, with trust and delight in Christ.

In his 2004 recapitulation of the Rev. C.F.W. Walther's The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel called Handling the Word of Truth (p.49), the Rev. Prof. John T. Pless quotes the Rev. Dr. Oswald Beyer:
"In his last will and testament Paul Gerhardt reminds his only son, still living after his other children had died: 'Do good to people, even if they cannot pay you back because...'  The reader expects that the sentence will continue with: 'God will repay you.' However, Paul Gerhardt frustrates that expectation by continuing: '...because for what human beings cannot repay, the Creator of heaven and earth has already repaid long ago when he created you, when he gave you his only Son, and when he accepted and received you in holy baptism as his child and heir.'" (Oswald Beyer, "Justification as Basis and Boundary for Theology").
Also, here are some reflections from 2007 by the Rev. Dr. Rick Stuckwisch.

Finally, here is a well-researched biography of Paul Gerhardt presented in 2008 by the Rev. Michael Berg:

What a treasure we have in our tradition of hymnody, centered on the cross and grounded in the real world in which we live and struggle and ultimately overcome by virtue of Christ, His cross, His grace, and the Gospel that is proclaimed in sermon and in song!

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