Hymnal Musings and the Sabbath

Dear Church Family,

I collect hymnals. Or, perhaps I should say, I used to collect hymnals. It used to be that I couldn’t go to a garage sale or used book sale without finding a hymnal that I didn’t have, purchasing it, and taking it home with me. My penchant for hymnals is based on a personal love of singing the rich hymns of the Christian faith, as well as a curiosity with regard to the hymnody of various traditions. Eventually, my hymnal collection got out of hand and I had to whittle it down to only those that were actually useful; out of necessity, I had to become a bit more utilitarian in that regard.

Hymnal Musings

Anyway, one of the things that is interesting to do when examining hymnals is to look at the index in the back. Often, there are several: a Scripture index, title and first line index, author/composer index, tune index, meter index, and a subject index. It’s this last one that is usually the most revealing as to the nature of the theology of a particular church or church tradition. [By the way, there’s a helpful website where you may access these indexes and sort them according to each one: http://trinityhymnalindex.wordpress.com/.]

The red Trinity Hymnal (Revised Edition), published in 1990 and which we use in our church, is my favorite (the original Trinity Hymnal, published in 1961 is typically referred to as “the blue Trinity Hymnal”). I’ve known a lot of hymnals, but the red Trinity Hymnal is my favorite for several reasons: familiarity, content (both in hymnody and confession), structure and organization, diversity, sing-ability, etc. One of the unique aspects of our hymnal is the subject index (it’s actually called “Topics”). Just about every hymnal has a topical index, but I don’t think that I have found one as thorough and detailed as that in the Trinity Hymnal.

Just a quick perusal of the topics listed in this index is revealing. It’s like taking a stroll down the systematic theology of the Christian faith. And, while many of the topics listed are common to many other hymnals, there are some significant differences. For instance, the red Trinity Hymnal topical index contains certain entries which you typically won’t find in others: Covenant of grace, Covenant people, Decrees of God, Election, Family worship, Foreordination, God’s work of providence, Imprecatory Psalms, Israel, Law of God, Lord’s Day, Means of Grace, Ordinations, Original sin, Reformation day, Sabbath, Sacraments, Suffering, Tribulations, Wrath of God, Zion. These, I have gleaned from just a quick perusal.

The Sabbath

You may think I’m strange, but I like to peruse the indexes of our hymnal, find and learn hymns with which I am unfamiliar. Just now, I did just that. I looked up “Sabbath” and under the topic it reads, “see Lord’s Day,” but there is one hymn listed there under the topic of Sabbath: “540 – A Few More Years Shall Roll.” Though I’m unfamiliar with this hymn, a quick check of the tune name (Leominster) in the tune index reveals that there are four hymns in the hymnal with the same tune. And, at least one of them is familiar to me, “461 – Not What My Hands Have Done.”

So, as a result of my perusing the topical index, I found a new (to me), easily sing-able hymn about the Sabbath. I looked up the topic of ‘Sabbath’ in our hymnal this week because this past Sunday we discussed Sabbath keeping in the adult Sunday school class; I was curious as to how many hymns are in our hymnal related to this topic. You can find more hymns under ‘Lord’s Day’ in the hymnal, but let me share with you the four verses of “540 – A Few More Years Shall Roll.” It’s a beautiful description of how Sunday – the Christian Sabbath, the Lord’s Day – entails both an embracing of the present rest which we have in Christ and teaches us to anticipate the future, eternal rest which we will be ours at Christ’s return.

540 – A Few More Years Shall Roll

A few more years shall roll, A few more seasons come,
And we shall be with those that rest Asleep within the tomb:
Then, O my Lord, prepare My soul for that great day;
O wash me in thy precious blood, And take my sins away.

A few more storms shall beat On this wild rocky shore,
And we shall be where tempests cease, And surges swell no more:
Then, O my Lord, prepare My soul for that calm day;
O wash me in thy precious blood, And take my sins away.

A few more sabbaths here Shall cheer us on our way,
And we shall reach the endless rest, Th'eternal sabbath day:
Then, O my Lord, prepare My soul for that sweet day;
O wash me in thy precious blood, And take my sins away.

'Tis but a little while, And he shall come again
Who died that we might live, who lives That we with him may reign:
Then, O my Lord, prepare My soul for that glad day;
O wash me in thy precious blood, And take my sins away.

I love this line from the third verse: “A few more Sabbaths here shall cheer us on our way.” It makes me think of Psalm 118:24 (“This is the day which the LORD has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it”). We often apply this verse to every day; however, in the context, “the day which the LORD has made” refers to the day which marked the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt – the day of the 10th and final plague when God struck down all the first born male children of the Egyptians, but passed over the Israelites who marked their doors with the blood of the lamb. The day which the LORD has made is the day of salvation.

We may also rightly apply Psalm 118:24 to the Sabbath Day, the Lord’s Day, the day in which we worship our Savior and celebrate His being raised because of our justification! It is the day which He has made! It is the day in which we ought to rejoice! It is the day that cheers us on our way!

Thanks for coming along with me on this hymnal exploration which has led us to a reflection on the beauty and blessing of the Sabbath. I look forward to worshipping with you again this coming Lord’s Day!

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch