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Music for Sexagesima

Thy Word is rich in blessing  The HYMN OF THE DAY, “May God Bestow On Us His Grace” (823), focuses on Our Lord’s Word, rich in blessing as the Gospel (St. Luke 8) proclaims: That which fell on good ground, those hear the Word with a noble and good heart, keep it, and bear fruit with patience, yielding a crop a hundredfold.

This hymn is Martin Luther’s (1483-1546) based on Psalm 67.  Luther learned the psalms by heart praying the Divine Office in the monastery.  This is evident throughout his writings.  He asked colleagues to write hymns based on the psalms, and himself wrote five other Psalm hymns: Psalm 12 “O Lord, Look Down from Heaven, Behold” (The Lutheran Hymnal 260), 46 “A Mighty Fortress” (656), 124 “If God Had Not Been on Our Side” (The Lutheran Hymnal 267), 130 “From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee” (607), and 14 “Although the Fools Say With their Mouth.”

Luther invites us to sing of the power of the Word of God—Our Lord Jesus Christ— and in His Holy Scriptures.  In stanza two: “Thy people’s pasture is Thy Word, Their souls to feed and nourish.”  Christians are fed by Our Lord’s Word as sheep are fed in the pasture.  It is proclaimed in the Divine Service and the Daily Office, studied in Bible class, Sunday School, and catechism class, and meditated upon in daily prayer.

Connecting with the Gospel, stanza three exclaims: “The land shall plenteous fruit bring forth, Thy Word is rich in blessing!”  Our Lord, through His Holy Ghost, works faith through His Word, calling sinners to repentance and proclaiming the forgiveness of sins in Jesus.  Working faith in the hearts of believers, they confess and spread the faith.  This hymn was an attachment to a German translation of Luther’s Latin Order of Mass and Communion, published in 1524.

The lessons are Isaiah 55.10–13; 2 Corinthians 11.19—12.9; and St. Luke 8.4–15.
The hymns are 536 One Thing’s Needful; Lord, This Treasure
823 May God Bestow on Us His Grace
577 Almighty God, Your Word is Cast
586 Preach Ye the Word
960 Isaiah, Mighty Seer
523 O Word of God Incarnate
923 Almighty Father, Bless the Word
Prelude: May God Bestow on Us His Grace -Johann Gottfried Walther
Choral Voluntary: The Seed is the Word of God -Healey Willan
Last Sunday, we entered the season of the Church year known as “Septuagesima.”  The three weeks of this brief season provide a liturgical transition between Epiphany and Lent.  The season of Septuagesima is an ancient observance, included in the Gelasian Sacramentary dating to the early sixth century, probably earlier.  Our observance of these three Sundays unites us with the Church of the ages.

The names of these Sundays may strike us as a bit odd:  Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima.  To understand these Latin names, we must first understand that Ash Wednesday is QuadrigesimaQuadrigesima is the Latin number “fortieth”.  Ash Wednesday is the fortieth day before Easter (not counting Sundays).  The great Forty Day Fast of Lent does not include the Sundays in the enumeration of days.

Counting backwards three days from Quadrigesima, and adding the Sundays in Lent back in, we come to Quinquagesima, the fiftieth day before Easter.  Although they are not exactly the sixtieth and seventieth days before Easter, the two Sundays before Quinquagesima are called Sexagesima (sixtieth) and Septuagesima (seventieth).  Today is Sexagesima Sunday.  (“Septuagesima” is used to designate the entire three-week season.)

To mark the transition from Epiphany to Lent, during Septuagesima, the Gloria in Excelsis and Alleluias are omitted.

In the late 1960s, the Pope eliminated Septuagesima with the innovation of the three-year series.  Some Lutheran churches followed Rome in this innovation.  You may have friends in other Lutheran churches that will not celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord for several weeks yet, and so will not be afforded the opportunity to join with the Church of the ages in observing Septuagesima season.

At Immanuel, however, we keep the historic tradition of the Lutheran Church.  Martin Luther preached and celebrated the Septuagesima season, as had the Church for a millennium before him.  And so we reverently, penitentially, and expectantly prepare for Easter, the joyous Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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