For the Lord has promised me that death is but a slumber. Of Martin Luther’s almost forty hymns, twenty-four of them were written early in his career in 1523-24. “In Peace and Joy” is based on the Nunc Dimittis (“Now dismiss…”), the Song of Simeon in St. Luke 2.29-32. Kantor Johann Walter included this in his 1524 hymnal Geistliche gesangk Buchleyn. It is also included in a hymnal for funerals in 1542.
Luther’s great skill as a hymn writer to confess the Gospel is evident in that he goes beyond a simple paraphrase of the biblical text, providing a sermon in song unpacking themes throughout the Scriptures as they are fulfilled in Christ.
The PRELUDE is a four-movement setting of this hymn by Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707). The editor Herman Keller (1885-1967) includes this note in the score:
“These two Chorale movements, entitled by Buxtehude ‘Contrapunctus I and II,’ are from the funeral music on the death of his father (1674) and are in quadruple counterpoint, i.e. the four voices can be mutually interchanged. In the ‘Evolutio,’ these possibilities are developed: in the first, the soprano becomes bass, bass becomes soprano, alto becomes tenor, and tenor, alto; the whole is transposed into the dominant. The second Evolution brings (except for a few notes at the end) the mirror form; the voices are not only interchanged as in the first example but are also brought in inversion.”
The introduction to the hymn is by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) (BWV 616) from his collection Orgelbüchlein (“Little Organ Book”). The Orgelbüchlein includes 45 preludes on Lutheran chorales, out of 164 that were originally planned. One Bach scholar, Russell Stinson, summarizes:
“The Orgelbüchlein is simultaneously a compositional treatise, a collection of liturgical organ music, an organ method, and a theological statement. These four identities are so closely intertwined that it is hard to know where one leaves off and another begins.”
And present us in Your glory, To Your Father, cleansed and pure. The Anglican clergyman Henry John Pye (1825-1903) served as pastor in Staffordshire, England, where, in 1851, he published a collection of his hymns for the use for his parish, including the HYMN TO DEPART “In His Temple Now Behold Him” (519).
Pye applies the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple to each Christian, presented before Our Father in heaven through Christ’s fulfillment of the Law for us with his brilliant final stanza:
Jesus, by Your presentation, When they blessed You, weak and poor, Make us see Your great salvation, Seal us with Your promise sure; And present us in Your glory to Your Father, cleansed and pure.
The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord
The temple is the central place in today’s Liturgy. It is where we consider the Lord’s loving-kindness (Introit). It is where the Lord, whom you seek, is promised to be (Old Testament). It is where Our Lord is first taken after His birth (Gospel), where He is presented in the substance of our human flesh (Collect). But, as Simeon teaches us, the temple is only central because there Our Lord both makes Himself and His salvation known to us.
What Simeon receives in His arms is nothing better and nothing more that you receive into your mouth in the Holy Communion. In fact, it is precisely the same gift – Our Lord Jesus Christ in Hs flesh and blood. And with Christ received, the prayer of Simeon becomes our prayer: “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace.”