Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word: The HYMN OF THE DAY (655) is one of Luther’s (1483-1546) later hymns, written around 1541. The original text was a prayer against great threats to Christianity: the Church of Rome and Muslim invaders: “Lord, keep us in Thy Word and work, Restrain the murd’rous Pope and Turk.”
In 1541, Austria lost a major battle against the Turks. European leaders loyal to the Pope worked to destroy the Reformation movement. “The hymn is trinitarian in form, with each stanza addressed to a successive person of the Trinity. The hymn’s original German form begins with concrete talk of the enemies’ weapons: the deceit of the papists and the sword of the Muslims. The names of our enemies and their choice of weapons may have changed, but the text still resonates with the two ways in which the church is attacked: spiritually and physically. The devil is a liar, and he attacks and constantly desires to tear apart the Church in both obvious and devious ways. Many Christians may not feel much of a physical threat against the Church in today’s society, yet they remain fervent in prayer for the protection of those who are at risk.” Lutheran Service Book: Companion to the Hymns, 833).
The choral setting of stanza two is by Carl F. Schalk (1929-2021). In addition to serving as professor of music Concordia University Chicago for forty years, he was a member of the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship and served as editor of the journal Church Music. He wrote over 100 choral compositions, often based on Lutheran chorales.
The organ introduction is by Paul Manz (1919-2009). He served as cantor at St. Luke—Chicago and Mount Olive—Minneapolis, as well as professor at Concordia University—St. Paul. He wrote dozens of chorale preludes for organ, some of which were written to be introductions or to be played in alternation with congregational singing. He is known for popularizing the concept of a hymn festival, which developed out of organ recitals. He explained: “I would always begin and end with a hymn; many people would come to those recitals, and I found that they thoroughly enjoyed singing the hymns. So finally, instead of doing a recital with a hymn at the beginning and the end, I did a program with hymns only. It caught on like wildfire, and I have subsequently presented hymn festivals all over the world.”
And their will to die doth quell, E’en the lord and prince of hell! The ENTRANCE HYMN, “Rise Again, Ye Lion-Hearted” (The Lutheran Hymnal 470) is a triumphant confession of St. Paul’s teaching: “To live is Christ; to die is gain!” The countless saints who gave their lives in the confession of Christ who fight against the devil, the world, and sinful nature. Written around 1712, the tune was written for this text in 1817. The translation is by Martin Franzmann (1907-1976).
The Son of God Goes Forth to War The HYMN TO DEPART (661) is by Reginald Heber (1783-1826) who served as a missionary to India for the Church of England. The first stanza presents Christ’s victory; the second, the account of St. Stephen, the first martyr; the third, the martyrdom of the apostles; the fourth, a picture of the countless hosts of saints in heaven.