Hymn of the Week: February 21
by the Rev. Brooke Myers
For many of us, the loss of congregational singing is a regrettable consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. So that we may continue to be enriched by our hymnody, this weekly column will examine a hymn which is appropriate for the Sunday following its publication.
1 Lent B, 21 February 2021
The Glory of These Forty Days, #143, is an excellent choice for the first Sunday in Lent: it reinforces the Gospel account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, and situates him in the company of others who have engaged in fasting and prayer (two cardinal Lenten disciplines), and the music sets a somber tone.
The first three stanzas of this ancient text are filled with biblical references:
- Jesus’ trials in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-12)
- Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-7)
- Elijah’s fasting (1 Kings 19) and his ascent into heaven (2 Kings 2:11)
- Daniel’s imprisonment in the lion’s den (Daniel 6:16-23)
- John the Baptist’s fasting (Luke 7:33)
The fourth stanza is a prayer to observe Lent faithfully with prayer and fasting; the fifth is a Doxology. Maurice F. Bell (1862-1947), a lawyer and Anglican priest who later in life converted to Roman Catholicism and moved to Rome, provided the translation from the Latin.
This minor key chorale first appeared in a collection of sacred songs in Wittenberg in 1543. The rolling music builds for the first two lines, reaches a climax in the third, and resolves in the forth. Though some believe the composer was Martin Luther, the melody was more likely adapted from a 12th century plainsong tune, which was later harmonized by J. S. Bach, one of 18 he is credited with in the Hymnal 1982. The tune first appeared in the Hymnal 1940, and is used twice in the Hymnal 1982 at #’s 143 and 297.