Hymn of the Week: May 30
by the Rev. Brooke Myers
Trinity Sunday B, 30 May 2021
#370: “I bind unto myself today”
This Sunday is called Trinity Sunday, the only holy day in the Church Year devoted to a doctrine instead of a person or an event. It always comes on the first Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost. This observance invites us to consider our Trinitarian faith, a doctrine expressed in the Apostles’ & Nicene Creeds: we understand God to be three persons: Father/Parent, Son/Child and Holy Spirit. Our Hymn of the Week is #370, “I bind unto myself today the strong Name of the Trinity.”
Everybody likes sandwiches. Even St. Mark liked them, but not the kind you eat. The Evangelist sometimes told a story within a story in his Gospel, something New Testament scholars call a Markan Sandwich. The hymn for this week, St. Patrick’s Breastplate, is a hymn sandwich. Verse 6 is sandwiched between verses 5 and 7, and is in a different key and rhythm than the rest of the hymn. This structure is unique in our Hymnal; it is a complex and muscular hymn.
The text, attributed to the 5th c. Saint Patrick, is in the form of a prayer a warrior might pray while donning his armor and steeling his nerve before a battle. Patrick pledges himself to the Trinitarian God, and to God’s natural world, and prays for strength, power, virtue, faith, and Christ’s presence. His prayer was answered — he and his companions were disguised as a herd of deer and thus eluded the Irish pagan king and the Druid warriors who would prevent them from preaching the Gospel in Ireland. It is a powerful expression of Celtic Christianity.
The two tunes are both old Irish folk melodies of unknown origin. They were arranged by two titans of 20th c. Anglican sacred music, Charles Villiers Stanford and Ralph Vaughan Williams, both of whom are generously represented in our hymnal. The joining of text and tunes first occurred on St. Patrick’s Day, 1889, and was included in the Episcopal hymnal 27 years later.
An internet search of I bind unto myself today st. Patrick’s breastplate will yield several performances, including this:
I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same the Three in One and One in Three.
I bind this today to me forever by power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan river, His death on cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb, His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom I bind unto myself today.
I bind unto myself the power of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet “Well done” in judgment hour, the service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, apostles’ word, the patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord and purity of virgin souls.
I bind unto myself today the virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray, the whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free, the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea around the old eternal rocks.
I bind unto myself today the power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay, His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach, His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The Word of God to give me speech, His heavenly host to be my guard.
Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself the name, the strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same, the Three in One and One in Three.
By whom all nature hath creation, Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation, salvation is of Christ the Lord.