Hymn of the Week: May 9
by the Rev. Brooke Myers
6 Easter B - Hymn 291
We plow the fields and scatter
“We plow the fields and scatter” is a hymn usually associated with Thanksgiving Day, but it is appropriate for the 6th Sunday of Easter, which is the Sunday before Ascension Day, the 40th day after Easter. That Sunday is known as Rogation Sunday and its concern is agriculture.
The observance has its roots in an ancient Roman Spring festival, at which a dog was sacrificed to Robigus, the god of plant diseases, for protection of their crops. The Christianization of this festival began in the 5th century and became an official Catholic holy day 300 years later. On the Sunday and the next three days before Ascension Day farmers fasted and prayed in anticipation of the feast, and asked God’s blessing on their crops.
The author was Matthias Claudius, an 18th c. German poet and philosopher. The English translation was done by Jane Montgomery Campbell, a 19th c. scholar and linguist. The text praises God as the creator who brings growing things to fruition, and is filled with rich imagery of seasons, plants, birds, the heavens, waters and weather. Each verse ends with the refrain: “All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above; so thank the Lord, O thank the Lord for all his love.”
The tune, Claudius, composed by Johann Abraham Peter Schulz in the 1780s for use with another text, was harmonized by William Henry Monk. Monk was a prolific 19th c. English musician who is credited with four compositions and thirteen harmonizations in our Hymnal. The angular tune covers more than an octave; and begins resolutely in unison before breaking into four-part harmony. This hymn has been in Episcopal Hymnals for more than a hundred years.
Several renditions, some with texts, can be found on YouTube under “We plow the fields and scatter.”
We plow the fields, and scatter the good seed on the land,
but it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand;
he sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain,
the breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain.
All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above;
then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord for all his love.
He only is the Maker of all things near and far;
he paints the wayside flower, he lights the evening star;
the winds and waves obey him, by him the birds are fed;
much more to us, his children, he gives our daily bread.
All good gifts....
We thank thee, then, O Father, for all things bright and good,
the seed time and the harvest, our health, our food:
the gifts we have to offer are what thy love imparts,
but chiefly thou desirest our humble thankful hearts.
All good gifts....