O How Great Is Your Compassion (LSB)
Trinity 11 — One year
John Olearius (1611-84) was one of Lutheranism’s greatest hymnists, and it shows in this masterpiece on the means of grace. Others have suggested From Depths of Woe (LSB 607) for this Sunday, whose theme revolves around true repentance with the contrast between the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. While a good option, O How Great Is Your Compassion works well also, since it shows what completes repentance, namely the Gospel.
The hymn begins with singing of God’s compassion, which is magnified by focusing on our “depth of degradation” in which God had mercy on us. There is no understanding of God’s grace apart from understanding our sin. Without the Law revealing to us our need and our condition as sinners, we have no desire for the Gospel.
And so Olearius shows first how salvation was gained. Jesus gave himself up for us to bring us to God. Then he shows how salvation is given. Christ’s Spirit witnesses to our salvation in the Sacraments and Word. Then he shows how salvation is gotten, “Giving us the gift of faith.” The hymn ends with a sweet repetition of praise. Thus the hymn concludes with the hope of a union with God guaranteed to repentant sinners in the voice of the Gospel.
O God, My Faithful God (LSB 696)
John Heermann (1585-1657) rivals Paul Gerhardt as the best hymnist of the 17th Century. A glance at his hymns in LSB will give you an idea of this. He lived through the 30 Years War, was almost killed several times by war and illness, and in general suffered beneath many crosses. This, coupled with a desire for God’s pure Word, fostered his ability to apply the Word of God in song so beautifully. O God, My Faithful God demonstrates how virtuously he prays for a holy life that pleases God, with his eyes on the resurrection and the hope of glory. Heermann shows the concern for his neighbor that every Christian has, recognizing that Christ alone works such good in us.
A love for God’s Law because it is true and helps our neighbor is something only God can give. This hymn should be learned by every catechism student in studying the 8th commandment, and every Christian congregation should teach and admonish one another with this hymn, since gossip so cruelly divides many parishes among us. This hymn matches the emphasis from the epistle from Ephesians 5 on looking carefully on how we walk, and making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. The emphasis on the hope of the resurrection matches the Gospel lesson’s promise that Christ will raise up all who believe in him so that they live forever.
Rev. Mark Preus serves as a campus pastor at St. Andrews in Laramie, WY.