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Statue of Saint Patrick at the Hill of Tara, C...

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Well, here it is, the inevitable end of the year post. I don’t have much time here, so I thought I’d quote a beautiful hymn I became acquainted with a year or so ago. Because it was one of the songs I was playing for the church service, it was the tune of this unheard of hymn that caught my attention first. Then I read the words and fell in love with it. The tune is an Irish melody named “St. Patrick’s Breastplate”. Since the words are based on a prayer by the same name by Saint Patrick of Ireland, I find this to be very fitting. It appears that the tune was written to go with the words. Without further ado, then, here are the three verses contained in the Trinity Hymnal (the original version is much longer).

We Lift Up as Our Shield God’s Name

1. We lift up as our shield God’s name, the strong name of the Trinity, by invocation of the same: the Three in One and One in Three, our Rock and Tower, God of Light, Eternal Father, Spirit, Word; we claim the name of grace and might; salvation is of Christ the Lord.

2. Immanuel, incarnate Lord, from Mary’s womb was given breath, was baptized at the Jordan’s ford, and gave his life to conquer death. He rose triumphant from the tomb, was lifted to the Father’s throne to come on God’s dread day of doom and bring salvation for his own.

3. By faith we claim his grace today: the power of God to hold and lead, his eye to watch, his might to stay, his ear to hearken to our need; the wisdom of our God to teach, his hand to guide, his shield to ward, the word of God to give us speech, his heav’nly host to be our guard.

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What a wonderful summation of orthodoxy! And to be able to sing it to such a strong tune! Strong hymnody is a thing much lacking in modern Christianity. One of the things that I have noticed and particularly like about the very old hymns and tunes (like the ones mentioned today, dating from approximately the 5th century) is that they often focus on God as Triune just as much as on Jesus as Savior. There is a triumphant, joyful, full, and reverent spirit in them that is sometimes played down in more contemporary hymnody (which, I guess, would be those dating from the nineteenth century, since hymnody (as opposed to the plethora of “campfire songs” or “Jesus is my boyfriend” type of “spiritual songs”) has not made great inroads in the past century).

The more I play out of the hymnal, the more I am aware of the depth of truth in the hymns that we often forget to make use of. Though I once was leaning towards exclusive psalmody, my experiences in a church of that stripe and fuller exposure to the hymns caused me cease leaning that direction. There is much room in everyday life, as well as in the worship service, for following the apostle’s admonition (given in a day-to-day context) to teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, “singing pslams and hymns and spiritual songs” with thanksgiving and praise to God (Colossians 3:16). May we take advantage of this heritage handed down to us from our forefathers in the faith.

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