Monday, September 06, 2010

Lord, Thee I Love With All My Heart

In the past month I’ve done a number of funerals and memorials, one for a former member Joan, who used to attend in Lahaina, and another for Janet, who was a frequent vacationer in Lahaina. A month or so earlier we said goodbye to Ben, who was a member here in Kahului. While these departures and farewells from loved ones are often difficult and sad, it is a great privilege to share the blessed good news with families who are mourning the death of loved ones. The knowledge that Jesus Christ defeated death and opens the way of everlasting life for all who trust in Him, is the sweetest comfort one has in the bitter loss of a loved one.

I want to share in this article a hymn that is probably not very well known, but has come to be my personal favorite. It’s words are perfectly fit for a funeral. In our Lutheran Service Book (LSB), the hymn number is 708: “Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart.”

Lord, Thee I love with all my heart; I pray Thee, ne’er from me depart, With tender mercy cheer me. Earth has no pleasure I would share. Yea, heav’n itself were void and bare If Thou, Lord wert not near me. And should my heart for sorrow break, My trust in Thee can nothing shake. Thou art the portion I have sought; Thy Precious blood my soul has bought. Lord Jesus Christ, my God and Lord, my God and Lord, Forsake me not! I trust Thy Word!

This whole hymn is really a prayer, and is sung like a prayer, as the opening verse prays for God never to depart from us. Having Jesus Christ as the treasure of our heart is the greatest defense against sadness and sorrow. The writer says that earth, yes even heaven would seem empty if Jesus were not near us. But Jesus has purchased our soul by His precious blood, and we pray that He would never turn away or abandon us, for we trust His Word. This is an unshakeable trust, because God is the one person who always keeps His Word.

Yea, Lord, ‘twas Thy rich bounty gave My body, soul, and all I have In this poor life of labor. Lord, grant that I in ev’ry place May glorify Thy lavish grace And help and serve my neighbor. Let no false doctrine me beguile; Let Satan not my soul defile. Give strength and patience unto me To bear my cross and follow Thee. Lord Jesus Christ, my God and Lord, my God and Lord, In death Thy comfort still afford.

Here we pray in thanksgiving for all the blessings of this life, just as the First Article of the Creed confesses that “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” We believe that “God has made us and all creatures, given us our body, soul, eyes, ears and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them” (Luther’s explanation to the First Article, Small Catechism). We pray for God to teach us thankfulness to glorify Him for such generosity and love, and that this would move us to obey Christ’s great command to love our neighbor as ourselves. At the same time we pray for deliverance from evil, from being misled by false teachings or the temptation of the devil. Finally, the crosses and suffering that we bear in life throw us on the mercy of Christ who gives us strength and patience to bear what we could not bear on our own. The end of verse two transitions from this earthly life to facing death, which is the focus of the final verse.

Lord, let at last Thine angels come, To Abr’ham’s bosom bear me home, That I may die unfearing; And in its narrow chamber keep My body safe in peaceful sleep Until Thy reappearing. And then from death awaken me, That these mine eyes with joy may see, O Son of God, Thy glorious face, My Savior and my fount of grace. Lord Jesus Christ, my prayer attend, my prayer attend, And I will praise Thee without end.

This is my favorite verse, because of the comfort and power it speaks to our death and resurrection. The faithful believer is carried to heaven by the Lord’s angels to Abraham’s side. This metaphor of coming to heaven is found in Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus, in Luke 16:19-31. Our dying prayer is to be carried safely to heaven to rest in God’s arms. With this confidence, we can face death without fear, and look at the “narrow chamber” of our tomb like a “bedroom” in which we sleep peacefully until the Lord awakens our bodies in the resurrection of the dead. (Note: this is not a reference to “soul sleep,” but as the story of Lazarus makes clear, our souls are immediately taken to heaven or hell and remain conscious. It’s our bodies that await the reawakening of the resurrection on the Last Day.) The glorious sight that our eyes will see when they are awakened from death is the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Our heart’s treasure and portion, our greatest gain is Jesus our Savior. The hymn concludes by urging God to hear our prayer, and we will praise Him for eternity. May we always treasure Jesus with all our heart, and take comfort at His Word so that we too can face death unfearing. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

P.S. For a more in-depth study of this hymn, and to hear it sung, listen to Rev. Paul McCain’s discussion of it at http://issuesetc.org/podcast/553081110H2.mp3 , the Wednesday August 11, 2010 show.

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