Hymn of the Day for Lent 3B

Here is a proposed hymn text for the Third Sunday of Lent, Year B in the Roman Catholic Sunday 3-year lectionary cycle. I invite your comments and critique. I would especially seek other suggestions for hymn tunes, perhaps more severe than MUNICH, to be paired with this text.

Hymn of the Day for the Third Sunday of Lent, Cycle B

When marketplace desires
Crouched ‘round the Temple’s stones
And enterprise seduced
Hearts meant for God alone,
Christ stands against these pow’rs,
And zealously he grieves:
“My Father’s house shall not
Be made a den of thieves.”

Built up by human hands –
The wonder of its age –
The Temple fell to ruin,
Destroyed by Roman rage.
Betrayed by human guile,
Condemned by priest and state,
Christ stands, unconquered still
By death and sin and hate.

Some find in reason’s sway
Their only certainty.
Some chase elusive signs,
Obscure divinity.
We see our God enfleshed,
Eternity entimed,
In Jesus, Son of God,
The living Crucified.

The foolishness of God
Surpasses human thought;
The weakness of our God
Unweaves what power wrought.
O God of paradox,
Fulfill your great design:
Draw life out of our death
Till death itself shall die.

66.66.D.

Suggested Hymn Tune: MUNICH (Methodist Hymnal #167)
Alternative Hymn Tune:

Fr. Jan Michael Joncas
15-16 February 2012
Redemptorist House, Washington, DC

18 comments

  1. I don’t have a better hymn-tune suggestion, although reading the text without checking hymnary.org for MUNICH (I’m woefully behind in my learning-tunes-by-name skill), I had an original melody in mind; the text sings beautifully.

    Recognizing that it’s not always the tradition of hymn-text writers to incorporate a refrain or “lyrical hook” into the text, the repetition of “Christ stands” in the first two stanzas make me wish so fervently that that phrase could appear in each stanza–and, better still, to appear in the same place in each stanza, such that it might become the title of the hymn. I’d so much prefer to invite the assembly to sing “Christ Stands” than “When marketplace desires.”

    Looking forward to the next draft, should you care to share it, and to Lent 2015, as I don’t think there’s time to prepare this one for my group’s use next weekend.

    Thanks so much for taking on this project.

  2. All in all, a nice hymn. Here are a couple of quick remarks, Father:

    Verse 1: I don’t like the tense shift in “When marketplace desires crouched . . . And enterprise seduced . . . Christ stands against these pow’rs.” Yes, when indeed? I realize you want to wind up in the present tense so that you will have a verb to rhyme with “thieves” at the end, but I am inclined to think that it would be more effective overall to leave it in the past tense and accept the slant rhyme “grieved / thieves.” That will also avoid the whiplash that occurs when we are immediately plunged back into the past tense in the next verse.

    Verse 2: There’s that odd word “Roman.” Certainly the physical Temple was destroyed by Roman rage in 70 AD. But if the Gospel accounts are to be believed, it was not the Romans who were particularly enraged at Jesus (the connection you obviously are making). Pilate seemed pretty indignant at having to do the Sanhedrin’s dirty work and repeatedly offered to release him. Maybe change it to “destroyed by Jewish rage”? Haha, just kidding, no one in his right mind would put that in a hymn!

    Actually, I thought it would better to make the line “destroyed by human rage,” which then frames the quatrain neatly: “Built up by human hands / … Destroyed by human rage.” Of course the next line would now need a rewrite; I might suggest “Betrayed by faithless friends.”

    Verse 3: I think I can tell who is being criticized in the first couplet (secular rationalists). I can’t say the same, however, for the next couplet, “Some chase elusive signs / Obscure divinity.” Who’s that — gnostics? I’m really not sure. We haven’t had a good anti-gnosticism hymn in a while, though, so maybe you want to tease that out. 🙂

    And finally, although I see what you are trying to do with “entimed,” I find it rather forced, and the resulting rhyme is barely there at all. Perhaps you might like something along the lines of “We see our God enfleshed, / The Father’s Word abide / In Jesus, Son of Man, / The living Crucified.” It seems like some reference to the relation between Jesus and the Father would tie the latter half of the hymn back in with Jesus’ concern for his “Father’s house,” as mentioned at the beginning.

      1. Oh, haha, thanks, Jeffrey. I even looked at those readings, but I must have missed that or just didn’t make the connection. Still, and perhaps it’s just me, I’m not sure that “Some chase elusive signs, / Obscure divinity” really strikes the same note as “Jews demand signs.” The former sounds like it’s talking about seeking after occulted meanings in obscure symbols (signs), while the Scripture just means that the Jews asked for miracles (signs) as proof.

  3. Michael,

    Thanks much for sharing these wonderful texts, and for responding so graciously to all our suggestions.

    I have one question – and I mean it as a question, because I don’t claim great ability in judging literary quality.

    Sometimes when I look at hymn texts of recent decades, I wonder whether an unnecessary word is there, or a necessary word is missing, because the meter required it. Then I ask whether something went wrong because the meter won and the poet lost. In the best texts that come down to us from the masters, I observe that the poet could say exactly what he or she wanted without it feeling like the meter got in the way.

    Here are some cases where I’d raise this question.

    “Christ stands against these pow’rs,
    And zealously he grieves:”

    Did you really want “he” to be there? Or did you use it because you needed another syllable?

    “The foolishness of God
    Surpasses human thought;
    The weakness of our God
    Unweaves what power wrought.”

    Did you want “our God” in the third line? It seems to me to weaken the parallelism with “God” in the first line. Is it there because you needed six syllables in the line?

    As I say, I raise this as a question, not yet a criticism. I’d be happy to hear your account of what you wanted to say, and how you experienced the meter as enabling this or making it more difficult.

    Anthony, osb

  4. Dear Friends, Thanks again for all your suggestions which are truly improving this text.
    Response to Philip: I hadn’t thought of LEONI since my trustworthy Hymnal 1982 presents its meter as 66.84.D., but in fact it works perfectly and the minor modality is a better match for the text than MUNICH, in my opinion.
    Responses to Clay, Emily, and Jeffrey: I have taken your critiques into account and re-fashioned the first three stanzas as follows:

    When marketplace desires
    Crouch ‘round the Temple’s stones
    And cunningly seduce
    Hearts meant for God alone,
    Christ stands against these pow’rs,
    And zealously he grieves:
    “My Father’s house shall not
    Be made a den of thieves.”

    Built up by human hands –
    The wonder of its age –
    The Temple falls to ruin,
    Destroyed by Roman rage.
    Betrayed by human guile,
    Condemned by priest and state,
    Christ stands, unconquered still
    By death and sin and hate.

    Some find in reason’s sway
    Their only certainty.
    Some chase elusive signs,
    Obscure divinity.
    Christ stands as God enfleshed,
    Eternity entimed,
    The deathbound Lord of life,
    The living Crucified.

    Emily will notice that I decided to go with the historical present in the first and second stanzas; I think it makes the text more vivid. I really do mean “Roman rage” destroying the Temple; the contrast is between the Temple that falls when imperial power is brought to bear against it and Christ who ultimately triumphs when imperial power is brought to bear against him.

    I’ll try to respond to Anthony in a later combox.

  5. I was going to suggest “Annue Criste” (Anglican/Canada) or “Denby” (Lutheran Service bk) as possibilities but I am also voting for “Leoni” It magnifies the text beautifully.
    I love the juxtapositions set forth in verse 2 – and the use of the verb “crouch”-so malevolently descriptive! And I really like the paradox here”The deathbound Lord of life,
    The living Crucified.” in verse 3.
    I have used the first 2 offerings with great success and prayerfulness and I just feel sorry that I cannot use this text this Lent as we are doing Year A readings for the scrutinies!

  6. O God your wisdom
    fulfills your great design:
    Christ stands with the dying
    and death itself shall die.

    or more forcefully:
    Christ stands among the dead
    Christ stands upon the Cross

    “your wisdom” is Christ according to the reading, so it bridges from foolishness to Christ.
    “with the dying” shows Christ the unconquered zealous defiant Christ as moved by compassion, but there is something not quite right about it. “upon the Cross” shows the paradox of victory by weakness (esp if you know how crucifixion works) “among the dead” puts ‘stands’ into resurrection mode (Gk anastasis means ‘stands again’)

    Just some idea on how to import “Christ stands” without having its militant tone take over the last verse.

    Thanks so much for these wonderful verses for these past weeks. They help me focus on what is valuable in these stories.

  7. It gets hard to follow the conversation once the changes happen:

    In the new stanza 3, I’m bothered by the stress on a weak syllable at the end of ll. 2 and 4–and I think we need an adversative at the beginning of line 5 (which in Leoni is a weak syllable). What about something like:

    Some flounder after truth
    Confined in logic’s lines;
    Some seek elusive seers,
    Divining futile signs–
    But Christ stands: God enfleshed,
    Eternity entimed,
    The deathbound Lord of life,
    The living Crucified.

    And the sound of ‘paradox’ doesn’t seem right in st. 4–something more conventional would work, I think.

    1. I was trying to think why ‘paradox’ stood out. On reflection I like it and think it should stay. I think the resistance to it is that it’s rare enough for names of figures of speech and figures of language to appear in poetry – but there’s no good reason why they should not.

      1. I’d agree if it’s poetry–but I’ve now got a particular tune in my head, the problem is not the technical term as such, but the musical oddness of ‘ox’ on what’s a very strong note in the melody.

  8. Dear Friends, I am in awe of Frs. Jim’s and Philip’s suggestions and Katherine’s observations: these are exactly the kinds of concerns I face in crafting a hymn text. It is LIKE poetry, but cannot use all the resources of language, because it has to be sung by congregations who must be able to recognize their faith in the text without too many verbal shocks AND it has to conform to the demands of the hymn tune with which it is paired. While I LOVE the line “O God of paradox,” I’ve given it up in the following re-working of the final two stanzas:

    Some claim to know the truth,
    Confined in logic’s lines.
    Some trust themselves to seers
    Divining futile signs.
    But Christ stands: God enfleshed,
    Eternity entimed,
    The deathbound Lord of life,
    The living Crucified.

    The foolishness of God
    Surpasses human thought;
    The weakness of our God
    Unweaves what pow’r has wrought.
    O God beyond constraint
    Fulfill your great design:
    Draw life out of our death
    Till death itself shall die.

    I like Philip’s lines at the beginning of stanza three better as poetry, but chose to go with the simpler verbal contrast for the sake of the congregation singing the text. I also shifted the fourth line of the fourth stanza because I think if I have the congregation sing “pow’rs” as one syllable in the first stanza, I should be consistent in the fourth stanza. Finally, I had always intended that the final verse shift to prayer, so I don’t continue the “Christ stands” “hook” in the final stanza. I considered “God beyond confine” (and loved the concluding rhymes with “design” and the slant rhyme with “die”) but noted that I had used “confine” in a different context in stanza two.

    1. thanks, Michael.

      Maybe my ‘flounder’ in st. 3 is too UK English–but there was a contrast in register with the idea of a logical, linear truth that we’ve now lost with ‘claim to know’. ‘Flounder’ replaced ‘seek to know’ in my original — maybe that latter shifts it just a bit?

  9. Now for a response to Fr. Anthony’s comment: I think it was Robert Frost who said that he considered writing free verse like playing tennis without a net. While I don’t think that’s fair to the writers of free verse, I do see his point: part of the “game” of crafting a poem is learning how to write something fresh, exact, and beautiful while accepting the formal constraints of terza rima or a sonnet structure. So to be concrete, in stanza four, I wanted to express the powerful rhetoric of 1 Corinthians 1:25: “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” The 66.66.D. meter virtually cried out that I use “The foolishness of God” and the rhetoric of the original would then seek a parallel line. I suppose I could have used “The pow’rlessness of God” or “The frailty of God” but the first was both tough to sing (too many ss sounds) and I was already using “pow’r” in other contexts, while the second had connotations that weren’t as appropriate as “weakness” to me. So adding “our” for the sake of the meter didn’t seem a problem. The harder issue was crafting the second and fourth lines. “Surpasses human thought” is by no means as strong as “is wiser than human wisdom” but was the best I could come up with. I am proud, however, of “unweaves what pow’r has wrought” because it turns a passive verb into an active one, yields a new metaphor, and creates some nice alliterations. It should be clear that choosing to write in meter (and with end rhymes, even if some are slant) puts certain constraints on a hymn text writer but successfully working with those constraints is part of the delight in crafting these texts.

    1. Yes, The weakness of our God
      Unweaves what pow’r has wrought

      jumped at me and I read it over several times, with increasing pleasure at each read. I hope that in song it works as well!

  10. One tune comes to mind immediately to me: The Bernadette Farrell setting of Shirley Erena Murray’s ‘Community of Christ’.

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