Hymn of the Day for Lent 5B

Here is my hymn text for the Fifth Sunday of Lent in the B Cycle of the Roman Catholic three-year Sunday lectionary cycle. (I treat the alternative set of readings in the A Cycle.) I look forward to readers’ suggestions for changes in word choice, rhyme scheme, progress of thought, and hymn-tune pairing.

Hymn of the Day for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B

A single grain of wheat
When buried in the earth
Gives us no sign through winter weeks
Of its impending birth.
Yet with the rains of spring
New grains are brought to life
As roots uncurl and stalks unfurl
And reach up to the light.

A single human life
Once sojourned Galilee
And heralded God’s kingdom come
In mighty words and deeds.
Yet though he died condemned,
Consigned among the dead,
He lives and reigns through ev’ry age
The Church’s Lord and Head.

A single act of love
May seem too weak a force
To overcome the centuries
Of vi’lence and remorse.
Yet ev’ry act of love
Bears with it God’s own grace,
And those who give themselves to Love
Become God’s chosen race.

Great God of covenant,
Come claim us as your own
And write your law within our hearts
And lead your people home.
We pray, transforming God,
As Christ, with cries and tears,
That you would draw us up through death
To life beyond our fears.

66.86.D. SMD.

Suggested Hymn Tune: TERRA PATRIS/TERRA BEATA (ELW #824)
Alternative Hymn Tune:

Fr. Jan Michael Joncas
St. Paul, MN
21-23 February 2012


  1. This is a very nice text, Father. Only a couple of points of style and potential confusion I would point to.

    VERSE 2: “A single human life / Once sojourned Galilee / And heralded God’s kingdom come” — wow, I really thought this was about John the Baptist when I read it, and then I got to the second half of the verse and puzzlement struck. Frankly, I’m still not 100% confident about who it’s referring to. It *really* sounds like it ought to be about John the Baptist!

    As to “heralded God’s kingdom come / In mighty words and deeds,” I see that you are echoing “Thy kingdom come,” but it doesn’t really work. The “come” in the Our Father is an archaic subjunctive, but the “come” in your text can really only be understood as a past participle: i.e., “God’s arrived kingdom; God’s kingdom which has come.” “Kingdom come” does not actually mean “the coming of the kingdom.” This problem might be ignorable on poetical grounds, except that it makes the next line, “in mighty words and deeds,” quite ambiguous as to whether it modifies “heralded” or “come.” Again, having puzzled over it for a while I assume it’s the former, but I’m still not entirely sure.

    VERSE 3: Since your rhyme scheme is ABCB, it would be nice if there were a graceful to avoid the the recurrence of “love” at the end of ll. 5 and 7, which needlessly makes it sound like you just couldn’t think of a suitable rhyme and copped out. Perhaps you might like “Yet ev’ry loving act.”

    VERSE 4: I don’t care much for the repetition of “and” at the beginning of ll. 3 and 4. You think you’re getting to the end of the sentence, and then it runs on. Much better would be to repeat “come” and the beginning of 2 and 3. As to “We pray, transforming God,” the word “transforming” seems out of place. For one thing, it is grammatically ambiguous, since although you mean it as a vocative there is a fair chance that people will misread it as starting to introduce an adverbial phrase that describes the manner in which “we pray.” Second, I don’t think anybody *does* pray that way in real life. I’ve certainly never been in a group of people when a prayer was called for and heard someone say anything like “O transforming God, we thank you for ….” As prayer, it just has an inauthentic sound. I might suggest almost anything as an alternative: “We pray to you, O God,” “We pray, O God above,” “We pray, almighty God,” “We pray, O loving God.”

    Oh, and finally I wonder if “with cries and tears” isn’t a bit much, or at least a duplication without much expansion of meaning. What would you think of something like “As Christ, with hope through tears” or “As Christ, with faith and tears”?

  2. Why “new grains”? New shoots maybe, but it is the same old grain, isn’t it?

    I don’t have any problem with verse 2 identifying Jesus as someone who preached “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Mk 1:15

    I do like Emily’s suggestion of come, come, come in verse 4. It calls to mind the other person of the Trinity.

    1. New grains (as I understand it) are the new grains of wheat growing from the seed that died in the earth, and it provides the nice internal rhyme of grains and rains. I also like the “uncurls/unfurls” internal rhyme and the use of alliteration throughout- not overdone, but “there”.

      Like Jim, I don’t have a problem with verse 2 either – John the Baptist was the forerunner/herald of Jesus and Jesus was herald of the Kingdom of God, as He preached it and worked miracles!
      Mary, most of CORONA does fit, but one would have to torture the first line of each verse.
      One thing – I am not sure about the insertion of “transforming God” between “we pray” and “as Christ with cries and tears. It breaks the reference and calls to mind (for me, anyway) the unusual grammar of RM3
      I LOVE the tune!! For one thing, this text about sacrifice=love=kingdom is well supported by the first measures of the tune which call to mind the “SHIRE” theme in Lord of the Rings, a place where life is peaceful and full of love.

  3. Dear Friends,

    Once again, thanks for your careful and close reading of my text to help to shape them into worthy vehicles for our people’s sung prayer. Linda is exactly correct in response to Jim: the one grain of wheat that is planted into the earth produces a stalk with many new grains of wheat on it. I’m sorry for the confusion in the second verse; the “single human life” I meant was Jesus’ who (as far as I can tell) began his earthly ministry according to the Synoptics preaching the Kingdom of God in mighty words and deeds throughout Galilee before the journey through the Decapolis and into Judea. (I know the itinerary is disputed because of conflicting information in the Johannine account.) In contrast to John the Baptist’s preaching of an impending Kingdom, Jesus seems to have preached an inbreaking Kingdom, present-yet-to-be-totally-fulfilled, that I try to signal by “Kingdom come.” My rhyme scheme is actually xaxaxbxb, but I notice that I do have more than usual slant rhymes in the x’s of these stanzas. Emily is completely correct about repeating “come” in lines 2 and 3 of stanza 4. “With cries and tears” is a direct quotation from the Letter to the Hebrews assigned for Lent 5B. Finally, while I appreciate those who have weighed in against “transforming God,” I confess that I want to expand the range of divine epithets using gerundives (at least I think it’s a gerundive), although none of my hymn texts use my personal favorite: “dawntreading God.”

    1. Dear Michael,
      I am not taking issue with your gerundive divine epithets – I love them!! I was simply wondering about the grammatical placement, which breaks up the direct quote from Hebrews.
      “dawntreading God”?? What a beautiful image of the Divine – as is “transforming God”.

  4. Fr. Joncas,

    Fine text. But the slant rhymes (3 instances in this text) will never work for me in formal metrical hymns like this one.

    Also, I could be wrong but I’m not aware that “to sojourn” can ever be transitive and take a direct object.

    In stanza 4, to avoid the two “and’s” which begin lines 3 and 4, perhaps something like:

    Great God of covenant,
    Come claim us as your own;
    Inscribe your law within (upon?) our hearts
    And lead your people home.

  5. Re: Fr. Ron at #6. 1) When would slant rhymes be allowable in metrical hymns in your opinion? 2) I realize that “sojourn” usually adds “through” to indicate the area traversed, but I thought I’d claim the freedom of English writers to stretch usage, especially since alternatives liked “walked though” / “journeyed” / “traversed” didn’t have the same appeal. 3) Emily had already suggested that I use “Come write” at the beginning of l. 3 of stanza 4 to avoid the excessive “and”s; I could see using “Inscribe”. I do think the writing/inscribing should be within our hearts (stretching the metaphor a bit) rather than simply on the surface of our hearts, as “upon” would suggest.

  6. Fr. Michael–

    Again, lovely work. Thank you for sharing it.

    I’m no fan of slant rhymes either, but I really didn’t notice these until I read the other comments. (Apparently I’m tired this morning.)

    The one spot that did clunk for me was the first line of the last stanza, and it clunked for two reasons:

    First, the stress of COVenant doesn’t (to my ear) sit gently on a tune that leaves the last syllable of the line on a strong beat.

    Second: I admire and adore the pattern that builds through the stanzas: “a single grain of wheat,” “a single human life,” “a single act of love”…and then something else entirely. I am confident you broke the pattern intentionally, but I’d be just as happy ending the hymn after verse 3.

    (For the sake of those who are thinking of using CORONA or some other hymn tune that starts on the downbeat rather than a pickup, “One” rather than “a” would sit more gracefully as the first word of stanzas 1-3.)

    Again, though, my deep admiration for your craft.

  7. “When would slant rhymes be allowable in metrical hymns in your opinion?”

    However I respond to this important question, someone is bound to have another response. In no. 7 I indicated that my approach to rhyme in hymn texts is subjective when I wrote, “the slant rhymes will never work for me in formal metrical hymns like this one.” That’s just the way I feel about such texts.

    Study the rhyme in metrical hymns in already published denominational hymnals and one discovers that anything but perfect or true rhyme is the rare exception. Perhaps perfect rhyme became to be so expected of hymn texts that those hymns lacking it never made it into hymnals or got weeded out over time.

    Of course, contemporary secular music as well as the myriad refrain-and-verses spiritual songs do not depend on perfect rhyme as traditional metrical hymnody does (or did). So people’s expectation of perfect rhyme in metrical hymnody may be changing. If so, my own ears are not there yet!

    I have no problem with some metrical texts which have blank verse, such as Maxwell Blacker’s verse translation of Christe cunctorum dominator alme (“Only-Begotten, Word of God Eternal”). And Charles Wesley’s “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” has one imperfect rhyme in each stanza. But this masterpiece is a completely rhymed text: ababcdcd. Except for one instance, Wesley’s imperfect rhymes always occur on the “a” or “c” rhymes. Since many metrical hymns only have rhyme at the end of even-numbered lines, the slant rhymes on the odd-numbered lines do not jump out for someone who is very accustomed to hear perfect rhymes in hymns. Wesley’s only slant rhyme in even-numbered lines comes at the end of the final stanza: line 6’s “Till in heav’n we take our place” and line 8’s “Lost in wonder, love, and praise.”

    BTW, I googled “imperfect rhymes in hymn texts” and came up with a Google book of Ruth Duck’s Finding words for Worship: a Guide for Leaders. The Google book provided everything Ruth wrote about rhyme (pp. 114-118). It’s quite good.

    1. How interesting — that passage certainly provides a little clue into why Ruth Duck’s texts often seem so flighty and insubstantial:

      Rhyming should never lead to archaisms, such as using “trod” to rhyme with “God,” or “unfurled” to rhyme with “world.”

      Imagine that, “trod” and “unfurled” are not just marginally higher in register than ordinary speech, they are positively archaic! Well, maybe if you got your sense of English from Facebook status updates.

      1. We sing a myst’ry from the past
        in halls where saints have trod,
        yet ever new the music rings
        to Jesus, living song of God!

        I’d never have considered words like “unfurled” or “trod” to be archaic. Are “unfurl” and “tread” archaic too? I thought those words were colorful options for more monochromatic words. Why “walked” or “stepped” when you could use “trod”?

  8. Emily and Jeffrey,

    I agree with both of you. Ruth’s examples do not appear to back up her point about archaisms. I do not think tread/trod is archaic; I’m less sure about unfurl/unfurled.

    But the “unfurled/world” rhyme does seem contrived and trite to me; “trod/God” does not.

  9. I’m not sure about the world/unfurled problem… I like the usage in:

    As time unfurled, that loving pow’r
    Would shape a world where life might spring,
    A people who God’s image wore,
    Who glimpsed those hands in ev’rything.

    I agree, there are rhymes that are so shopworn (love/above) to become almost unusable.

    As far as gerundives go, I don’t believe these verbal adjectives exist in English. In Latin, I think the “demonstrandum” in Q.E.D. is a gerundive. Wikipedia lists addendum and referendum as nouns derived from gerundives. English has participles (verbal adjectives) and gerunds (verbal nouns), but no single verbal equivalent to “something which must be ____-ed”. There can be an ambiguity whether the noun in a participle-noun pairing (e.g. “renewing hope” — does hope renew or is it renewed?) is subject or predicate of the participle, but that ambiguity can be intentional and delicious.

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