Our lectionary’s in-course reading of Matthew’s Gospel in Year A brings us this week to one of the wedding-banquet parables. Thus even though we are unable to celebrate the Eucharist as a full body, we will sing a fine Eucharistic hymn, ‘Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness’ (‘Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele’) . Many German hymnists of the 17th century, perhaps finding the heavily dogmatic and sometimes agonistic hymnody of the Reformation era wanting in the face of the devastation wrought by the Thirty Years’ War, veered quite far in the opposite direction of ardent and sometimes simply sappy devotional language. This hymn by Johann Franck (translated by Catherine Winkworth) is a beautiful exception.
Notable from a poetic standpoint in our text is the first half of the second stanza, which comprises a four-line list of one-syllable names and attributes by which Jesus is addressed: Sun, Light, Joy, Fount. (The original included a similar list of images, but began each of these first three lines with ‘Jesu’: a different way of achieving a similar kind of rhythm.) While the syntax of the end of this stanza overrides its rhyme scheme, the first and last stanzas each end with a memorable couplet encapsulating, respectively, a fundamental tenet of the faith, and a worthy prayer upon receiving the Sacrament:
…high o’er all the heavens he reigneth,
yet to dwell with thee he deigneth.
…through the gifts thou here dost give me,
as thy guest in heaven receive me.
The author of our anthem text, however, is not content to be a ‘guest’ in heaven, but something rather more intimate and permanent. The final stanza of Watts’s ‘My shepherd will supply my need’ (one of several paraphrases of Psalm 23 which he wrote), really not part of the psalm at all but an inspired addition, reads thus:
There would I find a settled rest,
while others go and come;
no more a stranger or a guest,
but like a child at home.
Since Psalm 23 is the appointed psalm (chosen to pair with the Gospel because of what Christians can read as Eucharistic imagery in it), we present not only the foregoing but also another version of Psalm 23, ‘The King of love my shepherd is’ . As Watts often did (though not in ‘My shepherd will supply’), Henry Williams Baker not only expands upon the Psalm – introducing the concepts of love, and of straying and being sought and found – but also explicitly Christianizes it, bringing in the cross, the (Eucharistic) chalice, grace, and the Good Shepherd.
Both of these paraphrases may be compared with Hymn 663, a modern version of Psalm 23 (though close in style to 16th- and early 17th-century English metrical Psalms) by Bland Tucker (see last week’s notes).