Monday, January 28, 2013

water, blood, and spirit crying

If you are unfamiliar with this hymn, brace yourself.

Context:  I am currently taking a class called Liturgical Church Music Administration, which is basically a practical application course for all us poor lambs who are about to head out into the great grown-up world of ecclesiastical music.  It's a put-on-your-helmet-and-buckle-up sort of class.  I like it.

One of our recent assignments was to write a church newsletter blerb about a hymn (a.k.a. "hymn story") explicating a hymn of our choice in an easily comprehensible manner.  As a few of my friends and I recently began memorizing Water, Blood, and Spirit Crying, my choice wasn't difficult.  This hymn is one of my all-time favorites (right up there with God's Own Child, I Gladly Say It), so please, humor my sharing it.  The following is my newsletter blerb, plus the hymn itself and a link so you can hear it.

Water, Blood, and Spirit Crying (Lutheran Service Book 597)
        "To look for God we need look no further than the cross."  Stephen Starke, the writer of Water, Blood, and Spirit Crying, prefaces his explanation for its text with these words.  Starke based this hymn primarily on 1 John 5:5-8, illustrating the profound significance of each of the three witnesses it mentions (water, blood, and Spirit) with rich and vivid imagery.
        The theme from John 10:10 bookends this hymn (stanzas one and five):  "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly."  Christ's "death-defying" and "death-defeating" Life has come, and it has come for all - that means for us!  The three witnesses of the title work faith in us and continue to strengthen us.
        Stanza two (emphasizing water) recalls our baptism with the powerful image of our Old Adam - our sinful nature - being buried in a "wat'ry grave" at the baptismal font.  Rather than drowning in the death that was meant to hold us eternally, we rise with Christ, and are ferried by his saving Life across "death's raging flood," just as Noah and his family were spared in the ark from the Flood in Genesis.
        Stanza three (emphasizing blood) evokes images from Psalm 23.  Here we sing of how Christ leads us safely past death's fierce scowl to the life-sustaining feast of his Body and Blood in the Lord's Supper.  Truly, our "cup overflows" (Ps. 23:5) with the grace he gives us in this sacrament.
        Stanza four (emphasizing Spirit) depicts God, our life-giving hero, unsheathing the two-edged sword of his Word - the Word that does exactly as he purposes, and does not return empty (Isaiah 55:11).  His Spirit is in and with his Word, and through his Spirit, he breathes life into us who are dead without him.
        Ending with stanza five, we see these three witnesses brought together again - the Word and Sacraments!  In the words of Stephen Starke, "The precious means of grace - Holy Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and the Word of God - indeed testify to all that God has done for us and for all by Christ's death on the cross, by which He brings life to our dying world, defying and defeating death itself!"
        The tune (FILTER) and its harmonization in the Lutheran Service Book, both composed by Jeffrey Blersch, are as rich and vivid as the text.  The hymn's dark edginess focuses the energy of the words we sing: we hear the water, blood, and Spirit crying out the witness they bear!  As the redeemed children of God, sprinkled in the blood of Christ, we confidently march past Death's scowl and into the Life won for us on the cross!

Starke quotes are from his blog, starke Kirchenlieder.
Listen to the hymn: (a full MP3 is available there).

Hymn Text:  Water, Blood, and Spirit Crying (Lutheran Service Book 597)

1. Water, blood, and Spirit crying,
    By their witness testifying
    To the One whose death-defying
       Life has come, with life for all.

2. In a wat'ry grave are buried
    All our sins that Jesus carried;
    Christ, the Ark of Life, has ferried
       Us across death's raging flood.

3. Dark the way, yet Christ precedes us,
    Past the scowl of death He leads us;
    Spreads a table where He feeds us
      With His body and His blood.

4. Through around us death is seething,
    God, His two-edged sword unsheathing,
    By His Spirit life is breathing
       Through the living, active Word.

5. Spirit, water, blood entreating,
    Working faith and its completing
    In the One whose death-defeating
       Life has come, with life for all.