(Our guest blogger today is Royce Eckhardt. This article first appeared in the Covenant Companion in February of 2021. We pray for Royce’s continued healing from a virus and recent hospitalization)
As the Covid-19 pandemic has rolled over us all like a thick, global cloud, I feel its dark shadows over our daily lives in countless ways. We are weary of masks and social restrictions, and missing the fellowship and communal worship of the church. Loved ones, stricken and hospitalized with the virus, are deprived of family visits. Our festive celebrations are robbed of joy when we are isolated.
With no end in sight, we are awash with anxiety and uncertainty. How can we sing the Lord’s song in this strange land?
Certainly, we turn first to Scripture to bolster our trust in the Eternal One, to find comfort and encouragement, to rekindle hope in the midst of adversity. But there is another book, a companion to the Holy Book, rich in the promises of God, that offers me a beacon of hope.
The hymnal offers the witness of saints past and present who relied on God’s sustaining grace in troublesome times. Its words can bring comfort, calm, and reassurance in our seasons of distress.
A hymnal is a rather unique and remarkable book. It is the layperson’s book of theology. It is the voice of the church through the centuries. The great cloud of witnesses resides therein. It is an archive of the rich diversity of Christian witness over the ages. It is a wonderful collection of prayers. It speaks to us from the early centuries of our faith to the new expressions written yesterday—the timelessness of the song of faith.
I share here some capsules of hope and encouragement from The Covenant Hymnal: A Worshipbook (TCH), a prescription for a dose of courage and contentment. Take daily, as needed.
“HOW FIRM A FOUNDATION” (437, TCH)
Fear not, I am with you; O be not dismayed,
for I am your God and will still give you aid.
I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand,
upheld by my gracious omnipotent hand.
When through the deep waters I call you to go,
the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow,
for I will be with you in trouble to bless,
and sanctify to you your deepest distress.
Words from Isaiah 43, spoken to a forlorn people in exile, are transformed into a song of hope for people now exiled by a virus. These are words of deliverance and comfort: the Holy One will bring us through the time of trouble. Don’t be dismayed.
“WHY SHOULD I BE ANXIOUS?” (431, TCH)
Early Covenant songwriter Nils Frykman asked:
Why should I be anxious? I have such a Friend,
who bears in his heart all my woe;
this Friend is the Savior, on him I depend,
his love is eternal, I know.
Frykman knew about trouble and discouragement. He wrote that on his way to a preaching commitment, “I became so overwhelmed by despair that I threw myself to the ground and cried like a . . . child. Yet I knew through it all I was a child of God, saved by grace. After I wept out my burden, I resumed my journey with a light heart and light steps.” Thus, this song was born.
“IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL” (451, TCH)
Many readers are acquainted with the story surrounding this hymn. Chicago attorney Horatio Spafford, planning a family vacation in France, sent his wife and four daughters ahead while he was detained by business. He hoped to rejoin them a few days later. While crossing the Atlantic, their ship, the Ville du Harve, collided with another vessel and sank within 15 minutes. Among the hundreds of lives lost were Spafford’s four daughters. Mrs. Spafford survived and, upon reaching land after rescue, telegraphed, “Saved alone.” Spafford immediately set off to join her. A year later, he retraced the ill-fated journey across the ocean. Upon reaching the site of the tragic accident, he was inspired to write:
When peace, like a river, attends my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, you have taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”
What unshakable faith and trust in God! These words have brought comfort and hope to many who suffer affliction and despair.
“DAY BY DAY AND WITH EACH PASSING MOMENT” (435, TCH)
This hymn, dear to the hearts of many Covenanters, has found its way into a number of American hymnals, for Lina Sandell’s text speaks comfort and assurance across denominational lines. It first appeared in 1886 along with an allegory about a wall clock whose pendulum suddenly stopped working. When the dial investigated the cause, the pendulum proclaimed it was weary of swinging 86,400 times each day. Said the dial, “Try swinging only six times.” The pendulum agreed and admitted that it was easy. “But,” it complained, “it’s not just the six times but the thought of 60 million times that disturbs me.” The wise dial replied, “While you think of millions of swings, only one at a time will be required of you.” God gives us grace and strength for each day. We do not lay future concerns on the present moment. Read these familiar words with fresh understanding:
Day by day, and with each passing moment,
strength I find to meet my trials here;
trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He whose heart is kind beyond all measure
gives unto each day what he deems best—
lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,
mingling toil with peace and rest.
“NOW, ANXIOUS HEART, AWAKE FROM YOUR SADNESS” (472, TCH)
The apostle Paul wrote, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Yet still we worry. An old Sunday school chorus said, “Why worry when you can pray?” Perhaps for some of us it’s, “Why pray when you can worry?” This hymn by Carl Olaf Rosenius, famed Swedish preacher and author, reminds us through some searching questions to look beyond our troubles to see that which is eternal:
Now, anxious heart, awake from your sadness,
have you forgotten the things that remain:
grace and communion, unbroken union
with Christ arisen and ever the same?
Is God not still your heavenly Father,
has Jesus changed since he suffered and died?
Is not the Spirit, pleading and leading,
ever the counselor, helper, and guide?
Are not the saints a trifle confusing,
they speak of joy but great trials endure,
kingdoms possessing, pleading a blessing,
safe in God’s keeping but never secure?
So, anxious heart, awake from your sadness,
rise to remember your blessings to claim.
Though skies be clouded and the sun shrouded,
never forget it is there just the same.
“BE STILL” (88, TCH)
“In quietness and in trust shall be your strength,” proclaims Isaiah (30:15). Covenant pastor/songwriter Rick Carlson’s song so beautifully expresses this both in mood and message:
When life is scatter’d I’m not far away.
When life is heavy I’ll carry you.
When life is treacherous along the way,
I will deliver you.
Be still and know I am with you,
still, for I will sustain you
throughout your life I will always be near.
Be still and know I am God.
This small sampling of hymns in The Covenant Hymnal speaks peace and calm to us in anxious times. The hymns can give us the power of the right word at the right time. While we wait for vaccines to combat Covid-19, a balm for our anxious hearts awaits in the hymnal. Read these hymns. Pray them. Sing them!