Hymn of the Month :: March 2012
Hymn of the Month :: "The Lamb"
“The Lamb” (Lutheran Service Book #547) is the March hymn.
Rev. Gerald P. Coleman (b. 1953) is a man of many talents: pastor, teacher, author, composer, organist and conductor. He currently is a pastor and Director of Music at Christ Lutheran Church in Washington, DC. He previously taught at Concordia College in New York. Rev. Coleman sent the following information about this hymn:
“The composition of “The Lamb” began with an image. In 1985, fellow seminarian James Disney mounted an exhibition of his paintings. One of those paintings was entitled “The Lamb of God.” That painting captured my imagination and remained with me. It remains with me still in the sense that I have long owned a copy of that painting which the artist painted especially for me. The painting shows a white lamb on a black background. The legs are tied and the Lamb seems to be still except for the impression that it is offering its neck.
Without going into detail, I confess that the text, tune, and setting were all written during a three-hour summer school class at Concordia Seminary. My captive imagination came back to the Disney’s iconic painting, “The Lamb of God.” I found myself sitting in class and contemplating the Lamb of God. I wanted to bring together the sacrificial suffering of the Lamb and the vision of the Lamb upon the throne by portraying both through the lens of triumph. In a departure from my normal technique, I first wrote the entire tune, ending each stanza with the refrain, “Worthy is the Lamb whose death makes me his own! The Lamb is reigning on his throne.” Then I began to experiment with word choices and rhymes. Before the class period was over, I had completed text, tune, and setting. I immediately went to my office to begin the usual laborious revisions. After a painful and confusing hour, it came to me with great clarity that would be no revisions. It is the only piece in my oeuvre of which I can say this, and I always considered it an inspiration, as if God were moving through my pencil. I never changed a note or word. While it was conceived of as a choral piece, I had a feeling that its simplicity might somehow lead to use as a hymn.
During the week-long break from summer school courses, I had to go to Nebraska to play for an ordination. My dear friend Frank E Winter III--“Chip” to all his friends--invited me to come with him and spend the week with his parents and brother at their home in West Point, Nebraska. Chip’s mother, Carla, was a fine church musician. In gratitude for the Winter family’s generosity to me, I named the tune “WINTER,” and gave the piece a dedicatory inscription: “for the Winter family—Frank and Carla, Chip and Chris.” As I said to Carla at the time, “Some people get flowers: you get a hymn!”
The hymn begins with a clear and somewhat haunting reference to the Abraham and Isaac narrative of Genesis 22. Stanza two asks earth and heaven to praise (Hebrews 10:1-18) the sacrifice which brings to an end the system of ritual sacrifices previously instituted by God. Stanza three is a reflection of the verse of “O Dearest Jesus” which proclaims “The Shepherd dies for sheep who love to wander.” It also proclaims the solidarity of Christ who stands with the fallen world in its brokenness, and fulfills the law for the salvation of that that fallen world. It opens a view of the crucifixion as coronation. Stanza four, though it has numerous biblical roots, is actually a statement of Luther’s doctrine of the “Great Exchange,” expressed nowhere more beautifully than in Luther’s letter to George Spenlein of 1516 (in the first volume of letters in the complete Luther’s Works). Before the final refrain, we are drawn into the Easter event, which Father Alexander Schmemann described as the pronouncement of universal absolution—which is more than our minds can take in.
“Worthy is the lamb whose death makes me his own! The Lamb is reigning on his throne!”
Let every heart prepare him room and heaven and nature sing! Indeed!”