Monday, August 20, 2012

Jesus Loves Me

        The hymn request list for offertories over the summer provides a glimpse into the eclectic tastes of the congregation when it comes to our hymns.  On August 12, we sang Jesus loves me, a simple children's hymn that tops the polls at hymn sings throughout the church.  It has been recorded by rock stars, gospel groups and cathedral choirs. It is sung lovingly by adults, teens and children, linking the generations with a powerful message.
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    The scripture references are many,
(stanza. 1 = Eph. 5:2, Jer.31:3 
 stanza. 2 = Gal. 2:20
 stanza 3 = Matt. 18:2-4, Matt. 19:13-15, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17,)
but in essence we learn, in a few short lines, that Jesus loves us, that we belong to Him, that His love endures forever, that He is our friend and giver of life.

       The text was written by Anna B. Warner and her sister Susan in 1859 as part of best selling novel, Say and Seal. The two sisters lived along the Hudson River in New York near the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. After the death of their widower father, a well-known New York lawyer, who lost most of his fortune in the 1837 depression, the Warner sisters were left with a meagre income.  To support themselves, they turned to serious literary writing under the pen names Amy Lothrop and Elizabeth Wetherell.

          For a number of years they also held classes for the young cadets from the nearby West Point Academy. Upon their deaths, their home was willed to the Academy and made into a national shrine. Both sisters were buried with military honours in recognition of their spiritual contributions to the lives of the young military officers.

        In 1861, William B. Bradbury added the refrain to Warner's stanzas and wrote the tune JESUS LOVES ME. The hymn was published in Bradbury's church school collection The Golden Shower (1862). By 1996 the hymn appeared in 74% of published hymnals.

      The text has been translated into many other languages, and often includes an added stanza derived from David R. McGuire's rewriting of the text, which he prepared for the Canadian Anglican and United Hymn Book (1971).
      The words are simple, relegated to the "children's" section of the hymnal, yet the great theologian Karl Barth, when asked for his most profound theological discovery, thought for a moment, then replied, “Jesus loves me, this I know, /for the Bible tells me so.”

Thanks to Jerusha Smith for choosing this hymn and thus reminding us all that sometimes the greatest truths are found in simple words.

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