Preparing for Worship – Jeff Brummel, associate minister of music & organist
Sunday morning’s hymn, “The God of Abraham Praise,” provides a musical connection between Christians and our Jewish sisters and brothers which is both historical and spiritual.
The roots of the text take us back to the twelfth century near Rome, where Moses ben Maimon created a Jewish doxology of thirteen articles. About 100 years later, Daniel ben Judah created a metrical version of the text called the Yigdal Elohim (magnify the Lord). The new liturgical music was used in daily morning synagogue services as well as on Sabbath eve observances in the Jewish family worship experience, which took place in homes.
In London around 1770, Thomas Olivers, who had quite a young life full of scandal before coming to faith, heard the Yigdal sung by the Jewish cantor Meyer Lyon. Immediately, Olivers took the Hebrew text and paraphrased it, making some adaptations so the text would lend itself to Christian worship. Upon completion of the new English paraphrase of the Yidgal, Olivers asked Lyon to create a suitable tune to sing with the new text. Lyon came up with the tune we sing today, called leoni, which means “the cantor Lyon.”
The long journey, about 800 years, of this morning’s hymn is impressive. What fascinates me is that we are part of this song’s continuing story. It is true that the pages of this story in which we now live have yet to be written down, but we can look to the past and the text itself to see connections between then and now.
In the history of the use of this Jewish doxological text of the thirteenth century, I think about the Jewish community gathered, isolated in their homes and experiencing worship within the family context. It reminds me of how you and I worship today in our homes this very moment.
This causes me to reflect on the times when, in the Bible, God’s people sheltered for protection from rain, oppression or even from death. Through each of these moments in history and even through the evolution of the hymn we sing today, there is a wonderful and magnificent constant — we are always in the presence of the Ancient of Days.
How moving it must have been for the hymn writers to be so inspired to pen the words “His Spirit flowing free, high surges where it will; in prophet’s word He spoke of old, His voice speaks still.”
To us today, may God’s love be our strength and stay while the ages roll. May God’s Spirit move freely in and through us as we hear the voice of the Divine.