Preparing for Worship – Doug Haney, associate pastor.
This Sunday morning’s opening hymn, “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” is a wonderful Welsh hymn with theologically rich lyrics set to a singable and distinctive melody.
All three stanzas draw on the epic story of the Exodus when the Hebrew people wander in the wilderness for 40 years after escaping Egypt.
It was written by William Williams Pantycelyn, who is acknowledged as the greatest Welsh hymnwriter. In stanza one, the literal translation of the first line from the Welsh language is, Lord, lead me through the wilderness. The repeated phrase “bread of heaven” is a reference to manna, the food God provided for the Israelites during their travels.
Stanza two touches on yet another reference to the Exodus story: “Let the fire and cloudy pillar lead me all my journey through.” These manifestations of God’s presence allowed the Hebrew people to travel by night and by day under God’s protection.
And finally, in stanza three, we glimpse the end of the Exodus story, where the people, after traveling years, cross over into the Promised Land, or Canaan, the land flowing with milk and honey.
It is rare for a hymn to capture the scope of an entire biblical narrative in this way. At the same time, the lyrics invite the worshiper to enter into this story in a personal way: we, too, at times, are vulnerable on our life’s journey; we pray God will be our strength and shield and will calm our anxious fears.
The people of Wales have long been known for their beautiful melodies and for their community and church choirs. There is a charming new movie out titled Dream Horse that features Australian actor Toni Collette. It’s set in an impoverished Welsh village where a group of the town folk pool their meager finances to purchase a racehorse. After one victorious race, there is a scene where you hear the people singing these words in the village streets at the top of their lungs. Hope in God’s goodness in spite of the hardship of the journey of life — that’s the theme of the movie and Sunday’s hymn.