Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth! Worship the Lord with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy. Acknowledge that the Lord is God! He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture. [Psalm 100:1-3 (NLT)]
For those who wondered—I weathered Hurricane Ian with nothing more than minor inconveniences and some yard work. Sadly, most of Southwest Florida was not so fortunate. Frankly, it’s even worse here than the photos you’ve seen and the stories you’ve heard. The death toll is rising, rivers still are flooding, more damage is being revealed, the loss is astounding, people’s lives are shattered, nerves are frayed, and medical staff, first responders, repair crews, and volunteers are exhausted. Sunday morning, in spite of the day’s sunshine, things looked dark.
Even though my church meets outside at a beachfront park, like many other churches, we lost our place of worship. Park facilities were destroyed, the beach was decimated, and the area is closed because of hazardous conditions. In a return to Covid days, our Sunday service was online.
Early Sunday morning, however, I read Psalm 100. Perhaps because there is nothing somber or vengeful in this psalm, it is one of my favorites. Chanted by Jews on their way to the Temple thousands of years ago, this call to know and worship God is a perfect psalm for Sunday mornings. After reading its words to shout with joy, worship with gladness, and come into God’s presence, I felt a desperate need to worship with others. Wanting to make a loud and joyful noise to the Lord, we skipped the online service and came into His presence at a nearby church.
As the organist began with J.S. Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, I knew we made the right decision. When the trumpet joined the organ in this beautiful composition, tears of joy filled my eyes even though my heart cried for the hundreds of thousands affected by this horrific storm. Bach’s familiar melody reminded me that we have a God who loved us so much that He gave us His only son to die for us so that we could be saved—not from hurricanes, ruined homes, and flood waters, but from sin and death.
His Name is Wonderful was the first hymn we sang and, with its words, “His Name is Wonderful; His Name is Counselor; His Name The Mighty God, Jesus my Lord,” we accepted Psalm 100’s call to worship with gladness. Our joyful noise continued as we acknowledged the goodness of our God with the familiar words of How Great Thou Art: ”Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee: How great thou art! How great thou art!” We offered thanksgiving as we shared His body and blood during Communion. We acknowledged His magnificence, unfailing love, and faithfulness when we closed the service with the hymn Majesty singing, “So exalt, lift up on high, the name of Jesus. Magnify, come glorify Christ Jesus the King. Majesty, worship His majesty. Jesus who died, now glorified, King of all kings!” My heart was lighter and the day much brighter after entering His gates with thanksgiving!
Curious about the inspiring music that opened the service, I learned that the composition we know as Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring is a chorale in a much larger work called Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben (Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life). Bach took the text for this song from two stanzas of a hymn by Martin Janus called Jesu, meiner Seelen Wonne (Jesus, My Soul’s Bliss). It was only when Dame Myra Hess transcribed this portion of the cantata for solo piano in 1926, that we came to know this beautiful melody as Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. You might find a hymn by the same name in your church’s hymnal. It’s words, however, were written by Robert Bridges who, rather than translating the original nineteen-stanza hymn, wrote a much shorter version.
I’m closing today with a translation of the two stanzas Bach chose to include in his awe-inspiring music. Indeed, even if we’re sick or sad, homeless or heart-broken, despairing or discouraged, frustrated or frightened, drained or disheartened, bewildered or broken—even then, we are blessed because we have Jesus! No matter the circumstances, may we always enter His gates with thanksgiving and His court with praise!
Blest am I, that I have Jesus! O how tightly I cling to Him,
So that He delights my heart when I am sick and sad.
I have Jesus, who loves me and gives Himself to me as my own;
Ah, therefore I will not let go of Jesus, even if my heart is breaking.
Jesus shall remain my joy, my heart’s comfort and sap;
Jesus shall fend off all sorrow. He is the strength of my life,
The delight and sun of my eyes, the treasure and wonder of my soul;
Therefore I will not let Jesus go out of my heart and sight.
[Martin Janus (1661)]