Today’s post is from John Weit, Program Director for Music in the ELCA.
On Feb. 19, many congregations will sing “Oh, Praise the Gracious Power” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, #651) in response to the readings from Paul about Christ as our foundation (1 Cor. 3:10-11, 16-23) and Jesus command to love our enemies (Mt. 5:38-48).
Through the stanzas of Thomas Troeger’s hymn we give repeated praise to Christ described as “persistent truth,” “inclusive love,” “word of faith” and “tide of grace.” The beginning stanzas go on to show that Christ “gathers…strangers,” “eases…prejudice,” “claims us” and reveals “visions of a world at peace.” The assembly bids a common refrain: “We praise you Christ! Your cross has made us one!” The assembly sings the constant reminder that it is through the cross that Christ does these things. These words set to music and put on our lips are one way we respond with praise and engrain it in our hearts.
The hymn text and tune were both written in 1984 and many Lutherans began to learn it when it was included in “With One Voice” in 1995. The tune, CHRISTPRAISE RAY, is by composer Carol Doran, who has collaborated with Thomas Troeger on several hymns. Paul Westermeyer notes in the “Hymnal Companion to Evangelical Lutheran Worship” that the tune represents a cross in the melody as the first line descends and the second line ascends. At the beginning of each stanza we sing “Oh Praise” with an ascending melody, then at each refrain we ascend to sing “We praise,” then again to “you Christ” and one more time to a climatic note for “your cross.” Musically, the cross of Christ stands at the center of not only the text, but also the music.
If this hymn is not a part of your repertoire, I highly encourage learning it! The “Musicians Guide to Evangelical Lutheran Worship” aptly suggests that the assembly may simply learn the refrain first with a choir or soloists singing the verses. Then having the assembly sing the verses on subsequent occasions. Once the assembly knows the hymn, it could be sung in alternatum (assigning different stanzas to different voices, such as higher voices, lower voices, pulpit side, font side).