All creatures of our God and King

Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord from the heavens;
    praise him in the heights above.
Praise him, all his angels;
    praise him, all his heavenly hosts.
Praise him, sun and moon;
    praise him, all you shining stars.
Praise him, you highest heavens
    and you waters above the skies.

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for at his command they were created.

Psalm 148:1-5

Today’s hymn is All Creatures of Our God and King, UMH #62. The text’s authorship is credited to St. Francis of Assisi, who was born in 1182 in central Italy. Francis was the son of a wealthy merchant, though after a short stint in the army, he came to Christ, renounced his wealth, and began traveling. He lived simply and preached the gospel to all he met, seeking to bring others to see the love of Christ. His humble life helped to reform the Roman Catholic Church, and his followers became known as the Franciscan order.

Francis composed a hymn shortly before his death called “Cantico di fratre sole”, or “Song of Brother Sun.” He loved nature and wrote this hymn to exhort all of nature to worship God. The hymn was written in 1225, but was not translated into English until 1919 by Reverend William Draper, who transformed Francis’ text into the hymn we know as All Creatures of Our God and King for use in a children’s festival.

This hymn is not subtle about what it is calling Christians to do: praise His name in every single instance of our lives. It bears close resemblance to the call in Psalm 148 for all of creation to praise God, and is just as thorough as the Psalm about naming every single part of creation that should praise Him.

The many varied aspects of creation are detailed through stanzas 1-4, and then 5-7 address humans and our call to praise. Specifically, all who “are of tender heart” need to forgive others and join the chorus of praise, and those who bear pain and sorrow need to cast their cares on God and also join in. In stanza six, we are called still to praise Him as we meet “our sister, gentle death.” Through these stanzas we are reminded of the Christian responsibility to praise God through all of our lives, regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in. If those situations are troublesome, we need to turn those cares over to Him so we can do our Christian duty of praising Him.

The only tune that has ever been set with this text on a widespread basis is LASST UNS ERFREUEN. This tune was originally published in the 1623 Jesuit hymnal Ausserlesene Catlwlische Geistliche Kirchengesänge, paired with the Easter text “Lasst uns erfreuen herzlich sehr”. Ralph Vaughn Williams found the tune in that hymnal around the turn of the 20th century and arranged it to be the tune for the hymn “Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones” for inclusion in the 1906 English Hymnal, of which he was the musical editor. William Draper is credited with taking his newly translated text from Francis of Assisi and pairing it with Vaughn Williams’ newly discovered and arranged tune.

This hymn would be an excellent one to sing for a service celebrating creation, the gifts with which our God has blessed us, or any service that is focused around Psalm 148 or any of the other psalms of praise. In practice, the fermata should be observed and the hymn as a whole should not be rushed, especially between the phrases. It is a hymn that works best on an organ (versus a piano or other instrumentation) and sounds best with strong voices to convey the energy and enthusiasm of the text and the stateliness of the tune. There are several arrangements of this hymn that include trumpets and/or full brass scoring; these additional instruments can really bring this tune to life.

Our hymnal includes 7 stanzas of this hymn, and I urge you to sing all of them when this hymn is scheduled for worship. There are many musically creative things that can be done with this hymn to keep a congregation engaged for all 7 stanzas, and it’s important to plan some of these changes ahead of time. One could begin with full organ for the first and second stanza, to set the tone of the hymn, and for the third stanza that begins, “O sister water…”, drop to a lower dynamic to bring to mind the gentler flow of water. This could be a change in organ registration, removing reeds and mixtures and adding flutes and strings; if you have instruments at your disposal it could alternatively mean dropping the organ altogether and turning that stanza over to woodwinds or brass accompaniment.

For the 6th stanza that begins, “And thou, our sister, gentle death, waiting to hush our latest breath…” one could turn over that stanza to the congregation to sing a cappella. This would be very appropriate representation of the text, though it would require preparation of the choir so they’re ready to step up and really lead the congregation in singing. Bring the organ back in on the last chord of that a cappella stanza on a medium-level of registration and quickly build back up to full organ. If you’d like, this would be an excellent place for an interlude leading to a key change for the final stanza, which should be the grandest of all– full organ registration with any/all supplementary instruments. A choral descant would add a final textural layer, with soprano voices soaring above the congregation and instruments.

With proper planning, this hymn can be transformed from one of those really long boring hymns with 7 stanzas and you try not to fall asleep in the middle of it… to something that engages the congregation through music towards a deeper understanding of Psalm 148, and God’s command to the whole world to praise Him, through St. Francis’ poetic text and Vaughan Williams’ beautiful music.

1. All creatures of our God and King,
lift up your voice and with us sing,
O praise ye! Alleluia!
O brother sun with golden beam,
O sister moon with silver gleam!
O praise ye! O praise ye!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

2. O brother wind, air, clouds, and rain,
by which all creatures ye sustain,
O praise ye! Alleluia!
Thou rising morn, in praise rejoice,
ye lights of evening, find a voice!
O praise ye! O praise ye!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

3. O sister water, flowing clear,
make music for thy Lord to hear,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
O brother fire who lights the night,
providing warmth, enhancing sight,
O praise ye! O praise ye!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

4. Dear mother earth, who day by day
unfoldest blessings on our way,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
The flowers and fruits that in thee grow,
let them God’s glory also show!
O praise ye! O praise ye!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

5. All ye who are of tender heart,
forgiving others, take your part,
O praise ye! Alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
praise God and on him cast your care!
O praise ye! O praise ye!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

6. And thou, our sister, gentle death,
waiting to hush our latest breath,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou leadest home the child of God,
and Christ our Lord the way has trod,
O praise ye! O praise ye!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

7. Let all things their Creator bless,
and worship him in humbleness,
O praise ye! Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
and praise the Spirit, Three in One!
O praise ye! O praise ye!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Sources/further reading: umcdiscipleship.org; hymnary.org; hymnsite.com; Then Sings My Soul, Robert J. Morgan, 2003.

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