A few months ago, we had a guest preacher at our church; and partway through his sermon, he started reciting from one of the Psalms. I immediately recognized it as Psalm 100, and started mouthing the words along with him:
Oh be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands
Serve the Lord with gladness, and come before his presence with a song…
Except that those weren’t the words he was using. I don’t know what version he was reciting, or even if he was doing a rough paraphrase of the psalm; but I know what version I was reciting. I was reciting the words of the Jublilate Deo from the back of the 1940 Episcopal Hymnal that I grew up with; which, not coincidentally, is also how the psalm is set in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer (BCP). But more important, in my case, is the fact that they’re the words to the setting of the Jubilate Deo by George Blake, my former choir director at St Andrew’s Episcopal Church in South Orange, NJ. And when I hear those words, I also hear his tune along with them.
But my point, and I do have one, is that no matter what version of Psalm 100 I grew up with, I was still able to follow along with the version that the guest preacher used. I’m also able to follow along with the version currently printed in Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Quite frankly, even though I grew up with one setting of the words, I’m flexible enough to follow along with, and recite the words to any other setting of it.
Just because I have one set of words memorized doesn’t mean that I think they’re the only set of words that should ever be used.
And just because it’s the set of words I have memorized from my childhood doesn’t mean that I think it’s the set of words that the current generation of children should memorize…if they memorize them at all.
As I was thumbing through the back of the 1940 Hymnal while writing this, I stumbled across a service for the burial of a child, and it included the well-known 23rd Psalm…except that it didn’t have the words that most of us my age grew up with. Most of us know, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…” a construction which confused me for many years…after all, why wouldn’t you want the Lord to be your shepherd? However, both the back of the hymnal and the BCP have it cast as “The Lord is my shepherd; therefore I can lack nothing.”
Wow! And this was done a good 40 years before the Consultation on Common Texts began its work on coming up with common, modern English, settings of liturgical texts for churches in the United States and Canada. I can’t help but think of how much less confusing this setting would have been to a certain eight-year-old.
But, as successful as the CCT and the ICET (International Consultation on English Texts) were with their efforts to bring most of us in the English-speaking world to using common liturgical texts in modern English and a common lectionary, there is still one sacred cow, in all senses of the word, that they have made blessed little progress with.
The Lord’s Prayer.
The “new” translation of The Lord’s Prayer is going on 50 years old, and still has not taken root in most churches…not even those who use the rest of the CCT and ICET texts. Why is that? Two reasons. The first is because people still want to use the words “they remember”, and want their kids to learn the words that they remember.
This, even though they haven’t recited “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want…” or talked about “the quick and the dead” in decades.
The second reason is because they were given a choice. For example, when the Lutheran Book of Worship came out in 1978, using all the other new common English texts, when it got to the place in the liturgy for The Lord’s Prayer to be recited, both versions were printed, giving congregations a choice as to which to use.
And guess which choice most of them made.
Just think about it, had the decision been made to only print the new text back then, most American Lutherans would’ve had almost 40 years of experience with it, they would now have that memorized, and that would be the version their children and grandchildren grew up learning. But because we were given a choice that we weren’t with the Psalms and the creeds, people are still clinging to the words they learned 50 or more years ago…as if they were the only valid words to use.
It has long since been time to change. The rest of us can continue to keep the old version memorized, just as I have the BCP version of Psalm 100 memorized. But unless you’re using Rite I in the BCP, it’s time for us to learn…and teach the new generation...the 50-year-old “new” version of The Lord’s Prayer, and be done with it.