November 30, 2020

Reformation Sunday 2020: Zwingli’s Plague Hymn

Grossmünster, Zurich – 2019 (Zwingli’s church)

Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli contracted the black death (bubonic plague) in Zurich while caring for the sick in 1519. Fearing for his life, he penned this hymn of lament and trust, completing its final four stanzas after his recovery.

On Reformation Sunday, we present this as our own prayer for ourselves and each other, five hundred years later, during a worldwide pandemic that has taken 1.1 million lives, with no end in sight. Lord, have mercy.

Help me, O Lord,
My strength and rock;
Lo, at the door
I hear death’s knock.

Uplift thine arm,
Once pierced for me,
That conquered death.
And set me free.

Yet, if thy voice,
In life’s midday.
Recalls my soul,
Then I obey.

In faith and hope
Earth I resign.
Secure of heaven.
For I am Thine.

My pains increase;
Haste to console;
For fear and woe
Seize body and soul.

Death is at hand.
My senses fail.
My tongue is dumb;
Now, Christ, prevail.

Lo! Satan strains
To snatch his prey;
I feel his grasp;
Must I give way?

He harms me not,
I fear no loss,
For here I lie
Beneath thy cross.

My God! My Lord!
Healed by thy hand.
Upon the earth
Once more I stand.

Let sin no more
Rule over me;
My mouth shall sing
Alone to thee.

Though now delayed,
My hour will come.
Involved, perchance.
In deeper gloom.

But, let it come;
With joy I’ll rise,
And bear my yoke
Straight to the skies.

Comments

  1. Susan Dumbrell says

    We all feel below par a lot of the time.
    I could say mostly I feel I need to be so from my physical self as to not be in the rhythm of the rest of humanity
    Life each day is too much of a challenge
    Susan

  2. dessicated
    the potted mums
    fade to black

  3. I am no more ready for death than I was for life. I can only pray that I will have courage and faith whenever the time comes.

    • Except that with life we had no idea what was coming. Death, however… we’ve seen it over and over and over. I’m not sure that should make us more ready for it, just maybe much more aware of it. That might actually make it worse, since it’s so final.

      • And we do a little dying many times throughout our lifetimes. When we have a traumatic life change or illness, when a close loved one dies or is estranged, we taste death ourselves, and part of us can die. For some people, such little deaths are very common. Yet, none of these little deaths or foretastes of death prepare us for the final one at the end of our life; it is like the others, yet qualitatively different. I suppose because in it we are separated from ourselves in a complete way that renders us totally alone and totally impotent, isolated and powerless. Then, if our faith is true, like Lazarus we wait for Christ to call us forth from our state of total, powerless isolation, back to ourselves, our true selves that have only truly lived in him, that only truly live in him.

  4. Susan Dumbrell says

    How the dark deepens
    We lift our heads looking above
    Shafts of light dazzle

    Susan

  5. Beautiful hymn I’ve never seen before. Thanks for sharing.

  6. From the 1300’s A.D., a prayer of Birgitta of Sweden:

    “O Lord, make haste and illumine the night.
    Say to my soul
    that nothing happens without Your permitting it,
    and that nothing of what You permit is without comfort.
    O Jesus, Son of God,
    You Who were silent in the presence of Your accusers,
    restrain my tongue
    until I find what should say and how to say it.
    Show me the way and make me ready to follow it.
    It is dangerous to delay, yet perilous to go forward.
    Answer my petition and show me the way.
    I come to You as the wounded go to the doctor in search of aid.
    Give peace, O Lord, to my heart. ‘

  7. The Reformation itself was a kind of death. Did it lead to new life or resurrection? Will it? Will Christ call the broken and alienated church out of its grave into a new and resurrected life, never to be alienated from itself again?

    • maybe,
      when the Church’s moral clarity stops being heavy on the finger-pointing and sin-sniffing,
      and becomes focused on the command to love and the bear one another’s burdens
      but until then, the Church suffers a cred problem

      • A significant number of American Christians have wedded themselves to the fortunes of an Administration that has now clearly signaled through its Chief of Staff that it will no longer try (if it ever did try) to prevent the spread of this “plague”, the coronavirus. Young Americans are watching the American Church betray the actual teachings of Jesus about love of neighbor at every turn, and they see the hypocrisy. The Church is alienating them, and alienating itself from its own true identity. “Lazarus come forth.”

  8. step into the night
    and — unexpected surprise! —
    feel the cold rain