Dear Friends,
On January 12, the first Sunday after the Epiphany, we remember the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. The text of Sunday’s closing hymn, “Mark how the Lamb of God’s self-offering,” comes from our hymn-writer friend Carl Daw (b. 1944), who wrote it specifically for the celebration of the Baptism of our Lord. He based his text on the words of Sunday’s Gospel, Matthew 3:13-17. On this day we are invited to renew our own baptismal vows.

Stanza one of “Mark how the Lamb of God’s self-offering” reminds us that the Holy Trinity is present in the waters of baptism. We hear God’s voice thundering from heaven, “Lo, this is my beloved Son.” Then from the heavens the Spirit descends “in dove-like form” on Jesus, God’s Anointed One. In the next stanza the hymn goes on to recall our Lord’s temptation by Satan in the wilderness, which we will hear more about on the first Sunday in Lent, this year on March 1. That Sunday’s Gospel reading, Matthew 4:1-11, immediately follows this week’s passage in Matthew’s Gospel.

The tune which we sing with “Mark how the Lamb of God’s self-offering” appears three times in The Hymnal 1982 . You might recognize it as the tune for the communion hymn “Father, we thank thee who hast planted” (hymn 302). It is attributed to Louis Bourgeois (c. 1510-c. 1561). He was born in Paris and served as cantor and choirmaster at St. Peter’s Church in Geneva, Switzerland, during the time when John Calvin was preaching there. Calvin assigned Bourgeois the task of editing the Genevan Psalter (1551), which contained musical settings of all the psalms and was the hymnal of the Reformed Church. 

The original version of this tune appeared in La Forme des prieres et chantz ecclesiastiques (Strassburg, 1545) to be sung with a setting of Psalm 118. The tune name RENDEZ A DIEU is taken from the first words of that psalm paraphrase in French (Give to God praise and glory). When he edited the Genevan Psalter, Louis Bourgeois presumably changed this melody to the form which we currently use. 

An interesting tidbit that I read about Bourgeois is that he spent the night of December 3, 1551, in jail. His crime? Well, the Genevan Town Council determined that he had made “unacceptable musical alterations.” Although John Calvin had him released, the Council then fired Bourgeois from his employment at the church.

Stanza three concludes the hymn with a beautiful and powerful prayer. I will pray this prayer with our choir before this Sunday’s service as we prepare to lead God’s people in worship. As I reread this hymn stanza, it seems even more powerful and appropriate as we pray for the selection of a new rector at St. Paul’s. Why not pray these words from “Mark how the Lamb of God’s self-offering,” not only as we sing them together, but also in your prayer life during the coming weeks. May God help each of us to remember our baptismal mission to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to all who are oppressed or in need of God’s healing touch.

Mark how the Lamb of God’s self-offering our human sinfulness takes on
In the birthwaters of the Jordan as Jesus is baptized by John.
Hear how the voice from heaven thunders, “Lo, this is my beloved Son.”
See how in dove-like form the Spirit descends on God’s Anointed One.

From this assurance of God’s favor Jesus goes to the wilderness,
There to endure a time of testing that readied him to teach and bless.
So we, by water and the Spirit baptized into Christ’s ministry,
Are often led to paths of service through mazes of adversity.

Grant us, O God, the strength and courage to live the faith our lips declare;
Bless us in our baptismal calling; Christ’s royal priesthood help us share.
Turn us from every false allegiance, that we may trust in Christ alone:
Raise up in us a chosen people transformed by love to be your own.

Grace and Peace,

Mark Meyer
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
166 High Street
Newburyport, MA 01950