Dear Friends,
“O Jesus, I have promised” (655 in The Hymnal 1982) is our opening hymn this Sunday. It was written in 1866 by John Ernest Bode (1816-1874) for the confirmation of his three children, so it originally began “O Jesus, we have promised.” The words are based on Luke 9:57, where someone says to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 

John Bode was born in St. Pancras, England, and was ordained in 1841 as a deacon in the Anglican Church. After his ordination as a priest in 1843, he served as rector in two parishes. He wrote a collection of hymns, Hymns from the Gospel of the Day, for Each Sunday and the Festivals of Our Lord (1860), and several volumes of poetry. Although we didn’t know it when we chose “O Jesus, I have promised” for this Sunday, John Bode died on October 6, 1874. This is the only one of his hymns which is still widely sung.
The tune which The Hymnal 1982 uses with “O Jesus, I have promised” is called NYLAND, a province in Finland. Actually, this folk melody probably comes from the Finnish province of Kuortane, so that is the tune name which you will find in some hymnals. The tune first appeared in a 1909 Finnish hymnal, but the composer of this music is unknown. NYLAND was adapted for use in English hymnals by David Evans (1874-1948). He was a well-known Welsh composer of choral and orchestral works, anthems, hymn tunes, and other liturgical music.

“O Jesus, I have promised” is a prayer for Christ’s presence at all times, especially in our struggle against sin and the temptations we encounter every day. Three of the original six stanzas are in our hymnal. When I read the omitted last stanza, I thought that it would be an appropriate prayer this week as we remember St. Francis of Assisi. 

O let me see Thy foot marks, and in them plant mine own;
My hope to follow duly, is in Thy strength alone; 
O guide me, call me, draw me, uphold me to the end; 
And then in Heaven receive me, my Saviour and my Friend!

So, while John Bode wrote this hymn for young people, its words apply to St. Francis and to all Christians of any age. And what a great stewardship message! In response to Jesus’ promise to us that we will be with him forever in glory, may we pledge to follow and serve him always. 

O Jesus, I have promised to serve thee to the end:
Be thou forever near me, my Master and my friend;
I shall not fear the battle, if thou art by my side,
Nor wander from the pathway, if thou wilt be my guide.

O let me hear thee speaking in accents clear and still,
Above the storms of passion, the murmurs of self-will;
O speak to reassure me, to hasten or control;
Grace and Peace,

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