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A Pastoral Review of “Lutheran Service Book: Companion to the Hymns”

Joseph Herl, Peter C. Reske, and Jon D. Vieker. Lutheran Service Book Companion to the Hymns

St. Louis: CPH, 2019. 

Vol. 1, 1643 pages; Vol. 2, 931 pages. $179.99, hardcover.

            The two-volume Lutheran Service Book Companion to the Hymns provides a rare combination of deep scholarly research and pastoral applicability. Volume 1 includes commentary on every hymn in LSB, while Volume 2 features a series of useful essays, biographies of hymnists, a glossary, performance suggestions, and a variety of informative indexes and charts. 

            Here are some ways for pastors to use the Companion:

  • Read it devotionally each day, studying the hymn commentary (Vol. 1) and appropriate biography (Vol. 2) for one seasonally appropriate hymn. Then sing the hymn. Commit to this daily, and in two years you will have explored each of the hymns in LSB, read all of Vol. 1 and most of Vol. 2, deepened your insight into Biblical texts and teachings, and likely improved your preaching with the pictures, words, and phraseology that you glean.
  • Employ the Companion to provide a hymn reflection each month for your church newsletter, perhaps introducing a hymn of the month or season.
  • Rely on it for background information as your catechism and Bible classes learn hymns by heart. Singing imprints truths in the mind more permanently than what is heard in a sermon, and treasured hymns bring great comfort and strength at the most difficult times of life.
  • Let the Companion provide ideas, insights, and illustrations from the Hymn of the Day—and other hymns in the service—to enhance your preaching of the Biblical text each Sunday. 
  • Put into practice the suggestions in the essays, for example, “Expanding a Congregation’s Hymn Repertoire,” “Selecting Hymns for the Service,” and “Singing Hymns at Home and School.”
  • “The Hymnal as Prayer Book” explains how to use the hymnal in our devotional lives, which not only benefits us pastors but also sets an example for those we shepherd. 
  • Use the Companion to prepare sermons on hymns. My 2020 Advent midweek sermon series on the weekly Hymns of the Day—and the Biblical texts on which they are based—provided new insights into the Scriptures and freshened my sermons with images and wording that I otherwise would never have employed.
  • Read the biographies in Volume 2 to provide a rich source of real-life homiletical illustrations about Christians fighting the good fight of faith or living with hope during struggles. For example, my congregation appreciated the story of Ambrose as we studied “Savior of the Nations, Come,” and they found the lines in his hymn that combat Arianism.

Pastors who use LSB need the Companion. Yes, it is a bit expensive, but it is worth the investment. If your budget cannot be stretched to purchase the two-volume set, perhaps a music-loving parishioner could be convinced to donate it for your church library, so you, the church musicians, and the entire congregation can access it. If that is not possible, find a generous pastor or musician friend who will lend you a copy frequently.

“Hymns, as forms of the Word, [carry] the divine power of the Gospel to create and strengthen faith and to comfort troubled consciences” (Vol. 2, p. 15). The Lutheran Service Book Companion to the Hymns assists us pastors so that God’s promises can be sung into the hearts of His baptized people.

Bruce E Keseman, M.Div., S.T.M., pastors Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church in Freeburg, Illinois, where he has served for almost thirty years. His wife Christine is an accomplished organist and musician.