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A Missions/Outreach Review of “Lutheran Service Book: Companion to the Hymns”

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

St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2019.

Volume 1: 1643 pages, volume 2: 931 pages. $179.99, hardcover.

CPH appropriately describes the new LSB: Companion to the Hymns as “the definitive resource on the hymnody of Lutheran Service Book.” It is indeed that, which makes it an especially invaluable resource for missions and outreach. 

While all Christians are given to share the joy we have in Jesus, that calling/duty finds a specific focus in mission work, and hymns are especially well-suited for this expression. The better we know our hymns, the more we are able to use them, not only to share our joy, but also to teach and confess the faith. This two-volume companion contains a vast treasure of historical, musical, and devotional information, making it an excellent resource for outreach.

The essays at the beginning of volume 1 teach and support a broad usage of the hymnal, covering topics such as the value of hymns for catechesis, use of the hymnal as a primary prayer book, and introducing hymnody that is not tied to a particular culture. Encouraging the use of hymnals and demonstrating how hymns unite us is critical in mission work. The variety of topics is both helpful and inspirational.

The commentaries are useful for the specialized task of translating hymns into local languages. Sometimes hymn texts evolve as they are translated into other languages or edited for different hymnals. The essay may track those changes, helping to clarify the doctrinal truth. Comparing translations can help a translator grasp the nuances of meaning, resulting in a broader theological understanding.

For instance, the essay for O Lord, How Shall I Meet You (LSB 334) explains how a first person singular perspective can still be ultimately centered on Christ. Lutheran hymns generally avoid writing in first person. This subtle, but crucial, distinction, is not easily grasped by a non-native English speaker.

The essay on If Your Beloved Son, O God (568) is a good example of how a text can speak to our specific needs, even though it is centuries old. Heermann wrote this hymn during the Thirty Year’s War (1618–48) but based it on an eleventh century meditation. Thus, this hymn has comforted Christians for centuries. No time period or culture has escaped hard times. In the midst of our own particular despairs and oppressions, this hymn delivers the Gospel clearly and directly.

Common misconceptions in the mission field are that most LSB hymns are drawn from the LCMS tradition, or from other American or German sources. The Indices in Volume 2 provide helpful information to counter these assumptions, with charts for origin of texts by time period, country, and original language.

This Companion is also available in digital form, which is especially attractive when traveling and working in the field.

Using music in missions brings with it the responsibility to know our hymnal and hymns well. Knowledge of hymns moves us to a more committed and active use of them, which in turn draws others into them. I highly recommend the LSB Hymnal Companion for this purpose.

Deaconess Sandra Rhein serves as Sacred Music Educator in Asia. She is Coordinating Editor of hymnals in Swahili and Amharic and is currently assisting with hymnals in Chinese and Indonesian.