Having spent the past almost 6 weeks reflecting on endurance in the face of tribulation, we now begin a season of hope, as we close in on the end of the Church Year. This final part of the Trinity half-year is named All Saints-tide, for the November 1 feast which ushers in these 4 weeks. Our certain hope is grounded in the Eschaton (the Last Day) with its promise of eternal life in Jesus for those who believe in Him-crucified for the forgiveness of their sins. We have chosen LSB 639, Wide Open Stand the Gates as our AD 2021 All Saints-tide seasonal hymn. In this hymn, we sing of God’s service to us, particularly in His Supper, in which He joins heaven and earth, giving us a glimpse of the eternal feast to come (Revelation 19:6-9). As He calls and gathers us here to receive His gifts at least weekly throughout the Church Year, God gives us the “strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:18).
The first stanza opens with a picture of heaven, the New Jerusalem, with her gates of pearl which are never closed (Revelation 21:12, 21, 25), and God’s golden throne (Exodus 25:17, 22, 37:6) at the center. The saints and all the company of heaven surround God’s throne, joyously praising Him (Revelation 5), and watch Him descend to earth, to bring forgiveness, life and salvation to His beggar-saints awaiting below (Matthew 16:18-19, 18:18-20). The second stanza continues with that which Jesus is doing upon His descent to us, namely feeding us with His Supper. We sing of His Words of Institution, now chanted to us through Pastor (Matthew 26:26-28 and parallels). When we partake of Jesus’ very Body and Blood in, with and under the bread and wine, we proclaim His death while we await His final coming (1 Corinthians 11:26). Our Savior’s Body bears the wounds of His Passion into eternity (Revelation 5:6). It is by His wounded Body and shed Blood that we are healed (Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24). He is truly both Host and Meal for us (“Gives His Body for the feast – Christ the victim, Christ the priest,” LSB 633.2), a concept which our native human reason cannot fathom but for which we give our eucharisteo, or thanks. The third and final stanza, gives us the image of that which is taking place in heaven as Jesus comes to us in His Supper. We behold the cherubim and the saints who have gone before us singing His praise (Isaiah 6:1-3; Revelation 4:4-5:14),1 and with whom we join when we sing the Sanctus in the Service of the Sacrament (“Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising You and saying: Holy, holy, holy …”). Through the Sacrament, God binds us together as one (1 Corinthians 10:17), joins earth and heaven (Isaiah 6:3), and present and eternity.
Wide Open Stand the Gates appeared for the first time in a collection of hymns, prayers, psalms and meditations published by Johann Konrad Wilhelm Löhe (1808-72), to help Christians prepare for Confession/Absolution and the Lord’s Supper. While the hymn itself was unattributed in the book, it is very consistent with Löhe’s teaching on the Lord’s Supper and thus it is assumed that he is the author. Löhe, who served for many years in Neuendettelsau, Germany, worked to reclaim the theological and liturgical treasures of Confessional Lutheranism from the Pietism and Rationalism that had taken hold of the Church.2 On a personal level, he was deeply impacted by the death of his wife at age 24, and yearned for the Last Day, when all of God’s saints would be joined at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. He engaged in acts of mercy to the sick and the aged, and founded the Deaconess House, which brought unmarried girls and young women into the life of the Church and her outreach ministry. Finally, Löhe provided pastors to the rapidly expanding Confessional Lutheran Church in the United States.
We are thankful to God for sending His Son to die on the Cross to atone for our sins, and to rise again to declare us right with Him (Romans 4:25). We are thankful for the certain hope that He has given us of eternal life in His Kingdom. We are thankful for His gathering us together to receive the constant assurance which enables us to hold fast to this hope, even in times of trial and tribulation. We are thankful to God for His work through Rev Löhe to gift us this hymn to sing as the Supper is being prepared for us. Finally, we are thankful to God for your presence with us today and pray His richest blessings on you as you receive His gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation in our midst.
- The cherubim are implicitly present in Isaiah 6, in association with the throne (Exodus 25:22; Psalm 99:1; Isaiah 37:16). The four living creatures in Revelation 4, while not explicitly identified as cherubim, fit closely with Ezekiel’s description of these angels (Ezekiel 1:4-28, 10:1-22).
- Pietism places pious desires and emotions above pure doctrine. Rationalism is the worship of reason over divine revelation.