re-Hymn: In the Garden (of Gethsemane)

In thinking about preaching this year on Good Friday, the idea came to me to create a minor-keyed arrangement of the classic hymn “In the Garden (I come the Garden Alone).”

So often the music and key of a song can greatly impact the words and meaning. After all, “the medium IS the message” and the WAY we communicate deeply influences WHAT we are trying to communicate.*

In thinking about preaching this year on Good Friday, the idea came to me to create a minor-keyed arrangement of the classic hymn “In the Garden (I come the Garden Alone).” This much beloved (and yet also critiqued as being over sentimental or potentially romantic**) hymn from C. Austin Miles was composed in 1912 and made it into our United Methodist Hymnals soon thereafter.

This re-arranging of this hymn text is heavily influenced by re-imagining the text as written about the Garden of Gethsemane (in Matthew 26:36-46) instead of the resurrection garden encounter (in John 20:11-18) and is also influenced by Black Liberation theologian James Cone‘s God of the Oppressed. Placing this hymn tune’s normal major progression in G C D into and Em Am Bm minor progression and adapting the melody leave it with a haunting, appropriate sense of what it means to sing about being with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane that fateful night just before his arrest and subsequent crucifixion. Here is a rough version of the chords written out.

In the Garden (of Gethsemane) from joseph mcbrayer on Vimeo.

I’ll be singing and preaching more about this hymn at the Emory Office of Spiritual and Religious Life Good Friday service April 14th, 12noon at Cannon Chapel, Emory University.


*Media theorist and author Professor Marshall McLuhan, The Medium Is the Massage (New York: Bantam Books), 1967, 10.

**Choir master and hymnal editor Carlton R. Young, Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: Abingdon Press), 1993, 432-433.

Church Music & Oh God our Help in Ages Past

I believe that there IS excellent, theologically diverse, musically interesting, contextually indigenous, and beautiful music out there–some of it helpful for Christian worship. The challenge as pastors and musicians is to seek it out, sort through it, exegete/dissect it, and make it work in our context/setting.

Let me first say that I’m very skeptical of much modern christian worship music. Secondly, I’m especially skeptical of the “Contemporary Christian Music Industry”–which appears to be mostly concerned with certain (most often very conservative) theological/social perspectives, the music’s ability to play on ‘pop-christian’ radio, and the its ability to sell–that is, to make money. When every band in all of musical Christendom comes out with a “christmas worship album” it is hard NOT to see the dollar signs overtaking and obscuring the Gospel–as well as the context and beauty of music. This is not simply the music industry’s fault, but also the blame lies in our tendency towards laziness and sticking to what we already know. I believe that there IS excellent, theologically diverse, musically interesting, contextually indigenous, and beautiful music out there–some of it helpful for Christian worship. The challenge as pastors and musicians is to seek it out, sort through it, exegete/dissect it, and make it work in our context/setting.

It seems like I’m always having conversations with other musicians, ministers, and college students about music–specifically in this case about WHERE to find good music for worship services in the Christian tradition. That’s at least in part of why I began writing here and posting recordings and thoughts on songs, theology, and media. One such source I’ve discovered is Sojourn Music from Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY. Sojourn is a great example of contextualized, indigenous, and thoughtful church community that produces EXCELLENT music and art. (I first heard about them while in seminary at Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Rev. Barbara Day Miller, Associate Dean of Worship and Music, gave me a set of their CD’s and an article about them she’d run across. I looked at the article and then listened to the music–it was excellent!) Their songs are influenced by variety of musical styles including blues, folk, gospel, and indie rock. After some further research I found that they are a member of the Southern Baptist Convention–a discovery which, as a moderate United Methodist, I found both shocking AND refreshing! Sojourn musicians have a fond appreciation for the hymns of Isaac Watts and do great justice to his words with the original music and with some new arrangements drawing on the native sounds of their context and congregations in Louisville. One of my favorites of their new musical arrangements is “Oh God Our Help in Ages Past” arranged by Brooks Ritter (a gifted musician and song writer with lots of play on Louisville local radio stations). Here is a link to their recorded version.

Finding good worship music is a part of the process–implementing it in a worship setting is often the next step: A few weeks ago we tried it out in worship with the college students at Emory Wesley Fellowship in our Sunday Night Worship service held at Glenn Memorial UMC on Emory’s campus. Here is the resulting recording with guitar, voice, and event some harmonica too.

Here’s Sojourn’s pdf of the chord sheet for Oh-God-Our-Help-in-Ages-Past

O Sacred Head

a classic Lenten hymn used frequently during Holy Week

This passion hymn details the crucifixion story of Jesus and focus on the head of Christ. The words for this medieval hymn come from an anonymous 11th/12th century latin text that is thought to be written either by Bernard of Clairvaux or (more likely) Arnulf of Louvain. The text for O Sacred Head is from the last in a cycle of poems written about the wounds of Christ during the crucifixion (feet, knees, hands, sides, breast, heart, and head).* The hymn’s text pulls from images of the crucifixion as found in Matt 27:27-31, Mark 15:16-20, & John 19:1-5 where a crown of thorns is fashioned and placed on the head of Jesus by the guards who are beating and mocking him. It is a classic Lenten hymn and is used frequently on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday during Holy Week.

The hymn tune comes from Hans L Hassler (1601) and the harmony is by J.S. Bach and comes from his St. Matthew Passion, 1729. However, the tune and text were first matched together by Lutheran musician Johann Crüger in 1656. It later was included in several hymn collections and made its way into western Christianity’s hymnody.*

In the recorded version below I take some license with the musical arrangement and with the meter of the phrasing in this wonderful and ancient hymn of the western church. It can be found in the UMHymnal #286.

“O Sacred Head” chords

(*Many of the notes here are from a the resources and writings of a great United Methodist professor and theologian of church music, Carlton R. Young (editor of United Methodist Hymnal/Companion to the UM Hymnal) and from Diana Sanchez’s introductions to Hymns of the United Methodist Hymnal.)

I Want Jesus to Walk with Me

a version my good friend Rev. Michael A. Hunt and I worked up in Spring of 2009

This is a version my good friend Rev. Michael A. Hunt and I worked up for a worship service at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Spring of 2009. Michael is an excellent and accomplished singer and should be singing instead of me, but he is now in Iowa in work/ministry at Grinnell College. (you can read his blog here)

This song is an African American Spiritual and has deep roots in the black church tradition. As are many spirituals, this song is a prayer–but, as Michael puts it, it is not a prayer of someone who doesn’t think that Jesus is there, but it is a song that helps us to remember and have reaffirmed that fact that Jesus IS with us.

In worship settings it can be used for congregational song or for use as a special music or solo/duet. In this version, the guitar is tuned a 1/2 step down (Eflat) for a more blues-like sound (it can go another whole step down if needed/desired).

It is a suitable song and prayer for the liturgical season of Lent (40 days before Easter) in the Church year and is a fitting song to sing when you’re going through the trials and troubles of life.

I want Jesus to walk with me lyrics/chords (guitar tuned a half step down to Eflat)

As It Is In Heaven by Matt Maher

a great setting of the Lord’s prayer by singer/songwriter Matt Maher

The lyrics of this song come from Psalm 40 (sing a new song) and Matthew 6 (the Lord’s prayer) as penned by Catholic singer/songwriter Matt Maher ( in collaboration with Ed Cash (accomplished singer/songwriter/songcompleter in the christian music/worship realm).

In the process of writing and rewriting this song, Maher writes that he hopes that this song can be one that emphasizes the unity of the Christian faith as all traditions utilize some form of the Lord’s prayer as found in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7.

It gives me hope for the future of church music (and the church) when worship leaders and musicians use ancient words with modern arrangements that have such a high degree of liturgical and practical significance–such as this song. This gives me hope–hope that the Church can move beyond the extremes of traditionalism (tradition for its own sake) and the misunderstanding/denial of traditions &  people who have come before us. I have hope that the Church can continue to express the Christian faith in ways that embrace the ancient, liturgical, & traditional elements of our past while engaging with the modern/post-modern/future elements of our current cultural climate and our contextual understanding of Christianity. Music and worship like what Matt Maher and Marty Reardon (see post below) are doing is giving deeper context and meaning to ancient liturgical words and practices that enable people to gain a deeper understanding of the Christian faith and tradition. May others continue to do so.

Maher is also the author of the popular song “Your Grace is Enough.” One of my favorites from the album “Alive Again” is a deep, meaningful, & liturgical song: “Christ is Risen From the Dead”, which uses the Eastern Orthodox phrase from the Pascha (Easter) “Christ is risen from the dead/trampling over death by death.” It will likely show up here later this liturgical year.

Prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas by Trinity/Martin Reardon

written by the worship team at Trinity Anglican Mission in Atlanta, Ga with worship pastor Martin Reardon

This song is written by the worship team at Trinity Anglican Mission in Atlanta, Ga where worship pastor Martin Reardon and other gifted leaders work and serve. Reardon is an excellent musician, writer, and a down-to-earth, genuine guy with a longing for worship music that connects to the liturgy of the service (more of Martin on youtube).

This song comes from the “Prayers of the Saints” CD that they put out in 2006. My good friend Jarrett Dickey (, who worked at Trinity during seminary brought this song (and many others) to my attention. I have greatly enjoyed getting to know Marty, the good people at Trinity, and their carefully crafted music. (please check out excellent worship music site )

At the Emory Wesley Fellowship, the United Methodist Campus Ministry at Emory University, we sing this song often during communion because of the simple, but profound words and melody and the meaning behind them. The worship team (cello, mandolin, piano, drums & guitar) have a great time with St. Thomas.

The text of this song is adapted from a Eucharistic prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas (12th century) and with its modern musical setting can used from a prayerful, solemn vibe to a medium tempo setting of simply offering thanks to God. There are much better recordings out there, but this should give you an idea of how it can be played and done.

Holy, Holy, Holy by Reginald Heber

a favorite for the opening of worship and is widely sung as an Trinitarian ecumenical hymn

This hymn is a favorite for the opening of worship on Sunday mornings for many congregations but is also widely sung as an ecumenical hymn due to its circulation and familiarity in multiple contexts. 

The author intended this hymn’s text to be sung following the saying of the Nicene Creed on Trinity Sunday and draws from the biblical imagery of Revelation 4:8-11 and Isaiah 6. In the early 20th century, this text, with its current hymn tune was recommended to be used in celebrating Communion and is often still used for this purpose. (Rublev’s Icon of the Trinity from 14th century Russia at right).

Heber was an Anglican priest and bishop of Calcutta in India and was a well known hymn writer. This hymn can be found in the United Methodist Hymnal #64 along with other hymns he penned including “Bread of the World” UMH #688.

The imagery and language of this hymn is Trinitarian in its scope and invites those who are singing into a space to worship and praise God. For me, this hymn is one of many examples of hymns whose content and musicality can still translate and be brought into our post-modern context (barring a few exchanges of “wert” for “were”). This is a “classic” hymn in my book and one that can unite people from various traditions, backgrounds, and experiences in worship of our Triune God.

chords for Holy, Holy, Holy

God of this City–by Bluetree

This is another example of a modern song that is born out of the difference between the classic “now and not yet”–the idea that things of the world now are not as they should be.

This song is written by Aaron Boyd of the band Bluetree from Belfast, Ireland. It has been made popular by Chris Tomlin and other worship leaders, but knowing the song’s context for me gives more meaning (see below for link). I prefer the stripped down, simpler version of this song for worship settings. (My general preference is for simple, congregationally driven worship songs/hymns.)

For me, the “city” in this song is more than just a single city, locality, or nation–it is the City of God that St. Augustine wrote about in the 5th century–it is a city of God’s people doing God’s will. That is what the kingdom of God looks like and that is what Jesus’ ministry began: the coming of God’s Kingdom. As Christians, we work together with all of God’s people to bring about the Kingdom of God– a place where broken people are made whole, hope is given to the hopeless, and God’s grace abounds.

This song reminds us that there is much to be done and greater things have yet to come. Jesus said this in John 1 to his disciples and we believe it still today: Greater things have yet to come, greater things are still to be done to reconcile us to ourselves, us to each other, us to the created order, and us to God.

The story (& a much better recording) of the song is here.

Everlasting God–cover

If you take a moment to think about where and how you have experienced God–in a moment, a place, or an action–you may discover a touchstone or ordinance (religious rite) that helps keep you in love of God and neighbor.

This is a song by Brenton Brown/Ken Riley written using Isaiah 40’s words that those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength and rise up on the wings of eagles.

The song also embraces the prophet’s (and God’s) desire for justice for those in need–the weak and poor. For me, these needy and weak persons can be both us who sing these songs in worship and those who are poor in other ways. In either case our salvation is tied up together–in helping save others lives (not simply ‘souls’ but a more holistic salvation) through mission and service and evangelism–we also receive God’s salvation.

This subject of “waiting” is a popular one in the prophetic literature and in the Psalms. But, this type of waiting is (in my opinion) not what some would call christian “quietism” in the sense of passive waiting upon God to act or speak. This was a popular doctrine in catholic and protestant circles in the 17th century.

John Wesley, the Anglican priest and father of Methodism, said that christians must “attend to the ordinances of God.” That is that people striving to follow the ways of Jesus should actively wait upon God by going where God is conveyed. (And yes God is everywhere, but the argument can be made that God is better revealed and made known to us in certain places, spaces, and actions. In this is we who need a change of venue or pace in order to recognize the God that is ever-present.)

If you take a moment to think about where and how you have experienced God–in a moment, a place, or an action–you may discover a touchstone or ordinance (religious rite) that helps keep you in love of God and neighbor. How do you keep that ordinance or touchstone in your daily life now?

As one of my favorite seminary professors Rex Matthews has said of our participation in God’s work–if you want to catch the bus, you go to a bus stop…if you want to hear from/experience God, go to where God is.

Many experience this place/space at church in worship, communion, singing, praying, in conversation with friends and family, or in other ways. Whatever/where-ever it is, find it and go to it often. This is what John Wesley was talking about–where and how do you find/connect to God and what God is doing in, through, with and, even, in spite of you?

It is in our “active waiting in that place/space/event that we find strength to live and move and act in the world in ways that express the Love of Jesus Christ God.

chords and words for Everlasting God