As I have compiled this list of my favorite hymns (which are put in the order as they appear in the ELW hymnal, and are, by no means, a complete list of all the pull-my-heartstrings songs), I notice these may not be the most familiar tunes/texts for the veteran Lutherans among us. It is no different for what is currently my favorite hymn in the Lent section of our hymnal, “Seed That in Earth Is Dying” (ELW 330). When it comes to the reasons why certain hymns become our favorites, sometimes it’s just one reason in particular. Other times, there are several.
I’m sure part of the reason why I’m drawn to this hymn (with inspiration from John 12:24, I’m assuming) is the connection to the nostalgic days down on the farm. And yet, there are many reasons why I didn’t continue in the family business: it involves too much risk, too much beyond the farmer’s control, too much patience, too much trust that countless buried seeds will somehow transform into a lush field. As the final verse of the hymn describes (the text of which was originally written in Norwegian by Svein Ellingsen, who died only a few years ago):
Seed that in earth is dying
rises to bear much fruit.
Christ, as we meet at your table,
give us the bread of life.
Lord, we do thank and adore you!
Unceasing praise of the ages
rises from night and death.
The only way to get to the beautiful overflowing harvest is the arduous working of planting in the heat, all while attempting to dodge the hit-and-miss precipitation that could pulverize entire fields. Regardless, the only way to bear the needed fruit is to bury the seed first.
The words also remind me of a sermon I heard from the congregation I grew up being a part of just a few miles from that farm. One of the pastors who led the congregation before I came along had died, and my pastoral care professor from seminary returned to what was his home congregation as well to preach the homily (the deceased pastor had been his internship supervisor). And although I wasn’t there to hear it in-person, I still remember hearing the recording, and being struck by something that seems so obvious, but still felt prophetic in its own right: “The resurrection only works on the dead. You have to die in order to rise.” The preacher went on to make other connections in our day-to-day living, even with the church as a whole: certain practices that may need to die in order to bear fruit for others, but I was still caught up with the original point.
After all, one of the fallacies of pastoral care (or care provided by any of us to someone else), is that we are called to make others happy, or that we can somehow miraculously remove all fears and worries if we say just the right thing. Instead, we are called to be compassionate: a joining with others in their respective feelings. For instance, no matter how often we proclaim the Gospel of everlasting life in Jesus Christ, all made possible by a divine grace beyond human understanding, there will still be children of God fearful of death (many who will never speak about it, either). “What happens when I take my last breath?” “What if I didn’t do enough?” Granted, some are more scared of the dying than the death itself, but regardless, I still find there to be incredible Gospel news in such circumstances, too. That no matter the feelings, even if it incudes the fears or worries, at the end, God can still take “our deepest darkness, [and unleash] life in our night and death.” I appreciate how this hymn’s text and music seemingly coalesce the wide variety of feelings and human experiences, and through it all, still lead to the beautiful eternal fruit. Thanks be to God, indeed!