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Water, Blood, and Spirit Crying

July 28, 2009

I have been thinking about baptism a lot lately, so I thought I would discuss a hymn from the “baptismal life” section of Lutheran Service Book.  “Water, Blood, and Spirit Crying” (LSB 597) has a text written by Rev. Stephen Starke, with the tune (FILTER) by Jeffrey Blersch, who is the Organ Professor at Concordia University Nebraska and was my organ professor for three years, even if he would like to disavow all knowledge of that.  Strangely enough, I submitted a tune for this text during my freshman year, which was obviously not accepted and was not very good at all.  Continuing my association with this hymn, I was in Dr. Blersch’s choir when he premiered his concertato on this hymn.  So this hymn and I go back a long way.

The main Scriptural basis for this hymn is 1 John 5:5-8: 5Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 6This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7For there are three that testify: 8the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. This hymn focuses on the certainty of Christ’s redemptive work for us, to which water, blood and Spirit testify.  The water is the water of Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist, the blood is His blood shed on the cross, and the Spirit is that same Spirit poured out on the disciples at Pentecost.  However, each witness also comes to life in our lives.  This hymn fleshes that out.

The first and last stanzas function as bookends and use John 10:10 as a sort of refrain: I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. Stanza One: Water, blood, and Spirit crying, By their witness testifying To the One whose death-defying Life has come, with life for all.  And Stanza Five: Spirit, water, blood entreating, Working faith and its completing In the One whose death-defeating Life has come, with life for all. In between these two stanzas we see the three witnesses functioning in our lives as believers in Christ.

Stanza Two speaks of Baptism: In a wat’ry grave are buried All our sins that Jesus carried; Christ, the Ark of Life, has ferried Us across death’s raging flood. In this stanza we hear echoes of Luther’s Small Catechism, the Fourth part under The Sacrament of Holy Baptism: What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Whereis this written? St. Paul writes in Romans, chapter six: “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

The second half of Stanza Two recalls the story of The Flood and God saving Noah and his family in the ark.  First of all, the Church has traditionally been depicted by an ark or ship, and in fact many church are built to reflect just that imagery.  Also, in the Liturgy of Holy Baptism in Lutheran Service Book (p268) we have Luther’s flood prayer, which ties The Flood together with Baptism: Almighty and eternal God, according to Your strict judgment You condemned the unbelieving world through the flood, yet according to Your great mercy You preserved believing Noah and his family, eight souls in all. You drowned hard-hearted Pharaoh and all his host in the Red Sea, yet led Your people Israel through the water on dry ground, foreshadowing this washing of Your Holy Baptism. Through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, You sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin. We pray that You would behold [name(s)] according to Your boundless mercy and bless [him/her/them] with true faith by the Holy Spirit, that through this saving flood all sin in [him/her/them], which has been inherited from Adam and which [he himself / she herself / they themselves] [has/have] committed since, would be drowned and die. Grant that [he/she/they] be kept safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church, being separated from the multitude of unbelievers and serving Your name at all times with a fervent spirit and a joyful hope, so that, with all believers in Your promise, [he/she/they] would be declared worthy of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Stanza Three shows us Christ feeding us His body and blood in the presence of our greatest enemy, death:  Dark the way, yet Christ precedes us, Past the scowl of death He leads us; Spreads a table where He feeds us With His body and His blood. This stanza echoes part of Psalm 23: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. In the Lord’s Supper we receive the true Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of all our sins.  This sustains us in throughout our earthly lives, as it so beautifully says in one of the post-communion collects (p166, right column): Gracious God, our heavenly Father, You have given us a foretaste of the feast to come in the Holy Supper of Your Son’s body and blood.  Keep us firm in the true faith throughout our days of pilgrimage that, on the day of His coming, we may together with all Your saints, celebrate the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen. The Lord’s Supper is our life-blood in this sin-filled world.

Stanza Four speaks of the Spirit acting through the Word of God, which is where we know He will be found.  As a Lutheran theologian (whose name I cannot remember) said, “There is no Spirit-less Word and no Word-less Spirit.”  Though around us death is seething, God, His two-edged sword unsheathing, By His Spirit life is breathing Through the living, active Word. God’s Word is powerful and will always accomplish what He ordains it to do.  We cling to the Word, for through it our faith is strengthened and the Spirit works in us.

The three witnesses spoken of in this hymn are nothing more than what Lutherans call the Means of Grace: The Word and Sacraments.  We walk each day by faith, believing God’s promise that in Baptism He has made us His child, and that He keeps us through the Lord’s Supper and the Word.  Indeed, through the Means of Grace “Life has come, with life for all.”  Amen!  Thanks be to God!

Water, Blood, and Spirit Crying – LSB 597

1 Water, blood, and Spirit crying,
By their witness testifying
To the One whose death-defying
Life has come, with life for all.

2 In a wat’ry grave are buried
All our sins that Jesus carried;
Christ, the Ark of Life, has ferried
Us across death’s raging flood.


3 Dark the way, yet Christ precedes us,
Past the scowl of death He leads us;
Spreads a table where He feeds us
With His body and His blood.


4 Though around us death is seething,
God, His two-edged sword unsheathing,
By His Spirit life is breathing
Through the living, active Word.


5 Spirit, water, blood entreating,
Working faith and its completing
In the One whose death-defeating
Life has come, with life for all.

© 1999 Stephen P. Starke. Used by permission: LSB Hymn License .NET, no. 100011479.

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From → Church Music, Hymns

One Comment
  1. Vicki Schnack permalink

    Another amazing set of words! I would also love to teach this to our congregation, but ….

    Since they only know about 3 hymns and refuse to learn any others, I’m kind of stuck!

    Oh well, I can dream:)

    Vicki

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