Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church - Marshfield, WI

Lent Devotional - Feb 27, 2023

Hymn: “Jesus, Grant That Balm and Healing” (LSB #421)

Our hymn was composed by the hymnwriter Johann Heermann. Johann’s hymns are always reflective of pain and suffering in the light of Jesus Christ who suffered for us and grants us healing through His suffering for us.

Johann Heermann was born in 1585 and died in 1647. He was the only surviving child of his mother and father. The pain of losing four children was only intensified when Johann became severely ill as a child. Fearing their fifth child would die as well caused Johann’s mother to make a vow to God that if Johann lived, he would become a pastor. Johann did indeed recover from the illness which caused great relief for his parents. Her vow caused her to beg for the necessary funds to allow Johann to go to school.
Johann did manage to go to university and did well, eventually becoming a teacher. But when he caught an infection in his eyes in 1610, he returned home.

Finally in 1611, at the age of 25, Johann did indeed become a pastor in the Lutheran Church and began his duties in the church on Ascension Day before becoming ordained shortly after All Saints Day.
It was then in 1617 that the Thirty Years’ War broke out in Europe and devasted his parish and his people. More than once, Johann had to flee his home due to war, and on multiple occasions lost all his earthly possessions.

Yet, he continued to preach and proclaim the Gospel. His most serious tragedy came in 1623 when he suffered an infection to the throat that would continue to grow worse until he could no longer preach and had to retire from his position as pastor in 1634. He continued to write poetry and hymns until his death in February of 1647, just a year shy of the end of the Thirty Years’ War. He spent most of his life and his ministry preaching and singing of Christ in a time of war.
Most of Johann’s hymns reflect the pain and suffering that he had endured for most of his life. But they all point to the undeserved suffering that Jesus Christ had won. In our hymn for this week, Johann is key to point out that in the sufferings of Jesus, he would find balm and healing for his throat, his country, and his soul.

Johann also stands at a crossroads between two other great Lutheran Hymn writers: Martin Luther and Paul Gerhardt. Between these two Lutheran giants, Johann stands at a time when hymns changed from the objective standpoint of truth and teaching to the 17th century focus on subjective and experiential hymn writing.
Therefore, many hymns by Johann Heermann exhibit points of both. His hymns are recognized often by depth of feeling: a firm faith in the face of trial and crisis, a genuine love of Jesus Christ, and bending the knee to the will of God. One cannot help but see that God’s love in Jesus animated and encouraged Johann Heermann through war, loss, pain, and much suffering. Seeing what Christ suffered for him was a glory that Johann Heermann was keen to write and share in his hymns. Those who likewise suffer will find a voice with his hymns.

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