The following post was written in February 2011. As I type, Beth and I are about three weeks out from meeting our third child. Rest assured, Children of the Heavenly Father will be sung at his baptism, and yes, I will probably cry again.
One of the lasting memories of my childhood was seeing my mother cry in church. This was not for anything my brothers or I did, mind you (although I’m sure such moments did occur), but because of one particular melody that had (and has) the unique ability to turn an unflappable mother of four boys into a blubbering puddle of tears.
Children of the heavenly father
Safely in his bosom gather.
Nestling bird nor star in heaven
Such a refuge ne’er was given.
It didn’t help matters that the song is one of the most omnipresent in all of Lutheran hymnody. Even Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress Is Our God isn’t as oft-repeated as this simple Swedish folk tune. While Luther’s “battle hymn” is largely reserved for festival days like Reformation Sunday, Children of the Heavenly Father is used to mark every major milestone in a congregant’s life. Be it baptism, confirmation, marriage, funeral—it is understood that such celebrations of life or remembrances of life past are to be accompanied by the hymn.
At our church, Children of the Heavenly Father was the official hymn sung at every baptism. And living in a growing suburban neighborhood, we had a lot of baptisms. When opening the bulletin, we recognized the hymn on sight (hymn number 474 in the old Lutheran Book of Worship), and would take no small joy in pointing it out to mom before the service started. She would always vow that she wasn’t going to cry this time, but before the first verse was completed, there were always tears streaming down her face. Dad kept a handkerchief in his church suit pocket, just in case there was a baptism scheduled for that Sunday.