For today’s commemoration of Bernard of Clairvaux, our devotion comes from Celebrating the Saints.
Bernard of Clairvaux was an eleventh-century monk who belonged to the Cistercian Order, which was based on the strict Benedictine Rule. Though Bernard was imperfect like the rest of us sinners, we thank God for using Bernard to preach and write Gospel-filled hymns. We end our devotion with a hymn that is attributed to the monk himself.
Instead of the intellectually heavy approach to theology characterized by Scholasticism, Bernard was a champion of a warm faith that stressed trust in the Crucified. The hymns “O Jesus, King Most Wonderful!” and “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” derive from the heritage left us by Bernard.
His typically comforting, Gospel-drenched preaching stood at times in tension with the blindness of the age. He could preach the sweet comfort of the blood of Christ and then urge the recruits to the second crusade to atone their sin and appease God’s wrath by bloodying their swords.
There is in all of this a parallel with Martin Luther. Though not a noble, when he chose the monastery against his parent’s will, he chose the toughest one. He ruined his health as a monk with his austere practices. He had a fire of love when he preached that focused upon Christ and Him crucified. He brought comfort to the troubled conscience through Christ’s loving sacrifice. Luther wrote hymns that celebrated his Lord. And while he could write the most beautiful and comforting words, he also was capable of spewing out horrific things against the Jews and against the peasants at their revolt. Both men were called upon by civil authorities to help with various political troubles. Both were finally men who were indeed “earthen vessels” through whom God delighted to give His Church great treasures.
We do not commemorate any of the saints because they were perfect. We commemorate them because they were forgiven and through them God has given us a mirror of His grace.
O Jesus, King most wonderful!
O Conqueror renowned!
O Source of peace ineffable,
In whom all joys are found:
When once You visit darkened hearts,
Then truth begins to shine,
Then earthly vanity departs,
Then kindles love divine.
May ev’ry heart confess Your name,
Forever You adore,
And, seeking You, itself inflame
To seek You more and more!
Hymn stanzas are from Lutheran Service Book 554:1–2, 4.
Devotional reading is from Celebrating the Saints, pages 146–47 © 2016 William C. Weedon. Published by Concordia Publishing House.