Kennedy-Schalk Hymn:

We Had to Have Him Put Away





We had to have him put away,

For what if he’d grown vicious?

To play faith-healer, give away

Stale bread and stinking fishes!


His soapbox preaching set the tongues

Of all the neighbors going.

Odd stuff: how lilies never spin

And birds don’t bother sowing.


Why, bums were coming to the door—

His pockets had no bottom—

And then—the footwash from that whore!

We signed. They came and got him.





Hymn Background


This hymn was first sung in our church as the gradual hymn before the reading of the Gospel on Passion Sunday, March 29, 2015—about how the disciples abandoned their Lord on the day he was crucified. The hymn dwells on what’s so offensive about Jesus. It does this by lifting up seldom used Bible verses—on the woman of the city washing the feet of Jesus with her tears, in Luke 7:37–38; on his preaching about the lilies and the birds, in Matthew 6:25–33; and on his parable about inviting poor and maimed strangers into our homes for supper, in Luke 14:12–14. This is the offensive center of the hymn—and of Christianity in large part as well (John 6:61; The Book of Concord, 1959, ed Tappert, p. 139). It answers the question raised in the 16th century hymn, “Ah, Holy Jesus,” on why Christ has offended [Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), hymn 123]. Driving this point home, it steers clear of salvation—but, then, again, neither does “Now Thank We All Our God,” or “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” say anything about this offense (LBW 534, 320). That, however, doesn’t make them faulty hymns, just as this hymn isn’t faulty because of its chosen Biblical theme.


New hymns about the offended—OFFENSUS (which is the title of this Schalk tune)—are rare these days. Martin Luther was especially scornful of Christians who would rather hear nothing of it. He thought they deserved to go straight to the devil, “and die like pigs”—since they belittle the truth that “if we expect God to be gracious to us, we will have to submit when he rebukes and punishes us as knaves and sinners” (Luther’s Works 43:228). So our best hymns should “move the listener’s soul,” as Luther says, which they do when they “humble the proud” and “terrify the happy” (LW 53:323).


Since this hymnic and theological emphasis has been a major part of Pastor Marshall’s ministry over the years—[see his articles: “Our Serpent of Salvation: The Offense of Jesus in John’s Gospel,” Word & World 21 (Fall 2001) 385–393; “A Scandalous Christ,” The Christian Ministry 28 (Jan/Feb 1997) 10–12; “Christ as a Sign of Contradiction,” Pro Ecclesia 6 (Fall 1997) 479–487; “Debunking the Jesus Video,” Lutheran Forum 33 (Christmas 1999) 50–51; “Tempted to Lose Christ,” Dialog 28 (Summer 1989) 233, 236; “Preaching Against the Cross,” Lutheran Partners 19 (Sept/Oct 2003) 24–29; “Beneath God’s Righteous Frown,” The Bride of Christ 26 (Pentecost 2002) 10–14; “Eaten Alive: Jonah in Children’s Books,” Touchstone 21 (April 2008) 22–26.]—which involves lifting up what the historian Paul Johnson has called the pessimistic or dark side of Christianity [A History of Christianity (1977) p. 47], he believes that championing this new hymn is the best way for him to honor God on his 35th Anniversary of Ordination (June 25, 2014).


The text of this hymn was originally entitled, “A Scandal in the Suburbs” [from In a Prominent Bar in Secacus: New and Selected Poems (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008], and is by the poet, X. J. Kennedy (b. 1929), winner of the Lamont Poetry Prize in 1961, and the Poetry of America’s Robert Frost Medal for lifetime service in poetry in 2009. The tune was composed by Carl F. Schalk (b. 1929)—one of the leading church musicians of our time [Nancy M. Raabe, Carl F. Schalk: A Life in Song (Saint Louis: Concordia, 2013) pp. 1–2].


Praising the Hymn


Dana Gioia, the Judge Widney Professor of Poetry and Public Culture at the University of Southern California, the former chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts (2003–2009), and an active Roman Catholic, says that the Kennedy text makes for “a fine hymn.” And Carl E. Braaten, Professor Emeritus at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, thinks that the text isn’t confusing, but “crystal clear.” And Michael Aune, Professor Emeritus of Liturgical & Historical Studies at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary of California Lutheran University, notes that the text is “very Forde-ean (as in Gerhard) where the atonement has a head-on collision with sin, evil, and the powers-that-be,” which makes it a “most apt” gradual hymn for Passion Sunday.


Philip H. Pfatteicher, liturgical scholar and author of many books on Lutheran worship, believes this is a “bold” hymn precisely because of its text. And Deborah Loftis, Executive Director of the Hymn Society in the US and Canada, also finds the text to be “provocative,” and thinks Schalk’s tune is “well-matched and sings easily.” Sean Burton, editor of The Choral Scholar, also likes the tune and thinks the hymn is “well-suited” for use as a gradual hymn on Passion Sunday. Paul Westermeyer, Emeritus Professor of Church Music, Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, Minnesota, and author of the acclaimed study, The Church Musician (1988; revised 1997), likes Schalk’s “mournful” tune, and thinks the “shock-value” of the text makes it a fine hymn for Passion Sunday—even as the Hymn of the Day.


(adapted from The Messenger, March & April 2015)