Lord, Let Your Servant Go in Peace
Words by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette
Music: tune, AMAZING GRACE
This hymn based on the Song of Simeon (Nunc dimittis) of Luke 2:29-32 was written by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette on the first week anniversary of the death of her mother-in-law. (See additional information on the text in the Hymn Note below.) The Luke passage comes up in the lectionary Gospel reading for the first Sunday after Christmas, Year B.
Carolyn Winfrey Gillette is co-pastor with her husband Bruce of the Limestone Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware. Please see her composer biography.
Hymn Note on "Lord, Let Your Servant Go in Peace"
This hymn of trust was inspired by Simeon's canticle found in Luke 2:29-32. Simeon was a devout Jew who received a promise from the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. When Jesus' parents brought their baby to the Temple, Simeon saw Jesus, took him in his arms, and praised God by offering this simple song. This song is sometimes called Nunc dimittis from its first words in Latin; it is used daily as a part of the Compline/Night/Close of Day prayers in the liturgy of hours (just as canticles of Zechariah and Mary are used daily in the morning and evening prayers), included in the ecumenical Book of Common Worship/Daily Prayer by the Presbyterian Church (USA).
The first verse of the hymn praises God with a paraphrase of the opening words of the ancient song and moves to the present day, giving thanks that we too have seen God's grace -- so we know that all will be well. While later verses acknowledge the problems of life, we are people of faith who know God's love that will make all things right in the end.
The second verse recognizes that there is "suffering, pain and death." Thomas G. Long writes: "In the place of worship, we cannot pray or sing faithfully without our words being full of the sorrows and joys of life" (Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian, page 47). In the face of such, we sing because God's love revealed in Jesus is transforming everything.
The third verse recognizes that, despite our best efforts, there is much in this life that we do not understand; we lack the means to change the world to our wills. When faced with incurable illness and death, we affirm that ultimate healing will come in God's promised gift of everlasting life-- when death will be no more and every tear will be wiped away.
The final verse returns to the story of Christmas, the promise of God-with-us, that Simeon's song follows in Luke 2. Matthew's gospel ends with Jesus' Great Commission sending his followers out into the world to serve and to remember what he has taught, including that he is with us always (Matthew 28:16-20). Earlier Jesus comforts his followers before his death with the promise that he goes to prepare a place for us in his Father's house (John 14) so that we will be with him.
"Lord, Let Your Servant Go in Peace" was written on the first week anniversary of the death of Carolyn's mother-in-law, Louise Gillette. Louise was a loving wife, mother, mother-in-law, grandmother and an enthusiastic supporter of Carolyn's hymn writing from the very beginning. This hymn was first sung at her funeral at the request of Louise's husband of fifty-nine years, Jerry, on December 2, 2010.