The image above may be a riddle to you. Goat and Compasses? This is in fact the name of a pub in Hull, believed to have been altered from the older name ‘God encompasseth’, and it is a clue to today’s hymn from Sing Praise…
‘Who can measure heaven and earth?’ by Christopher Idle. The words celebrate the Wisdom of God as personified in the first chapter of the book of Ecclesiasticus / Koheleth. There are six lines to each verse, for which a tune is provided in the book, but it’s not well known, and John used the better known ‘England’s Lane’.
portrayed in Ecclesiasticus and some other places in the Bible as a female character
very close to the creator God. A such,
she is sometimes identified with the Word of God (Christ) and sometimes with
the Holy Spirit. In this hymn, what is celebrated are the
wisdom of God shown in the complexity of creation, the secret knowledge of God
that we can never know, his gift of wisdom to people in general and to those who
love him in particular, and wisdom’s eternal nature outlasting earthly things.
quibble I would have is with the first couplet of verse 4, which surely needs
some qualification. “Wisdom gives the surest wealth, brings her children life
and health”. Neither wealth in the usually understood sense of money and
possessions, nor health in the sense of physical and mental well-being, necessarily
go with wisdom, although the wise person makes careful use of what wealth they
have, and faith does help with mental health. So the verse should perhaps be understood in
the light of Jesus’ teaching about not worrying for tomorrow and making friends
with the wealth that we have.
from Sing Praise is ‘There is a redeemer’ by Keith and Melody Green. Dated 1982
on the copyright, I’ve known this song since probably not long after that.
The song praises
Jesus by several of his Biblical titles: Son of God, Lamb of God, Messiah
(Christ), Holy One, Redeemer, Name above all names, King for ever. The chorus invokes all three persons of the
Trinity: ‘Thank you O my Father for giving us your Son, and leaving your Spirit
till the work on earth is done’.
criticism would be that there is an inconsistency whether we are singing to
God (‘Jesus my Redeemer’, ‘Thank you O my Father’) or about him
(‘There is a Redeemer’, ‘I will see his face’). It’s an inconsistency that we have found in
other songs, but I prefer it if a song or hymn is clearly one or the other: are
we encouraging our fellow singers in the faith or expressing a personal faith
directly to God? The style of the music suggests the latter. So why not reword
it ‘You are the Redeemer’, ‘I will see your face’?
from Sing Praise is ‘O Changeless Christ, forever new’ by Timothy Dudley-Smith.
Unusually for one of his hymns it is set to an old (early 19th
of Christ is invoked in the first verse to ‘draw our hearts as once you drew
the hearts of other days’ and in the last to ‘bring us home, to taste at last
the timeless joys of heaven’. Other verses ask him to teach us as he taught the
people of his own day, still troubled hearts as he stilled the storm, heal
today as he did then, and to make himself known in the bread and wine of Communion.
is truth in saying that Christ is changeless, that can all too often be used as
an excuse to resist change in the Church. The ways that the ‘Early Church’ (or for that
matter the Church of 17th century England) taught and worshipped don’t
have to remain unchanged. The often-asked question ‘What would Jesus do?’ appeals
to the changeless elements of his teaching (love God, love your neighbour, bring
hope and healing in his name) but should not be used to oppose those who seek
change in patterns of worship or more acceptance of people whose lifestyles
diverge from what is seen as the Christian ideal. We have to work out the application of
Scripture in our own generation while not losing sight of the core of the
from Sing Praise is ‘All heaven declares the glory of the risen Lord’ by Noel
and Tricia Richards. It’s a simple devotional song in two verses that hails
Jesus as the sacrificial lamb of God, as well as the glorious risen King (the
reason why I chose this for Christ the King week).
half of the two verses looks identical at first but there’s a subtle
difference: in the first, ‘Forever he will be … I worship him alone’,
and in the second, ‘Forever you will be … I worship you alone’. In worship we sometimes start by affirming
our faith together and then move on to more devotional songs where it is the
individual praising the Lord for what he has done.
hymn from Sing Praise is ‘Christ Triumphant, ever reigning’ by Michael Saward.
I chose it to reflect the theme of Christ the King that the Church observes on
this Sunday before Advent.
As I’m also
preaching today, I read up on the origins of this festival. I knew it had
originated in the Roman Catholic church, but it seems it was instituted by the
then Pope in the 1930s as a deliberate reaction against the fascism of the
Italian government of the time. Where
the earthly power was concentrated in the hands of a dictator who could command
a top-down approach to society and impose restrictions on groups out of favour
with the regime, when we think of Christ as King it is as one who uses his
power to enable others to flourish, not to control them. In the parables of Jesus, especially the ones
about the sower and the mustard seed, the task of the Church is to plant seeds
of hope in people’s lives, which God can then grow into fruitful activity. It’s a bottom-up, ‘grass roots’ approach to
transforming society, totally at odds with the controlling tendency of many worldly
But back to
the words of the hymn. Although there is mention here of Christ’s humility, his
willingness to act as the ‘suffering servant, scorned, ill treated, victim crucified’,
the emphasis here is not on the growth of the Church but on the Christ who
after his resurrection ascended into heaven to be King of the world (or indeed
universe). This ‘Lord of heaven’, this ‘Priestly king enthroned for ever’, is
worthy of the praise of those he has redeemed. That is why the hymn is also threaded
through with the language of worship: ‘hear us as we sing’, ‘sin and death and
hell shall never stifle hymns of love’, ‘ceaselessly upon you gazing, this
shall be our song’. And the song itself?
‘Yours the glory and the crown, the high renown, the eternal name’.
outlooks are needed to understand what we mean by the Kingdom of Christ: his victory
over death and reign in heaven, but also his coming on earth (in flesh then and
in spirit now) to enable the outworking of his kingdom in myriad small ways, as
seeds of faith are sown and individuals and communities enabled to flourish.
from Sing Praise is ‘Sing, my soul when hope is sleeping’ by John Bell and
Graham Maule. Unusually for their hymns,
instead of a Scottish tune the compilers of the book suggest the high Victorian
‘Cross of Jesus’ with its associations with the Crucifixion. I think John did
the right thing writing his own gentler tune with minor modulating to major to
reflect the theme of the hymn, which is that singing can lift us out of
verses each offer one of more reasons to sing, not as a response to feeling
happy but to generate a mood of at least contentment, when circumstances would tempt
us to despair. ‘When hope is sleeping,
when faith gives way to fears, to melt the ice of sadness’; ‘when sickness
lingers, to dull the sharpest pain’, when I have wandered far away from God,
and ‘when light seems darkest, when night refuses rest, though death should
mock the future’.
happens, the day before this came up in our schedule I was unexpectedly taken
to hospital – nothing serious, but I was lying on a trolley for several hours
waiting for a doctor to discuss the result of tests. Even though I was not in physical pain, I found
that in the confusion, the not-knowing, the sounds of the pain of other
patients, singing hymns and the evening prayer canticles from memory (under my
breath, not aloud) was a way of coping.
The hymn I
selected from Sing Praise for 17 November was ‘Safe in the shadow of the Lord’
by Timothy Dudley-Smith. It’s based on Psalm 91, which is traditionally used at
Compline (night prayer) as it speaks of trust in God at the end of the day. The gentle tune by Norman Warren is also well
suited to the end-of-the-day feel of the hymn.
verse is most specific about this: ‘From fears and phantoms of the night, from
foes about my way, I trust in him, I trust in him, by darkness as by day’. This
refrain ‘I trust in him, I trust in him’ comes not at the end of each verse but
before the final line, which is then a reason (different each time) for such
trust. God is ‘my fortress and my tower’, the one who ‘keeps me in his care’
and ‘hears and answers prayer’. The last
verse concludes this trust with ‘Safe in the shadow of the Lord, possessed by
love divine, I trust in him, I trust in him, and meet his love with mine’.
short chant from Sing Praise today, this time not from Taizé but from John Bell and Graham Maule. ‘Lord Jesus Christ,
lover of all, trail wide the hem of your garment, bring healing, bring peace.’
use of the chant is as a response to intercessions in a church service. Intercessions
usually include prayers for healing, often of named individuals. We believe
that Jesus, though no longer present in the flesh, is present in spirit and
knows the people whom we pray for by name. The reference to ‘the hem of your
garment’ in the chant is presumably to the woman whose long-standing problem
with a flow of blood (maybe period problems, as some commentators suggest) was
healed by merely touching the hem of Jesus’ cloak, and he knew it. He may not have known her personally, but the
mere fact that she had faith enough to reach out to him was enough for her to
be aware of her need, and to meet it instantly.
That is the level of faith that we are supposed to develop in praying
healing, bring peace’. Healing and peace belong together, both being elements
of the concept of ‘shalom’. Where physical
pain or mental distress are healed, there is a sense of peace. And when we pray for peace in the world,
perhaps for a particular area of conflict, we are also praying for the healing
of prejudice, hatred and resentment. So whether our prayers and for a close friend
or a faraway country, we can use this chant to bring them to Jesus.
from Sing Praise is ‘Nothing can ever come between us and the love of God’, another
chant from the Taizé community.
The title is
the first line of the chorus, the second line being ‘… revealed to us in Jesus
Christ’. I’ve discovered this week that
there is now a tradition of a ‘gender reveal party’ where a baby’s gender is
disclosed, not only to friends but to the parents themselves who have not
previously been given the information (you may well call me slow on the uptake
here, as apparently the idea started in America ten years ago, but I don’t have
children myself!) The point is that to
reveal something is not only to share factual knowledge, but to make an event
of it, to add drama to that passing on of information. So when the Bible says that God reveals himself
to us (and a concordance tells me the word is used 81 times in the Bible) it is
more than simply telling us that he exists, it is intended to make a sudden and
dramatic change in our understanding, one that will change our lives radically in
the same way that people’s lives are changed by having a baby.
or rather chants to be sung by a solo cantor, are verses from Psalm 56 and Romans
chapter 8. They are all about trust in God, and God as the Father who have us
his son who died, rose again and prays for us. As a result, to quote the last
one, “neither death, nor life, nor things present or to come, nothing can ever
keep us from God’s love”. That love once
revealed never leaves us, like the love of a mother for her child.
The song for
today is ‘In manus tuas pater, commendo spiritum meum’, a chant from the Taizé community. Like many of theirs, it’s short and simple. The Latin
text translates as ‘Into your hands father, I commend my spirit’.
The saying is
one traditionally used in the service of Compline at the end of the day, as we ‘let
ourselves go’ into the hands of God. It’s a concept that I, and many others
find helpful, whether it’s pictured as God holding our hands, or embracing us,
or (as some images interpret it) as being a tiny baby in the large hands of father
that are big enough to cradle us. It’s about letting go worries, letting God
the song for Saturday morning prayer as usual, and perhaps this chant can be
seen as relating to the Gospel reading where Jesus tells his disciples not to
worry about tomorrow (for tomorrow has worries of its own) and trust God to provide
their basic needs.