from Sing Praise for 30th December was ‘Faith overcomes’ by Christopher
Jones. To be honest I wasn’t much taken
with this hymn, and apart from these two words that start each of the six verses,
it doesn’t seem to be about our faith overcoming life’s problems, as the title
might suggest. The first four verses, at least, are more a form of credal
statement, about the eternal God, Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry, his
death and resurrection. A creed is important in its own way, but it complements
rather than establishes our faith.
The last two
verses are more personal, or rather corporate, as a response to this creed. Faith
is present in the statements ‘We have not seen, yet now we dare believe’ and ‘we
yield ourselves to follow his commands’.
suggested tune, Highwood, was also difficult to follow, and as I didn’t watch
the online video I don’t know whether John used it.
weekend sees the start of the Kingdom Season (from now until Advent) with
choices of hymn to match. So today’s is “The
Lord is King” by Brian Hoare.
The first half
of each of the first three verses list the ways in which the Lord is King: that
he set the stars in space (i.e. is the creator), sent his Son to earth, and sent
his Spirit; thus, a Trinitarian structure, although usually in Christian
parlance the terms Lord and King refer specifically to Jesus Christ rather than
to the Trinity as a whole.
part of each verse is an appropriate response: “Creator God, your kingdom
stands”, “O Saviour Christ, your kingdom comes” and “Spirit of truth, whose
kingdom grows”. The final verse
proclaims praise to the Lord and King from all created things.
In all, the
hymn is nicely crafted as a statement of faith, and might well be used in place
of a spoken Creed in the Communion service, but didn’t strike me as conveying
any original thought.
is the last in the series for Trinity week, and the third in a row for
hymnwriter Timothy Dudley-Smith. It’s a paraphrase
of the Apostle’s Creed (the shorter of the two forms of the creed usually used
in church). The suggested tune is Lux Eoi, by Arthur Sullivan, perhaps better
known for his light operas but who also composed some good church music.
summarises the beliefs of the mainstream churches: those who agree on its
wording generally accept each other as fellow Christians, even if they don’t
always extend this acceptance to recognising each other’s ministerial orders
and sacraments, but that’s another matter.
words refer to all three persons of the Trinity, the bulk of them are about
Jesus the Son of God, which probably reflects the difficulty the early Church had
in understanding him. Where people agree
on something, often only a short form of words is needed, so “We believe in
God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth” is short enough to convey
what we understand by the Creator. The “how”
of creation didn’t really get debated until long after the Creeds were agreed.
When people disagree
on something, however, it usually leads to writing rules down in great detail, so
there is much here about exactly what the Church (i.e. the original Eastern
church) thought about Christ. We have his sonship of God, born of a virgin by
the Spirit, crucified, dead, buried, risen and ascended, and coming again in
future to judge us. The Nicene Creed goes into much more detail (God from God, light
from light, very God of very God). If
you disagree with this, you’re a heretic. Some churches still find any dissent
from this difficult to accept within their ranks; others are more open to
debate on those issues (perhaps especially on the virgin birth and the nature
of Christ’s future reign).
Creed simply states in regard to the Holy Spirit that we believe in Him. This lack of further description of the
Spirit’s work compared with the obsession with the detail of the exact nature
of Christ’s relationship with the Father, does make me wonder whether the Church
Fathers actually experienced the Holy Spirit for themselves? We will probably never know.
Following on from yesterday’s reflection on our calling in Christ, which was the theme for the Sunday Bible readings as well, the hymn for today is a short one, intended to be sung at the baptism (christening) of a child. In the first verse s/he is named as a child of blessing and of promise, one who is claimed back by God who sent them. In the second, the child is reminded that s/he bears God’s image and is urged to listen to God’s call.
The tune chosen is one normally used for a setting of the Creed (the Christian statement of faith in the three-in-one God), “Firmly I believe and truly”, which is appropriate because the parents and godparents of a child being christened are expected to declare their own Christian faith, usually by reciting a set form of creed. The question of whether young children should be baptised before they can express any personal understanding of God is one that still divides the Church. Many books have been written on the subject but let’s summarise it like this:
One side of the argument is that only those old enough to make a lifelong decision for themselves should go through this initiation rite, and certainly people who are baptised as adults or teenagers say the experience stays with them as a foundation of their faith for a long time. Those who support infant baptism (often known as christening) stress the importance of recognising the whole family as being Christian and having a ceremony to mark an addition to the family and the gift of a child from God, adding that God’s call is not conditional on the person’s response. I see the strengths in both sides of the argument, but what seems inappropriate (to me) is christening the child of parents who are not church members themselves and who have chosen friends as godparents who have no Christian faith themselves either. “Getting the child done” becomes simply a cultural tradition with no real religious meaning. Having said that, it does happen from time to time that the christening ceremony, perhaps the first church service the parents have attended for a long time, can be the first step on a journey of faith for them as they consider what they really meant by joining in with the prayers and creed.
But back to this hymn. The last pair of lines reminds the child (if s/he hears it again later in life, perhaps) to “grow to laugh and sing and worship, trust and love God more than all”. That linking of laughter, song and worship is what’s behind my decision to sing through the hymn book in a year. As St Augustine put it, “he who sings prays twice.” Not all hymns help us to laugh, as they help us respond to all life’s events and emotions, the sad as well as the joyful, but if singing praise to God doesn’t sometimes make us laugh, have we really entered into worship at all?