Today’s hymn from “Sing Praise” is another Taizé chant with verses sung by a cantor over a repeated chorus. The chorus line is “Holy Spirit, come to us, kindle in us the fire of your love, Holy Spirit come to us, Holy Spirit, come to us”. There’s also a version in Latin, a language still used in Christian worship and understood across many European cultures.
The six short chants are all Bible verses about love. The first three are sayings of Jesus: “I give you a new commandment. Love one another just as I have loved you”; “It is by your love for one another that everyone will recognise you as my disciples”; and “No-one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for those one loves”. These represent a progression in depth of love: the love between members of the same church which in practice may be hard to distinguish from the camaraderie and common purpose found in any healthy group; demonstrating that love to people outside the church in a way that they recognise to be distinctive; and finally the challenge to love others more than ourselves even if it should cost us our own life.
The last three are sayings about God’s love rather than ours: “We know love by this, that Christ laid down his life for us”; “This is love, it is not we who have loved God but God who loved us”; and “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and God in them”. The answer to the question “how can I love in a way that might even lead to accepting my own death for someone else’s sake?” is that only the love of God makes this possible. Again it’s a progression, from observing the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ, to accepting God’s love for us personally which then makes it easier to love others, to letting God’s love “abide in us and we in him”.
What’s the connection between the six sayings about love, and the chorus calling on the Holy Spirit, who is not named in the Bible verses? Here’s one way of looking at it (I’m sure there are others equally valid): We can easily believe in a loving God as an intellectual proposition, and in Jesus as a historical figure who demonstrated God’s love in action to the point of death, but still find it difficult to love others in an equally sacrificial way. The Holy Spirit is sometimes understood as God’s way of putting his love into our hearts, stirring the individual believer to love and action. When Jesus promised that God would send the Holy Spirit after his death and resurrection, he described the Spirit as a ‘helper’ or advocate’ who would ‘abide in you’ (John 14:16-17). Without the Spirit, it’s difficult to love people, with all their faults. With the Spirit in us, God’s love works through us to make us love other people in the way God does – for who they are, not what they do.
That takes us back to the central acclamation of the chorus: “kindle in us the fire of your love” or “tui amoris ignem accende”. The link between the Spirit and Fire is a Biblical one, from John the Baptist’s prophecy that Jesus would “baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire” and the day of Pentecost when the Spirit appeared as “tongues of fire”. That fire sometimes takes a long time to get going again, especially if the embers have gone cold, but the Spirit’s job is to ignite it. Come, Holy Spirit!