Nothing can ever come between us

Today’s song 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.

The verses, 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.

Lord, if faith is disenchanted

Today’s hymn from Sing Praise is ‘Lord, is faith is disenchanted’ by Alan Gaunt. Although it’s in the section of the book headed ‘funerals and the departed’ its theme is wider than that, and covers other situations of grief and loss, and that, to use the repeated motif of the last lines of each verse, Christ’s love is deeper than all the things that trouble us and threaten our faith.

In the first verse, ‘if pain persists too long… your love is deeper than all time’s wrong’ the last line repeated at the end of the hymn where it refers to the Resurrection.  In the other verses, Christ’s love is said to be deeper than our unbelief where we find ourselves overwhelmed by sin and grief, deeper than the prayers of those who protest injustice and oppression, deeper than the deepest cry of grief when children are dying.

This deep love of Christ reminds us that the God we believe in is not a remote creator but one so full of compassion that he came in human form, suffering pain, rejection and grief himself, before willingly dying in order that the Holy Spirit might be with us for ever to channel his love.  Lord, re-enchant our faith in you.

Love is his word

The Last Supper, by Ugolino de Nerio (C14)

This weekend’s hymn from Sing Praise is “Love is his word” by Luke Connaughton. The theme is the love of Jesus Christ, as celebrated in the refrain: “Richer than gold is the love of my Lord, better than splendour and wealth”. This idea that God’s love is the true wealth, not a human invention such as ‘money’, is a common one in religious teachings generally, not least in Christianity.  Paul’s words to Timothy come to mind: “In godliness with contentment there is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6).

Its verses list the ways that Jesus Christ showed (and shows) his love for people. The words are cleverly structured: there are seven verses, a ‘Biblical’ number like the seven signs in John’s gospel or the seven seals of Revelation.  Each starts with a line in the form Love is his X, Love is his Y”, with a last line “Love, only love, is his Y”, and the Y of one verse becomes the X of the next (so, verse 1 ends “Love, only love, is his way” and verse 2 begins “Love is his way, love is his mark”. The two middle lines of each verse elaborate on the ‘Y’. The hymn ends with a verse on Jesus the Word (taking us back to the opening line).

The seven ways that Jesus shows his love then, are: way, mark, sign, news, name, law and word.  His way of love is “feasting with all, fasting alone”; his mark is “sharing his last Passover feast” (the Last Supper before his crucifixion); his sign, as he commanded us to remember him, is “bread for our strength, wine for our joy”. His news, still on the communion feast, is “Do this, lest you forget all my deep sorrow, all my dear blood”. His name is explained as that “we are his own, chosen and called”. His law is “Love one another [as] I have loved you”. And back to the Word, we are reminded that Jesus’ love is also that of the Father and Spirit.

The metre ( & refrain 10.7) is highly unusual and so I presume the tune (‘Cresswell’ by Anthony Milner) was written for it. It’s an easy one to sing, with a memorable refrain in particular, finishing on a high with “better than splendour and wealth”.

Loved with everlasting love

St Francis and the birds, Holy Cross Monastery, New York
(c) Randy OHC Creative Commons 2.0

Today’s hymn from Sing Praise is “Loved with everlasting love” by George Wade Robinson. Unlike nearly all the other hymns in this book, it was not written in the 20th or 21st centuries but the 19th.  The suggested tune, Calon Lan, is a Welsh one, and has the same rhythm as “Here is love, vast as the ocean” (17 March). Robinson, according to his Wikipedia entry, was an Irish Protestant minister (who later led English congregations).

The theme this time is belonging to Jesus; the last line of each verse is “I am his, and he is mine”.  There are three verses here (a version I found online has a fourth verse, omitted here, perhaps because of the overly sentimental wording such as “Pillowed on the loving breast”). The first of them celebrates the peace of knowing ourselves loved by God, and the last is in similar vein: “with what joy and peace Christ can fill the loving heart!”

The second verse tries to explain in words one of those things that by definition are beyond words: the way the world seems different in God’s presence. I recognise what he is trying to express with lines such as “Heaven above is softer blue, earth around is richer green … songs of birds in sweetness grow, flowers with deeper beauties shine”.  I have experienced that – not all the time, but at times when God’s presence has been real to me.  It’s a reminder that often, the opposite can be true: the cares of the world and business of life cause us to neglect both a relationship with God, and the beauty of his creation.

There is, of course, always a danger in such sentiments of conflating God with nature, which has always been considered a heresy in Christian thought, since God by definition is much greater than anything s/he has created. But to ignore the natural world or to exploit it for our own purposes is perhaps the greater heresy of recent generations, and one of which the environmental movement persuades us, more forcefully than most Christian leaders, to repent.  Where Christian faith and environmental concern meet is indeed where we experience the truth that “I am his, and he is mine”, being part of One who is greater than the created world, and that what God loves, we shall love too.