Word of God, renew your people

The hymn I chose for today from Sing Praise was “Word of God, renew your people” by the American composer Bernadette Farrell. The term ‘Word of God’ is used in three ways in Christian thought – in the most general sense referring to communication between God and creation, the Creator ‘speaking’ his intentions into being.  It is also understood as referring to words in the more literal sense of the Bible, whether you understand the inspiration of the Bible in a literal sense of God speaking exact words to be written down or more vaguely as inspiring people who then put the revelation in their own words.  And finally it can refer to Jesus Christ himself, as in the well known beginning of John’s Gospel “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”.

The Word here is described as the Word of hope, of healing, of peace and of justice.  This points more towards the last of those understandings – Jesus, who as God in man brought hope and healing to individual lives and who by his risen power we believe will one day bring peace and justice to the world (verse 4 – “God alone, the power we trust in”).

Interestingly, although the first line of each verse is different, the remaining three lines are unvarying, so they are sung four or five times depending on whether the final verse (for a baptism service) is included.   “Make us now your living sign. Recreate us for your purpose in this place and in this time”. There is, as Ecclesiastes wrote, a time for everything, and maybe the time is right now for each of us to be a ‘living sign’ for others that the Word of God is still alive and active today.

1 thought on “Word of God, renew your people”

  1. Bernadette Farrell is a Roman Catholic writer of hymns and liturgical music, including quite a lot of settings of scriptures – some is in varied verses (where the words in the different verses are all different – e.g. “O God you search me and you know me”, no. 301 in this book), many have verses with a chorus, and a few have mostly repeated words with just a few changes from stanza to stanza. This hymn is one of the latter – the last three lines of each verse are the same (they function as a chorus), and only the first line changes. The first three verses are very similar – only the genitive abstract nouns change, and the petition is unvaried.

    I think the hymn is fair the way it is, and the tune is easy to pick up and goes well – but for my own personal taste, I’d have preferred more variety: more development of who this Word is, more meat on the bones. I wondered what list the words “hope”, “healing”, “peace”, and “justice” came from, and whether there were other words in the list that were pertinent? Addressing the second person of the Trinity in v1-3 I was a little startled to be suddenly addressing “God” in v4, and wondered if I was now speaking to the Father, or whether I was being invited to address Jesus as “The Word who was with God, and was God” (John 1:1)? (I see Stephen didn’t see any difficulty here – for him v4 is clearly addressed to Jesus.) And I suppose I didn’t quite get where v5 “To the waters lead your people” came from – for me the hymn doesn’t lead up to baptismal waters (particularly as the footnote says the last verse is optional).

    I think Bernadette has a great talent for putting scriptural passages into evocative rhyme which flows well in song, and hymns like no. 301 are truly great – and for me this one doesn’t really cut the mustard in the same way.

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