This week I am exploring the second in an occasional series entitled “The Language of Worship”. At Holy Cross we are blessed with a Christian heritage of words and music written over more than 1000 years. Learning more about the songs we sing helps us to appreciate the diversity of God’s abundant creativity, in which we all share.
“All Creatures Of Our God and King“, based on the 13th century hymn Laudato sia Dio mio Signore by Francis of Assisi (written in Italian at a time when most church worship was in Latin), was written by English Anglican priest William Henry Draper for a children’s Pentecost service in about 1910. The chorale tune was published by German Jesuit Friedrich Spee in 1623, and re-harmonised for the English Hymnal in 1906 by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
“O Thou Who Camest From Above“, a hymn to the Holy Spirit, is one of 6,500(!) hymns written by Charles Wesley (1707-1788), Anglican priest and co-founder of Methodism with his brother John Wesley. The tune “Hereford” was written many years later by his grandson Samuel Sebastian Wesley, an Anglican organist and composer. Charles Wesley had a remarkable gift of putting deep theological truths into memorable poetry, at a time when many Christians were illiterate: Methodists learned theology by singing it.
Geoff Bullock, an ABC cameraman from Sydney, experienced a powerful conversion in 1978 and co-founded Hills Christian Life Centre (later Hillsong) in 1983, where he wrote “The Power of Your Love (I)“. Bullock left Hillsong after burnout and marriage breakdown in the 1990s. He subsequently published “The Power of Your Love (II)“, changing the lyrics to emphasise God’s gracious and unmerited forgiveness, and this is the version we’re singing today.
Melbourne vicar Elizabeth J. Smith (b.1956) is known for her modern hymns with inclusive language. She says she wrote “God gives us a future” as a curate, partly out of frustration at congregation members who were reluctant to learn new songs! The jaunty tune “Camberwell” is by English Anglican priest John Brierley, a member of the “20th Century Church Light Music Group” in the 1950s (along with Patrick Appleford, the author of “Living Lord”).
Today I’m beginning an occasional series: “The Language of Worship”. At Holy Cross, we come from diverse backgrounds – and often have strong views about words and music! So the hymns and songs we use in worship reflect not just our diversity, but the diversity of the Kingdom of Heaven with its “treasures old and new” (Matthew 13.52). By finding out more about who actually wrote the songs we sing, and why, we learn more about the wonderful variety of the body of Christ – and more about the God we worship. “I will sing with the Spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding.” (1 Cor 14.15)
“All my hope on God is founded” was written by the great German Calvinist hymnwriter Joachim Leander in 1680, and translated into English in 1899 by Robert Bridges, an Anglican choirmaster and future Poet Laureate. Today we’re using the modernised version from the Australian hymn book Together in Song. The tune Michael was written (over breakfast!) by Herbert Howells in 1930, and named for his son who died tragically young.
“I heard the voice of Jesus say” is a 19th century hymn by Scottish Free Church minister Horatius Bonar, set to an old English folk song, Dives and Lazarus, which Ralph Vaughan Williams heard in a pub in the village of Kingsfold in Sussex, and published as a hymn tune in the 1906 English Hymnal.
“Give thanks” is the only published song by Henry Smith, written for a church in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1978 as a response to having become blind: “let the weak say I am strong, let the poor say I am rich …”.
Karen Lafferty was a nightclub entertainer who wrote “Seek ye first” in 1971 after attending a church bible study on Matthew 6.33, and now runs Musicians for Mission, an international ministry of Youth With A Mission based in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
I have been away in Goulburn this weekend, along with our parish representatives Caity Cameron, Kirsty Baker, and Richard Stoddart, for the annual Synod of the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn. Synods (from the Greek sun-hodos: “together on the way”) are a really important time in the life of an Anglican Diocese, providing an opportunity for representatives of all the different ministry units – parishes, chaplaincies, schools, and diocesan services – to gather for three days of prayer and fellowship.
No doubt at this Synod there were discussions and debates, sometimes even fiery ones. Because one of the glories of the Anglican Church is its polyphonic – sometimes even dissonant! – synodal character. And this is a good thing: God did not make us uniform, but gloriously diverse, and there is plenty of Biblical precedent for passionate conversations between brothers and sisters in Christ (Acts 15, Galatians 2 …).
But the heart of any Synod is our unity in Christ, whose Body we are. And the really special thing about a Diocesan Synod is that it provides an opportunity to come together across our local parish boundaries, to give thanks for God’s faithfulness to God’s church, and listen together to the Holy Spirit as we discern the future into which God is leading us: “together on the way”.
So please pray for our bishops as they lead us in carrying out the deliberations of Synod, and for all Synod members, that they may be faithful to Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
I’m writing this blog post from the beach at Narooma, where I’m staying with all the clergy of the Anglican Diocese of Canberra & Goulburn for our annual conference. It’s been a fascinating time getting to know brothers and sisters from a wide diversity of churches across our region, including our new bishop Mark.
I’ve been encouraged to hear Bishop Mark say that God’s vision for the future of the Diocese is something that we will all discern together over time, as we seek to see how God sees and feel how God feels. For Christians, authentic vision-setting does not begin with planning and strategy (though this is also important!), but with drawing close to God through spiritual disciplines leading to wise and patient discernment.
And this is a lesson that the psalms (which we’ve been studying all this month on Sunday mornings) can teach us too. They are a school of spiritual practice and a repository of wisdom, firmly based in the reality both of our messy lives and of God’s unchanging character. “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” (Ps 119:130).
So let’s pray that our church life will be a school of wisdom, and that our vision – for ourselves, our parish, and the whole church – will be God’s vision for us, as we get to know God better.
During the month of May, all of us at Holy Cross (adults and kids) are turning our attention to a book of the Bible which has had more of an impact on the church’s life of prayer and worship than any other: the book of Psalms.
The Psalms are a vital witness to the joys and challenges of the people of God, full of extraordinary poetry, great wisdom, and an extreme range of feelings. (Incidentally anyone who thinks that contemporary worship songs are too me-focused and too emotional to be good theology should take a look at a psalm or two!)
And crucially for us as Christians, the Psalms give us access to the worshipping life of Jesus himself. Born and raised as a pious Jew in a Jewish family, Jesus “grew in wisdom and divine favour” (Luke 2:52) by memorising these ancient texts. Indeed, some of the most ancient psalm chants (such as the Tonus Peregrinus) which are still sung today have their roots in 1st century synagogue worship. They are, literally, the words and music that Jesus would have sung.
So let’s take time this month to explore this mysterious, passionate, surprising book, and to let it form our hearts as we turn to God in worship. “If the psalm prays, you pray. If the psalm laments, you lament. If the psalm exalts, you rejoice. If it hopes, you hope. If it fears, you fear. Everything written here is a mirror for us.” (Augustine of Hippo)
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Without it, there would be no church today, and Jesus would be remembered (if at all) simply as a moral teacher who was unjustly killed. With it, the life and death of Jesus becomes bathed in a new light: it becomes a source of joy and hope in the midst of suffering, and not just for Jesus and his contemporaries – it becomes Good News for all of us.
But the Resurrection is such an unexpected event (literally a one-off!) that it’s not surprising even Jesus’s closest friends took a long time to come to terms with what it meant. And God is always gracious – God knows we also need time to adapt to this new, improbable reality which has opened up for us.
So today, now the season of Lent is over, we begin the season of Easter: fifty days for us to come to terms with this miraculous news, before we celebrate the coming of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Let’s take the time we need to welcome the Resurrection, and let’s ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the places in our hearts where God is longing to give us new life and hope.