The week of Christian Unity
The Confession of St. Peter January 18 and Conversion of St. Paul January 25
Texts; Gracia Grindal. Tune: James E. Clemens
Gospel Lesson: Luke 21:10-19
1. In the coming days ahead When the summer leaves are dead We may see the nations Warring against nations.
2. Terror more than we can bear, Even we may not be spared Signs will fall from heaven Flesh and spirit riven.
3. We may suffer for his sake Yet we follow in his wake. In his promise resting With his love and blessing.
4. Though I fear it, I rejoice God has promised me a voice. I can praise his glory Knowing what's before me.
5. Knowing they can take my breath, Confident, I face my death I can face it bravely Knowing Christ has saved me.
Epistle Lesson: Galatians 1:11-24
1. Each morning help me pray “Lord, lead me on your way And teach me to remember your surprises. Like Paul who thought he knew The doctrines that were true Until he saw the Lord before him rising."
2. The vision he received Changed all that Paul believed. He fell through darkness, needing one to guide him. The light he hated shone, Reborn he saw the one Christ Jesus standing in the way beside him.
3. Lord, overcome my will. I’m stopped and standing still As all my tangled webs and ways unravel. For I am bound and caught By sin and what I’ve thought, Show me the way that you would have me travel.
4. Your word is true and just Help me to always trust You are the truth, you showed me by your rising. I pray to do the right, To travel by your light To follow you is joyful and surprising.
MEDITATION Everyone seems fearful. The capitols of the states and the nation are surrounded by troops hoping to quell any violence that might erupt. The helicopters buzz above us and make us anxious. A very strange and disturbing time for us all.
The texts for St. Peter’s Confession Day which was yesterday and St. Paul’s conversion which we observe next Monday seemed appropriate for use today and the week of Christian unity. They are two crucial events that all Christian churches agree are fundamental.
Paul’s conversion made him change sides from the establishment in Jerusalem to the persecuted minority. He had every reason to be fearful; he knew what the religious authorities could do. But he had little choice, not after his experience of being thrown off his horse and blinded temporarily by the sight of Jesus.
Although those of us on each side of this cavernous divide are certain of our realities and convictions, Paul’s experience is a picture of how one can be changed. It takes a miracle, for sure, but it does happen.
In the meantime, we can pray for courage to stand for what we believe politically, hoping we are in the right. That is not, however, what the first hymn prays for. Our sense of being in the right always needs to be tempered by the possibility that we could be wrong. And maybe even persuadable. As Oliver Cromwell cried out to the Scottish Parliament, who opposed him, “Think ye, in the bowels of Christ, ye might be mistaken.” The Scottish Parliament rebuffed his appeal and an awful war broke out.
But Cromwell’s appeal was to a higher power. Both sides believed a greater power was over them. What we ultimately must stand for is the truth of Christ.
It is never easy to untangle the web that involves the higher truths we believe and our own self-interests, how we act politically and how we believe we are being faithful. On earth among us sinners, there are no pure motives. We all must decide to act in the light of the word of God as the Scottish parliament did, something Cromwell knew they would, even as they opposed his rule and crowned Charles II king. They were brutally defeated by Cromwell’s army.
What God willed and how Cromwell did God’s will is always a bit difficult to read even from this distance. We also have to consider these issues as they transpired in Germany with the German Christians opposed to those, who like Bonhoeffer, were driven to violence against Hitler for what everyone now sees were good reasons. All the same, we have to be careful. Are we that unable to talk? Civil war breaks out when people are convinced there is no other way for their side to prevail.
The hymn on the Epistle prays for guidance: to travel by the light of Christ, praying that what we do it right. It's all we can do. We need to speak out bravely as we hope that things turn out peacefully and all for the good of the commonweal. Parlous times we are living through just now and the only rock we have is Christ, as Peter confessed so long ago even as he went to his death. It is still true.
HYMN INFO These hymns appeared in Festivals and Martyrs, my most recent collection of hymns. While both are on the Apostle Paul’s life, the first also works for the crucifixion of Peter. Paul’s experience as a terrorist and then as the victim of the state seemed to be instructive five years ago when I wrote them, but even more so now. I hope they are prayers we can all pray in these days. James Clemens has written tunes for all of the hymns in that collection. He is an accomplished composer and I will make some links to his music below, both of which work for our time, but unfortunately we do not have any performances of the tunes he wrote for my texts. The second hymn can be sung to the Vaughan Williams tune: Down Ampney.
Down Ampney Organ from Swansea Church for Each Morning Help me Pray
Water from the Well by James E. Clemens Louisiana Tech Chamber Singers https://youtu.be/fi3EzJSE_I4
Down to the River to Pray Cambridge Rock Gospel Choir https://youtu.be/Pi7YY-Izap0
NB: Lent is only a month away. A wonderful Lenten discipline is reading the Passion hymns, one for every day of Lent, by Icelandic poet Hallgrímur Pétursson. Follow the link to buy it and receive it in time.