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(Long hymn but worth it)

Manuscript depicting the Dedication of Cluny Abbey 11th century

Text: Bernard of Cluny (ca. 1100-1199) Tune: Melchior Vulpius (ca. 1570-1615) Swedish folk

1 The world is very evil, The times are waxing late; Be sober and keep vigil, The Judge is at the gate; The Judge that comes in mercy, The Judge that comes with might, To terminate the evil, To diadem the right.

2 Arise, arise, good Christian, Let right to wrong succeed; Let penitential sorrow To heav'nly gladness lead To light that hath no evening, That knows no moon nor sun, The light so new and golden, The light that is but one.

3 Brief life is here our portion; Brief sorrow, short-lived care; The life that knows no ending, The tearless life, is there. O happy retribution: Short toil, eternal rest; For mortals and for sinners A mansion with the blest!

4 And now we light the battle, But then shall wear the crown Of full and everlasting And passionless renown; And now we watch and struggle, And now we live in hope, And Zion in her anguish With Babylon must cope.

5 But He whom now we trust in Shall then be seen and known; And they that know and see Him Shall have Him for their own. And there is David's fountain And life in fullest glow; And there the light is golden, And milk and honey flow.

6 O home of fadeless splendor, Of flow'rs that bear no thorn, Where they shall dwell as children Who here as exiles mourn. Midst pow'r that knows no limit, Where knowledge has no bound, The beatific vision Shall glad the saints around.

7 Jerusalem the golden, With milk and honey blessed, Beneath thy contemplation Sink heart and voice oppressed. I know not, O I know not, What joys await us there, What radiancy of glory, What bliss beyond compare.

8 They stand, those halls of Zion, All jubilant with song And bright with many an angel And all the martyr throng. The Prince is ever in them; The daylight is serene; The pastures of the blessed Are decked in glorious sheen.

9 There is the throne of David; And there, from care released, The shout of them that triumph, The song of them that feast; And they who with their Leader Have conquered in the fight Forever and forever Are clad in robes of white.

10 For thee, O dear, dear country, Mine eyes their vigils keep; For very love, beholding Thy happy name, they weep. The mention of thy glory Is unction to the breast And medicine in sickness And love and life and rest.

11 O one, O only mansion, O Paradise of joy, Where tears are ever banished And smiles have no alloy! The Lamb is all thy splendor, The Crucified thy praise; His laud and benediction Thy ransomed people raise.

12 With jasper glow thy bulwarks, Thy streets with em'ralds blaze; The sardius and the topaz Unite in thee their rays; Thine ageless walls are bonded With amethyst unpriced; The saints build up thy fabric, The cornerstone is Christ.

13 Thou hast no shore, fair ocean; Thou hast no time, bright day, Dear fountain of refreshment To pilgrims far away! Upon the Rock of Ages they raise thy holy tower; Thine is the victor's laurel And thine the golden dower.

14 O sweet and blessed country, The home of God's elect! O sweet and blessed country That eager hearts expect! Jesus, in mercy bring us To that dear land of rest, Who art, with God the Father And Spirit, ever blest.

Tr. John Mason Neale

REFLECTIONS: De Contemptus Mundi by Bernard of Cluny, a three-thousand line poem on the evil of this world and the glory of the next, is considered to be one of the great poems of the Middle Ages. Bernard, a monk, wrote it while living in Cluny Abbey, one of the richest and most beautiful of its day, observing the corruptions of everything around him, from government, monastery, church, clergy, on up to the pope. Nothing escaped the venom of his pen. World weariness would be another way to talk about it. But in the middle of his screeds against the corruptions of the world are his ravishing pictures of the next. You can find in those pictures the sources of a couple of our better hymns on the heavenly country, Jerusalem the Golden, O Sweet and Blessed Country.

This was in the Service Book and Hymnal (1958) that many of us older folks grew up with. I heard many a chapel sermon against it when I was in college and later teaching at a college. The world is not evil, it is good, they would rail. Creation is good. Yes, it is. As one grows older, however, it is possible to grow weary of all the corruption we humans bring to it. Our sin and shortcomings fill the earth with sorrow, violence and deep alienation. We begin to look to the end times, as the church year does, for judgment and ending, a clean slate to everything. O come, O come, Immanuel, we cry.

The disciples sitting with Jesus marveling at the large stones of the temple were not ready to hear Jesus’ prediction that soon not one stone would be left upon another. A terrifying prophecy made more awful by his next prophecy of wars and persecutions: Nations will rise against nation, kingdom against kingdom. There will be persecutions, families will be riven apart, friendships ruined. You will be hated. Is he talking about us and our time? We see these things happening all around us.

As the hymn has it, "The Judge is at the gate." His promise "that not one hair on our head will perish and that by enduring we will gain our lives" is really all we have. Quite enough. Look up. "The mention of his glory/Is unction to the breast/And medicine in sickness/And love and life and rest." Amen.


Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny

Bernard of Cluny was said to be an Englishman, but spent his life in Cluny Abbey, in France. He lived at the beginning of what has been called the High Middle Ages, a century before St Thomas Acquinas (1225-1274)-, just before Dante who knew his poem and used its imagery for his depictions of heaven and hell. Bernard dedicated the poem to his Abbot, Peter the Venerable (1092-1156). It was the source for many other poems and hymns. In a strange meter—Alexandrian Hexameters—lines of six beats in dactylic feet, it has been difficult to translate effectively, although John Mason Neale, the master of such translations in the 19th century, has done a creditable job. Several hymnals begin the hymn with the third stanza to avoid the rather strong first line. The tune by Vulpius, an early Lutheran composer is most often used, but the Service Book and Hymnal used a Swedish folk tune that is now used for the very popular Christmas carol, Mitte Hjerte Altid Vanker/My Heart is Filled with Wonder, by Hans Adolph Brorson. Horatio Parker (1863-1919) an important American composer in his day wrote an oratorio based on the first lines of the hymn. Ralph Vaughan Williams also set it into an anthem.

LINKS Ralph Vaughan Williams anthem on St. Alphage/Brief Life is Here our Portion/St. Choir of St. Mary of Warwick Horatio Parker/Orchestra and Choir

Congregation singing the translation Brief Life is Here our Portion

Bonus: My Hymn on the text for this Sunday


For those thinking of Christmas gifts, you might consider the book Jesus the Harmony. It has a poem for every day of the year and Bible references for each poem that put Jesus in what has been called "the red thread of salvation." Many have been using it for daily devotions; others in group Bible studies.

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