Text: Claudia Francis Hernaman (1838-1898). Tune: Richard Redhead (1820-1901)
1 Lord, who throughout these forty days, For us did fast and pray, Teach us with you to mourn our sins, And close by you to stay.
2 As you with Satan did contend, And did the vict'ry win, O give us strength in you to fight, In you to conquer sin.
3 As you did hunger bear and thirst, So teach us, gracious Lord, To die to self, and always live By your most holy word.
4 And through these days of penitence, And through your Passion-tide, Forevermore, in life and death, O Lord, with us abide.
5 Abide with us that when this life Of suffering is past, An Easter of unending joy We may attain at last!
REFLECTION Just when we think things can’t get worse, they do. Now we are watching in horror ghastly scenes from Ukraine and cannot imagine an ending without immense suffering and tragedy. And not just in Ukraine. All around the world there will be suffering.
What a human being is capable of, both for good and great evil becomes sharper in a time of war. Not since the Cuban missile crisis has the world seemed to be on such a precipice. Now is when the church must speak from its very depths, from the depths of Christ’s suffering and death. No political or moral advice or blandishments about what can be done. Or what our leaders should do. I dont go to church to get political advice. I want to be pointed to the truth. Just the truth. Point to him.
Emily Dickinson said it best: I like a look of agony because I know 'tis true.
The past few evenings as I have been dropping off into sleep, I have been listening to the Psalms. Psalm 2 seemed especially relevant and spoke deeply to the times:
Why do the nations rage and why the people plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.
As the voice went on and the words sank in, I found comfort and relief in words that were true. In such as time as this, there is no place for piffle. Deep thoughts do not work if they are not rooted and grounded in God’s Word. We want the truth.
The first casualty in war is truth, experts say. In times like these we long to hear the truth. With all the propaganda filling the airwaves, with disinformation, malinformation—a new term—we are confused purposely. Fred Kagan, the expert on war and Russia talked about how misinformation works—people are told lies that contradict the truth, but seem believable. And then when confronted with having to make a decision about an issue, they are paralyzed and cannot decide because it seems fifty fifty to them. Both could be right so they don’t want to make a judgment. This is exactly what disinformation is meant to do. It causes distrust and division.
While the Scripture lessons in Epiphany are about the revealing of Christ’s divinity, in Lent, we are driven to see the terrible suffering of Jesus in all his humanity. We have seen him transfigured, but now we see him on his way to the cross, the most evil place on earth. We can see in his suffering and death, how much the Truth is hated and disdained. The authorities of every kind hate it and want to do away with it. When Jesus has been betrayed by Judas he looks at those who had come out against him and says, "This is your hour, and the power of darkness." Ole Hallesby says in his book of devotions that here Jesus is handed over by his Father to Satan and the powers of darkness. In them he sees the true face of sin. As the mobs scream that he should be crucified, Jesus sees them for what they are: sinners. "They felt safe, now that he had been crucified," Hallesby concludes. Indeed.
The irony in that is like much of the irony in Christ's passion. Everything his enemies do to destroy Jesus brings our salvation nearer. Christ will save us no matter what, even if we are the ones calling for his death.
And, all this conflict which rends the universe happens, not in the courts of the gods, or the emperors as the Greeks and Romans would have expected. It is the simple people like Peter and the disciples, the women ministering to him, in whom this divine drama is played out. As we see Jesus, the Son of God, taking the punishments from the leaders of the day, we see their involvement, but also the drama is most deeply in the likes of people like Peter. A simple fisherman, dealing with his own sin and frailty as he denies the Son of God and, in grief, repents. In this we can see a divine majesty working that stuns one with its truth. And its place and revelation is with the poor and simple.
God laughs at the kings of the earth. He knows the real king. He sent him into the world to save us from our hatred of the truth and reveal it for us in the darkest moment of all as he cried out, as we might, My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?
A look of agony for us: in it we see the truth.
Abide with us that when this life Of suffering is past, An Easter of unending joy We may attain at last!
HYMN INFO This was written by an English woman who wrote many hymns for children. Mrs. Hernaman grew up as a vicar’s daughter in the Anglican church. After her marriage to a school inspector, she continued writing many hymns, collected in books such as Hymns for the Children of the Church in 1878; Hymns for the Little Ones in Sunday Schools,1884; and many others like it. This is her most successful hymn. Richard Redhead, born in Harrow, Middlesex, England, showed early promise as a musician during his years as a chorister at Magdalen College, Oxford. He became organist when he was nineteen at Margaret Chapel in London. Like many of his age, he admired the Oxford Movement and worked to restore the glories of the ancient church and make the Anglican Church closer to the Roman Catholic Church at the time. He and the rector at Margaret Chapel compiled the first collection of plainsong for the psalter, Laudes Diurnal (1843). He remained as organist for the rest of his life at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Paddington (1864-1894).
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