Text: Geoffrey Dearmer (1893-1996) Tune: Domhnach Trionoide (Traditional Irish Tune)
Those who love and those who labour, follow in the way of Christ; Thus the first disciples found him, thus the gift of love sufficed. Jesus says to those who seek him, I will never pass you by; Raise the stone and you shall find me; cleave the wood, and there am I. Where the many work together, they with Christ himself abide. But the lonely workers also find him ever at their side. Lo, the Prince of common welfare dwells within the market strife; Lo, the bread of heaven is broken in the sacrament of life. Let the seeker never falter, till the truth is found afar. With the wisdom of the ages underneath a giant star, With the richest and the poorest, of the sum of things possessed, Like a child at first to wonder, like a king at last to rest.
REFLECTIONS When Luther’s Reformation began reaching into the daily lives of the people, it did so with a song. Because many of those songs were sung while people worked, work and worship combined nicely. One of the most significant things about Luther's reform of church theology and life was his profoundly radical understanding of vocation. To be religous meant, in his time, becoming a priest, monk or nun. The monastic movement shaped European life and letters for nearly a millennium. Luther’s work changed that.
We keep losing that understanding. Frequently church members lament that they have trouble connecting Sunday worship with Monday work. Many Christians have not been taught clearly enough that in their daily life and honorable work they are doing God’s work and serving him as they serve each other with the daily tasks of life. First of all, we are bodies who live because of other bodies and we are to serve those in our family, those we have engendered and those who have engendered us. The family is the first place to serve and do God’s will. Jesus learned from Joseph to be a carpenter. It was Joseph's vocation as father to teach his son the family trade and he fulfilled it well. His contemporaries thought of him as the carpenter's son.
Anyone who has welcomed a baby into the family knows immediately that this helpless being needs parents and family to keep it alive and flourish. In fact, standing by the crib seeing this new person is to understand something of what your parents have done for you. And for those with any feelings, a time to give thanks for what they did for us. The angels rejoice, Luther says, when the father changes his baby’s diaper.
Then the circle widens. In order that our children and families have a good civil culture and society to grow up in, we are called to fulfill our callings in the world: be a farmer, mechanic, plumber, executive, teacher, business owner, government bureaucrat, whatever we have been called to do. All those who work to keep things going are also serving God in their vocations. God is here in our work.
We are also called into the running of church and the society. To volunteer for work that needs to be done: Sunday school teaching, preparing and serving church suppers, Sunday coffee; schoolboards, city councils, etc. Maybe even run for higher office. A democratic society needs the participation of good and righteous people to help lead it in the ways of what is good and profitable for the wider good. When people enter into these vocations without a moral center and think they are above the law, democracy cannot function. Corruption begins to be the way things are and old tribalisms recur.
Democracies fail when their people have lost their sense for the larger good. Without a deep and abiding respect for the law, a democracy cannot function. One of the great achievements of the American Founders was to establish a system where all should have the same rights and privileges, regardless of their wealth or family origins.
It might be worth our while on this last holiday of the summer to think more widely than simply of the labor movement, but also what our own work and labor mean to us and the wider society as we hope to be good servants of our Lord and our neighbor. Commentators on America have said it has worked because the American people were deeply religious and had a strong belief that they would be judged in the hereafter for their deeds and misdeeds. When that strong core is lost, watch out, thinkers like DeToqueville warned.
To my American readers, I would urge, that we remember this and teach it to our children and neighbors. We need to work together for the common good with a strong notion that it is our calling, a calling that our hymnwriter calls the “sacrament of life.”
Geoffrey Dearmer was the son of one of England’s greatest hymnal editors and writers, Percy Dearmer. Dearmer was among those who served in World War I. His first engagement was in 1915 with the Royal Fusiliers at Gallipoli, where the ANZAC troops suffered a disastrous defeat. His younger brother, Christopher, a pilot, had died in that theater. He later served with the Royal Army Service Corps in France. His mother Mabel, died in Serbia working with a Red Cross ambulance unit during the war. Her husband, Percy Dearmer, served the unit as chaplain.
From 1936-1958 Dearmer was Examiner of Plays (censor) in the Lord Chamberlain's office. At the same time he was Editor of the BBC radio Children's Hour program. His first book of poetry was a success, but it faded as other poets of the war became more well known. Near the end of his very long life, his works became popular again. Some critics think there are hints of Marxism in the phrase about the Prince of Common Welfare, and worry about what the giant star is, but Dearmer is very clear about the wisdom of the ages which, to my mind, refers to the Wisemen and the star of Bethlehem. Dearmer, a devout Christian, would not have been anything but deeply faithful in his texts, but times change and people can read different intentions in a text from what the original poet meant.
While it is not among the most famous or beloved of our hymns, it is appropriate for this occasion. The tune, however, like all Celtic tunes, makes it a keeper.
Notre Dame Folk Choir
Orthodox Catholic Church in America
Ryan Chimzar to the other popular tune