Tag: Diana Lowry.

Lo, He comes with clouds descending

photo | sky over Newhall, Piers Northam

My friend Diana reflects on one of her favourite Advent hymns.

‘Lo! He comes with clouds descending’ is not a typical Advent hymn: these tend to be reflective and in minor keys. This one is a jolly good sing, but also has some theology in it, like all good hymns do. Many years ago, under a previous vicar, we used to sing it every week in Advent so I suspect it was a favourite of his too! I don’t think we should sing it that often as its very familiarity can stop us hearing its message.

It was written by Charles Wesley, so we shouldn’t be surprised at the theology, and the tune, Helmsley, was written by Thomas Olivers, a Welsh preacher and hymn writer. As is often the case with Wesley’s hymns there were more than the usual four verses that we have in our hymn books; it is likely that he started with a text by John Cennick, which starts with ‘Lo, he cometh, countless trumpets’. Charles Wesley modified some of the verses and in the New English hymnal we have the most popular version. If you look on line you can find some variations but all of them start with the image of the triumphant Christ of Revelation returning to earth, a second coming that will be very different from the first as a baby in Bethlehem.

However this hymn does not shy away from the story of Holy Week – in contrast to the image of the Son of Man coming on clouds, in line one, we are told that he was ‘once for favoured sinners slain.’ But this entrance into the world sees Jesus accompanied by ‘thousand thousand saints attending’. ‘Alleluya!’ they sing, we sing, ‘God appears on earth to reign.’ Wesley points out that everyone will see Jesus this time, including those who played a part in his killing. Now, though, they will see the ‘true Messiah’ the one the Jews had been expecting for millennia, the true King of all creation in power. But, the third verse goes on, don’t forget what happened, those scars can still be seen to remind us of the great love that he showed us at Calvary.

The fourth verse is all about giving Jesus the praise that he deserves as God the Son. We acknowledge him sitting on the eternal throne and we ask him, we plead for him, to claim the Kingdom with all his power and glory so that God’s Kingdom is established on earth in all its fullness. ‘Come quickly, O come quickly! Allelyua! Come, Lord, come!’ Amen

Lo! he comes with clouds descending,
once for favoured sinners slain;
thousand thousand saints attending
swell the triumph of his train:
God appears, on earth to reign.

Every eye shall now behold him
robed in dreadful majesty;
those who set at nought and sold him,
pierced and nailed him to the tree,
Deeply wailing
shall the true Messiah see.

Those dear tokens of his passion
Still his dazzling body bears,
Cause of endless exultation
To his ransomed worshippers:
With what rapture
Gaze we on those glorious scars!

Yea, amen! let all adore thee,
high on thine eternal throne;
Saviour, take the power and glory:
claim the kingdom for thine own:
O come quickly!
alleluya! come, Lord, come!

[Diana Lowry]

Music and the spirit

One of the great losses that Covid-19 has brought for Christians, and many others, is the ban on singing hymns in Church. This has been part of a huge loss for all who play and sing music and those who simply love to hear it. This has been to the detriment of our lives which need the dimension that comes through music, art, theatre and all forms of culture. There is a search and a longing for the feeding of the spirit (the soul). Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to be at the Gibberd Garden in Harlow (where I volunteer) and there hear live music from Woodwind of Stortford. Just to hear music in the setting of a garden, planned and loved by the late Sir Frederick and Lady Gibberd, was to feel a rising of the spirit. Many have discovered in these very dark times, the place of gardens in lifting us out of the current difficulties of life to a new appreciation of creation and the creativity that gardening can bring. We only have to watch Gardeners’ World on BBC 2 to hear how people are turning to their gardens, allotments, or open spaces to experience something both healing and absorbing. To combine that with music, yesterday, was both joyful and uplifting.

Music plays a huge part in the quest for a deeper appreciation of what life is really about but the Covid-19 virus has wreaked havoc on our ability to play, listen to and experience music ‘in the flesh’ as it were. The BBC, Classic FM and live streaming of concerts of all kinds of music have done as much as possible to keep the echo of music alive in our hearts.
But there have been casualties and I ask you to think about those free-lance musicians who simply lost their jobs and livelihoods when Lockdown began in March.
Hymn singing has also been a casualty for many. Singers, Organists, other religious music makers are now able to offer a little under Government rules but there is still a huge gap to be filled.

Like all things, however, difficulties and loss often bring new awareness, insights and determination. (I sing far more in the shower than I ever did, without subjecting others!)
Also we can think carefully about what hymns mean to us and the spirituality they convey.

So below, my friend Diana Lowry, meditates on one of her favourite hymns. A new insight into ‘And now, O Father, mindful of the Love’

A Favourite Hymn

I am sure we all have favourite hymns and different hymns will speak to us at different times. Sometimes they may be linked to a person in some way and the one I am writing about today does have that connection. Here is the hymn which I have printed in full in case you do not remember all the words:

And now, O Father, mindful of the love
which bought us once for all on Calvary’s tree,
and having with us Christ who reigns above,
we celebrate with joy for all to see
that only offering perfect in your eyes:
the one true, pure, immortal sacrifice.

Look, Father, look on his anointed face,
and only look on us as found in him;
look not on our misusings of your grace,
our prayer so feeble and our faith so dim;
for, set between our sins and their reward,
we see the cross of Christ, your Son, our Lord.

And then for those, our dearest and our best,
By this prevailing presence we appeal;
O fold them closer to thy mercy’s breast,
O do thine utmost for their souls’ true weal;
From tainting mischief keep them white and clear
And crown thy gifts with grace to persevere.

And so we come: O draw us to your feet,
most patient Saviour, who can love us still;
and by this food, so awesome and so sweet,
deliver us from every touch of ill;
for your glad service, Master, set us free,
and make of us what you would have us be.

                                                William Bright 1824-1901

It is usually sung as a communion hymn and to me reminds me of the link of all of Christ’s life, not just his death, with the Eucharist. For instance it speaks of grace, forgiveness, freedom, support and love. It is also special because it was sung at the funeral of a priest whom I thought I knew well but never ceased to surprise me: he gave the impression that his faith was woolly and bendable but in fact it was at its heart very traditional and incredibly important to who he was and how he lived.

Now when I sing this I think of Chris living above, with God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit; I am reminded again that the sacrifice on Calvary was pure and true and forever. The hymns acknowledges our languid (indifferent) prayer and our faith that is often so weak, and how we misuse grace, but that all has been redeemed through Christ, that tomorrow is another day when we can do better. And then we bring before God those who we love; we admit that they too have shortcomings, but we pray for them and know that God will protect them and give them the grace to persevere.

The last verse teaches us about the Eucharist, giving thanks for all that our Saviour went through and knowing how special this food is – so aweful (breathtaking) and so sweet (beloved), that renews us and reminds us of our need of God and that we need never be parted from him. The tune (Unde et Memores) fits perfectly with the words: if you do not know the hymn do try the youtube link.

You can hear it performed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTBkw994IR8 by the Marlborough College choir.

Diana Lowry

* Diana is a Licensed Lay Minister in the Church Of England.

Theology of hymns

My friend Diana has been musing on our being unable to sing hymns in churches because of the coronavirus pandemic and how many of us are missing them. This is the reflection that she has sent me.

I have just come home from a trip to Cornwall. While I was there I visited several churches, some of which were open. One which I particularly enjoyed was St Just in Roseland, just by a creek. It has a large garden and is lovely and peaceful, even when the gardener was using the strimmer on and off! Even that couldn’t destroy the shalom that we felt as we sat by the water. The church is on the site of a 6th century Celtic chapel, reminding us how important Celtic Christianity was in Cornwall. The present building was built in the thirteenth century; a rector in the 19th century introduced many tropical plants into the garden most of which still flourish today. All along the, quite long, path down from the car park to the church are granite stones on which are written scripture verses, poems and verses from hymns. Apparently as each one was put in place the priest did a service of blessing over it.

The visit to this church reminded me how much I miss singing hymns in church at the moment. Apart from the joy of singing them I find that there is much in hymns to help us understand theology, and because we are singing them this tends to slow us down and encourage us to think about the words. I have so many hymns that I couldn’t possibly identify just one favourite but ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy’ is up there among them. I particularly value the verse: ‘But we make His love too narrow By false limits of our own; And we magnify His strictness With a zeal He will not own’. For many of us I believe, and certainly for me, it is difficult to completely believe in God’s unconditional love: there is nothing we can do to make Him love us more, and nothing we can do to make Him love us less. Perhaps this hymn is just another way of saying Psalm 86:15 ‘But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’, but easier to remember.

Although I fear it will be sometime before we are able to sing hymns in church again, there is nothing to stop us singing them at home, remembering always that we are told to make a joyful, not necessarily a tuneful, noise to God! Try singing along with a recording or YouTube video: there is one of this hymn recorded with an orchestra in Maida Vale at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=vJwfT3SY_PU; or you can hear St Paul’s singing it at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=raMn2iV9x2E . If you don’t have access to the computer you can ring Daily Hope on 0800 804 8044. I also recommend that you reconnect with Songs of Praise which is usually on at 1.15pm on BBC1. In addition to hearing, and singing the hymns, there are interviews with all sorts of people about what their faith means to them. Particularly if you are housebound, or only going out very little, it is easy to feel disconnected from other Christians and I hope that you will find that tuning into these different ideas can help you to feel less isolated.