Greetings from the Moderator MARCH 2020
A Prayer in Two Songs
In the late 1960s, our church choir learned a lovely anthem based on a prayer ascribed to Saint Richard of Chichester (1197-1253). The text is simple and sweet:
Oh, holy Jesus, most merciful redeemer,
Friend and brother,
May I know thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
Follow thee more nearly.
You can listen to it here, sung by The Choir of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.
This prayer is a good meditation for Lent. Consider the opening progression of titles. First “holy Jesus”: set apart and sinless, sovereign King, “high and lifted up”; how can we dare to approach Him? Next, “merciful redeemer” is the gospel message in two words: God, rich in mercy, out of great love for us, even when we were dead in our sins! - made us alive together in Christ. (Eph. 2:4). This is Jesus the Redeemer, who offers us forgiveness, hope, life and reconciliation. Finally, “friend and brother”. We would be content to be servants of such a Lord, but Jesus calls us friends (John 15:15). More than that, we have been adopted into the family of God (Eph. 1:5; Rom. 8:14-17) and Jesus calls us brothers and sisters (Heb. 2:11-12).
The last three lines are the heartfelt prayer of a disciple, one who seeks to live out the gift of salvation and new life. Here is another progression. We have to know Jesus before we can love Him. I had a Jewish friend in college who attended a Christian revival meeting as a curious skeptic, but his skepticism turned to terror when he actually encountered Christ in that auditorium. He became a Christian out of fear that night, but as he grew in faith his fear was replaced by love. Knowledge leads to love, and loving leads to following. The more deeply (dearly) we love Jesus, the more closely we want to follow - not at a distance, but staying near Him, learning from Him, doing what He does.
The musical Godspell came out in 1971, only a few years after I learned the anthem above. You may remember “Day by Day”, a top-40 hit from the musical and also based on the prayer of Richard of Chichester:
Day by day, day by day,
Oh, dear Lord, three things I pray:
To see thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
Follow thee more nearly, day by day.
The Godspell lyrics add the words “day by day”. After hearing that, I could no longer think of the earlier text without also adding “day by day”. Knowing Jesus, loving Jesus, following Jesus is not something achieved once and then framed or set on the mantel to be remembered and admired. It must be done over and over, day by day, moment by moment. Some days we do it well and other days we fail miserably. God’s mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:22-23), so we can - and must - start again every day. Jesus is always by our side, within us, waiting for us.
Did you notice the change from “know thee more clearly” to “see thee more clearly”? It is easy for me to internalize knowing Jesus and focus on my personal relationship with God. Inward looking self-examination is part of our lenten journey and it is good. However, the Godspell version of “see” instead of “know” points my eyes outward, away from myself - to see Jesus in the people around me, including “the least of these”. This fits right in with becoming a Matthew 25 Presbytery, as Dan Williams wrote last month, and I need to get better at it.
One final comment on the Godspell version: the music starts quietly and contemplatively, but as the solo singer is joined by the ensemble, the song gets louder, faster, more energetic, and becomes a joyful dance. The scene from the movie shows the small band jumping off the cart on which they were lounging (listening to Jesus) and taking action - together cleaning up their surroundings, painting the walls, spreading kindness, beauty and joy. As the song ends, they are following Jesus again but on foot, not pulled along on a cart. Following Jesus must be active, not passive.
I need both versions of the song. The contemplative anthem sung by the sweet voices of a boys choir pulls me away from busy-ness and calms me down so I can focus on God. The exuberant joy of the Godspell song energizes me to go out from my quiet place and plunge into the world around me.
Here is a link to “Day by Day” from the Godspell soundtrack: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWAqW5D5kZo Warning: you may find the words and tune stuck in your head for the next few days. If that does happen, may it become a blessing for you through these days of Lent and afterwards.
Learning to know, see, love, and follow Jesus,