The Advent Ember Days are upon us (see the link if you need a refresher on what ember days are). A set of Ember Days comes around every three months or so, so we get to enjoy them with a different contextual emphasis each time. In this time of year, having just heard about St. John the Baptist on the previous Sunday gives an interesting angle on the ministry: preaching the gospel, calling for repentance, baptizing, all good stuff.
But we’re in the thick of Advent, and chances are you don’t have a lot of spare time for a midweek Communion or Antecommunion service, so how about you take a page out of my book (figuratively for now) and include an appropriate hymn in your ordinary rounds of worship today? The one appointed in this customary’s daily hymnody cycle is Pour out thy Spirit from on high. The lyrics in the 2017 hymnal read thus:
Pour out thy Spirit from on high;
Lord, thine assembled servants bless;
Graces and gifts to each supply,
And clothe thy priests with righteousness.
Before thine altar when we stand
To teach the truth as taught by thee,
Savior, like stars in thy right hand
The angels of thy churches be.
Wisdom, and zeal, and faith impart,
Firmness with meekness from above,
To bear thy people on our heart,
And love the souls whom thou dost love;
To watch, and pray, and never faint,
By day and night strict guard to keep,
To warn the sinner, cheer the saint,
Nourish the lambs, and feed thy sheep.
Then, when our work is finished here,
We may in hope our charge resign.
When the Chief Shepherd shall appear,
O God, may they and we be thine! Amen.
This hymn is unusual in that it’s spoken mostly from the minister’s voice. In that sense, it’s almost not a congregational song, which is very unusual indeed. But, knowing that a fair number of clergymen read this, I can happily commend this hymn to you as a lovely prayer indeed for our character and our work.
I’m not going to break down all the scriptural references in this hymn, but a few should be noted: “clothe thy priests with righteousness” is in Psalm 132 and the Daily Office Suffrage. The reference to being “stars” and “angels” is from Revelation 1. The call to faintless watching and prayer is reminiscent of Jesus’ later teachings about anticipating the Kingdom of God, echoed a bit in St. Paul’s writings, and is particularly appropriate to the Advent season.
So please, take a moment today or Friday* to sing or pray this hymn, or others like it, on behalf of your bishop(s), priests, and deacons. We need all the prayer we can get!
* Ember Days usually come in threes: Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, but this year we “lose” Saturday’s Ember Day to the feast of St. Thomas.