Before church worship service cancellations were confirmed, I had a hymn in mind to bring to my congregation to sing this weekend. It’s #249 in The Book of Common Praise 2017. Although it’s in the Evening section, I was going to appoint it for Sunday morning because of its excellent treatment of a subject often under-represented in classic hymnody: healing. Let’s check it out.
At even, when the sun was set,
The sick, O Lord, around thee lay.
O in what diverse pains they met;
O with what joy they went away!
It begins, you can see, with an acknowledgement of the many biblical stories of miraculous healing performed by our Lord Jesus. It isn’t spiritualized into the healing of the sin-sick soul, but actually about physical healings, which is (I think) a rarity.
Once more ’tis eventide, and we,
Oppressed with various ills, draw near.
What if thy form we cannot see?
We know and feel that thou art here.
O Savior Christ, our woes dispel,
For some are sick, and some are sad,
And some have never loved thee well,
And some have lost the love they had.
The fact that it is now evening is pretty irrelevant to the prayer of the song, really. It’s just there to maintain a poetic continuity between the first two stanzas. What we’re tackling here, primarily, is the acknowledgement and offering of our various forms of sickness (physical, emotional, spiritual) and the prayer for Christ to dispel such woes from us. The statement that we “know and feel” God’s nearness perhaps betrays the 19th century romanticism (compared to the more-subdued-emotions lyrics of the previous two centuries), but it’s not over the top by any stretch.
The next verse narrows in on our spiritual condition as fallen human beings:
And none, O Lord, have perfect rest,
For none are wholly free from sin;
And they who fain would love thee best
Are conscious most of wrong within.
This is a difficult truth to admit – those who most truly and earnestly love God are the most aware of their sinfulness and unworthiness before him. It is, therefore, revealing of an imperfect (or even false) love when someone is apparently on fire for Jesus but has little sense of the gravity of his or her own sin.
The final two verses turn the focus away from us and onto Christ our Lord.
O Savior Christ, thou too art man;
Thou hast been troubled, tempted, tried;
Thy kind but searching glance can scan
The very wounds that shame would hide.
Thy touch has still its healing pow’r;
No word from thee can fruitless fall;
Hear, in this solemn evening hour,
And in thy mercy heal us all. Amen.
Never put Jesus’ humanity in the past tense; his incarnation is not one-and-done, but a union that lasts into eternity. That’s how he is our Great High Priest, as the epistle to the Hebrews explains in detail. And yet, as God, he sees and knows all our wounds and sins. He can still heal; his word never returns to him empty (cf. Isaiah 55:11).
This is, for sure, a very good song to bring to our attention during this COVID-19 pandemic.