Antecommunion: What, Why, and How?

Something we’ve touched upon here before is the subject of the service of Antecommunion. I figured it’s about time we revisit that idea with a more direct address of its identity, purpose, and execution.

What is ‘Antecommunion’?

The prefix ante- means ‘before’, so the service of Antecommunion is the Service of Holy Communion before, or leading up to and excluding, the actual celebration of Communion.  Basically from the Introit to the Offertory, this is the non-sacramental part of the Communion liturgy.  The only difference is that this is done on purpose, and ends with a few different prayers, making this specifically the Service of Antecommunion rather than the Service of Holy Communion Except We Stopped Short Just Before The Important Bit.

Why would anyone do this?

Antecommunion is a uniquely Anglican practice; I’m not sure if any other tradition has ever had a liturgy on the books like this.  In the Prayer Book tradition, provision was made for the celebration of Holy Communion every Sunday and major Holy Day of the year, but, people were not used to such frequent reception of Communion, and despite the Reformers’ best efforts, the average English believer still only came to the Holy Table once a month at best.  The priests, however, were still expected to fulfill the liturgical demands of the Prayer Book, and so provision had to be made for situations in which there was a Service of Holy Communion offered but no communicants prepared to receive Holy Communion.

The 1662 Prayer Book has, at the end of the Communion liturgy, a handful of collects, and a rubric or two, for that very situation.  I’m not aware what, if any, subsequent Prayer Books contained similar instructions for that situation.

Now that Anglicans almost the world over are accustomed to weekly Communion, this “need” for Antecommunion is no longer common.  If your parish priest is unexpectedly sick on a Sunday morning, then a Deacon or Lay Minister could lead an Antecommunion service instead, since it’s almost identical to the regular Communion service.  This leads us to two possible scenarios in which the Antecommunion service may still be relevant for our needs and interests:

  1. A group of people, lacking a priest, want to participate in the eucharistic liturgy as much as they’re able.
  2. A priest, lacking a congregation, wants to participate in the eucharistic liturgy as much as he’s able.

The former situation is rare – normally when people want to worship together they should be saying the Daily Office.  Antecommunion should always and only be an addition to the Office, not a substitute.

The latter situation is perhaps more common, especially among those clergymen with high church sensibilities.  Roman priests, for example, were (if not still are) bound to celebrate Mass daily, much like how Anglican priests were (if not still are) bound to say the Office daily.  If you’re a priest and you feel like you “ought to be” celebrating Holy Communion daily, or at least ought to be celebrating it more frequently than just Sunday mornings, then Antecommunion is the compromise.  It is extremely rare to find, among Anglicans, anyone who approves of a priest saying Mass entirely alone – Prayer Book tradition requires at least two other people gathered with the celebrant, so only the most Romanized clergymen would ever opt for a ‘private’ mass.  So if you are alone, Antecommunion is the closest you can get to the devotion of the so-called private mass.

How does the service of Antecommunion work?

The whole point of this liturgy is that it’s a stand-in for the full Communion service, so it’s essentially identical from the start until the Confession.  After that, you say the Lord’s Prayer, and a few additional prayers, and then you’re done.  For a bookmark-style guide using the 2019 Prayer Book, download this Antecommunion leaflet.  Plus, if you want, you can check out this walk-through video.

As a bonus, I even provided a quick summary of how to do this with the 1928 Prayer Book, since I know some of you are users of that book, rather than the 2019.

I don’t like this hymn

One of the big challenges of praying, reading the Bible, and worshiping alone is the tendency towards doing what we like and skipping what we don’t.  Left to my own devices, I’d probably just chant psalms and read the Old Testament, Ecclesiastical Books, and sometimes also the Gospels and Revelation.  Maybe the Canticles and the Lord’s Prayer and a collect or two would survive.  But the liturgical tradition, particularly the Prayer Book tradition, keeps steering me (and all who heed it) on a healthier track for more wholesome worship that keeps the individual and the congregation rightly balanced.

It is along those lines that I’ve been developing the Saint Aelfric Customary the way I have: taking on trust that the Prayer Book is a reliable book, we’re seeking to explore its options, with classical Anglican tradition in mind, and build a Customary – a style and plan of execution of liturgy – that makes full and proper use of the options at hand.

The hymnal has received similar treatment, and you can read about the Hymnal-in-a-Year recommendation here.  As I’ve observed before, the 2017 hymnal put out by the Reformed Episcopal Church is an excellent blend of old and new; I was glad to see a few contemporary songs – the cream of the crop – make it into its pages.  That said, there are still some tunes in this book that I’m not really that crazy about.  When it comes to music, my passion is mostly in the British folk tradition, and my training is primarily renaissance, baroque, and classical.  When it comes to Christian singing, this leaves a couple massive gap in my experience: African-American spirituals or gospel songs, and the American revivalist hymn style that came under its influence.

Enter Marie Ferguson’s Joys are flowing like a river, to a tune written by W. Marshall, both in 1897, “BLESSED QUIETNESS”.  This is one of the hymns in the 2017 hymnal appointed for today, Tuesday in the week of Proper 14.  The arrangement in our hymnal is not quite the same as what I’m finding on YouTube, but you can get the idea.  It’s just one of those awful schmalty tunes with to many flats in the key signature, with lyrics just dripping with sentimentality.  As my congregation’s music minister I will never appoint this hymn to be sung because I can’t play that style properly, and as my congregation’s priest I will never appoint this hymn because we do so little music as it is that I want to make sure that no song is wasted.  But today I’m trying to sing it on my own, because it’s in the hymnal, and some people who are more knowledgeable and experienced than I am decided it’s worth being one of 639.

Joys are flowing like a river,
Since the Comforter has come;
He abides with us forever,
Makes the trusting heart his home.

Blessed quietness, Holy quietness,
What assurance in my soul!

On the stormy sea, Jesus speaks to me,
And the billows cease to roll.

It’s a Holy Spirit themed hymn, of which Anglican hymnody tends to be rather scarce, left to its own devices (though this is true also of Catholic and classical Protestant hymnody too – the Church has always sung more about Jesus than about the Spirit), so it’s no surprise that we’re dipping into other traditions to bulk up this part of the book.

There is a collect in the prayer book that I didn’t understand at first until I found its biblical source (Isaiah 30:15), which sounds very much like the refrain of this hymn:

O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength: By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray thee, to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This “blessed quietness”, this place of “returning and rest”, is a good place to be.  In that spiritual calm of “waiting upon the Lord” and spiritual peace, one can know and feel the presence and power of God.  So although this hymn comes across as super sentimental, it is still filled with biblical imagery and truth.  Let’s see the other verses (omitting the repeated refrain).

Bringing life, and health, and gladness
All around, this heav’nly Guest
Conquered unbelief and sadness,
Changed our weariness to rest.

Like the rain that falls from heaven,
Like the sunlight from the sky,
So the Holy Spirit’s given,
Coming on us from on high.

See, a fruitful field is growing,
Blessed fruit of righteousness;
And the streams of life are flowing
In the lonely wilderness.

What a wonderful salvation,
When we always see his face,
What a perfect habitation,
What a quiet resting place!

So yes, this is very much an emotion-driven song, which can make it both very effective (if you’re in the “right mood” for it) or quite maddening (it you aren’t), and yet in its emotionalism it continually latches on to biblical images in a way that shows decent theological reflection.  The Holy Spirit’s role as Comforter could be said to be the underlying premise of these lyrics, and explicated in both emotional and spiritual terms.  And if you’re less set-in-your-musical-ways than I am, you may even enjoy the tune!

So I have to admit, I still don’t like really like this hymn.  But I can also say it’s a good hymn, and I’ll try to sing it with you today, if I can the hang of the rhythms.

Readings Review 12 Aug.

One of the things we’re going to do on this blog on Mondays is look back and forth at the Daily Office readings (or lessons) so we can better process together what the Scriptures are saying.  I’m not always going to touch on all four reading tracks, much less give a play-by-play review of the week past or preview of the week to come, but just look more generally at where we’ve been and where we’re going.  I can’t turn this blog into a group Bible Study, especially since not all of you are actually using the daily office lectionary from the 2019 prayer book.  Plus, by sticking (usually) to a larger scale review of recent or upcoming readings, there’s a better chance of recent overlap with other similar lectionaries, and the ability to keep this weekly theme from going stale after a while.

The Readings

Last week: 1 Samuel 24-29, Romans 5-10, Hosea 2-8, John 7:25-11:44
This week: 1 Samuel 30-2 Samuel 5, Romans 11-16, Hosea 9-14, Joel 1, John 11:45-15:17
Special lesson for St. Mary the Virgin (15 Aug.) = Luke 1:26-38

One of the big “story arcs” here, so to speak, is the dramatic saga of David and King Saul in the morning OT lessons.  All of last week and for a few days this week we’ve been reading about the tension between the two of them: King Saul is frequently hunting his former bodyguard and musician, David, often with intent to kill.  And yet, David twice refuses to kill Saul when he has the chance even though he knows that God has chosen him to be the next king.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, David was quite a sinner himself; we’ll see more of that later.  But in the interactions between David and Saul, David is clearly in the right nearly 100% of the way through.  He understands that as long as Saul lives, he is the current anointed one of God to be king over Israel.

This sheds light on the interaction between Jesus and the scribes and pharisees and priests.  He knew that he was the Messiah – the Christ, the Anointed One – to whom their ministry pointed, and must eventually yield.  And although he exchanged words with them many a time, he never overthrew their authority.  For the time being, they were supposed to be “the clergy”, as we might say; they were supposed to be the teachers of the things of God.  And once Jesus ratified the New Covenant in his blood, only then did he cease to pay them the respect of their God-given office.  Indeed, the New Testament barely ever mentions them again after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

For us we learn the virtue of patience, of waiting, of respect for the present while anticipating the future.  We often like to “move on” once a deal is signed, and live and act as if The Future Is Now.  But if that’s really what we do, then we never actually respect and live in The Now.  This is especially important in spiritual things: we are now regenerate, adopted children of God.  We are now God’s people, cleansed by the blood of Christ.  But for now we are also still sinners, and we cannot deny that reality.  Just as David and Jesus kept their hands off their rightful crowns until God’s appointed time, so should we not pretend to have attained to sinless perfection, or the full consummation of the glory of Christ-in-us before the Kingdom of God is actually fulfilled when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead.  As David was persecuted by King Saul, and Jesus scorned by the Jewish rabbis and priests of his day, so too do we suffer under the reign of sin and death.

So, by all means, read these Old Testament stories with a keen interest in what David is demonstrating here.  He is not always such a clear typological picture of Jesus, but for many of these chapters he definitely is.

Regular Occasional Prayers

Early this year we had a post here about making the “Occasional Prayers” in the new prayer book a regular feature of one’s recitation of the Daily Office.  I won’t link you back to it though because that was built on the penultimate draft of the prayer book, and a few of those prayers have been dropped, merged, added to, and moved around, throwing the numbers off between the late 2018 draft and the 2019 final copy.

Instead, I’m providing a fresh shiny new upload here of this Customary’s Order for the Occasional Prayers!  Click that link to download it.

Some of the backstory to this can be found in the file – the Daily Office in the classical prayer books (before 1979) included a number of prayers and thanksgivings and collects after the Office (perhaps mainly just Morning Prayer if I recall) which were authorized-but-optional, to be added after the the required Three Collects toward the end of the Office.  It’s a mixed blessing having lost that feature in modern prayer books – on one hand people it’s nice to have a larger and more comprehensive appendix of prayers to draw from, but being place so far back in the book will make them less likely to be noticed by the average prayer book user.  That’s why this suggested order is put forth.

Let’s look at why this scheme is recommended the way it is.

Sunday, being the principle day of worship for the church gathered, has the section of prayers labeled At Times of Prayer and Worship as well as the prayers on Death, the Departed, and the Communion of Saints, as that is when most of the saints on earth are gathered.  The assigned prayers skip around, numerically, in order to avoid prayers that are too similar from being read at the same Office.

On Monday the prayers start at the beginning of the list, covering the section For the Church.  In general, the prayers for the morning are more specific and the prayers for the evening are more general or topical.

Tuesday morning covers the next section, For the Nation, again arranging the prayers so that too-similar collects aren’t prayed on the same day.  Depending upon which country you hail from, certain prayers along the way will be appropriate to omit (mainly in the USA versus Canada distinction).  In the evening, one day dips into the Personal Devotions list and the other starts the For Society section.

Wednesday morning is omitted, because that’s a traditional time for saying the Great Litany.  The evening finishes the For Society section and begins the next section, Intercessions For Those in Need.

Thursday morning skips ahead to more of the Personal Life and Personal Devotions sections, while Thursday evening (in light of the day’s traditional Eucharistic theme) covers most of the Thanksgivings.

Friday morning (like Wednesday morning) is omitted so you can focus on the Great Litany.  The evening covers the rest of the prayers For Those in Need where Wednesday left off.

Saturday covers the prayers about Creation and Family Life, as well as Personal Life and Devotion.  The creation theme matches the Morning Prayer Collect recommended for Saturdays (Collect for Sabbath Rest), and the family section is chosen to match the fact that Saturday is often a “day off with the family” for much of the working world.  The remaining personal devotions also serve as a sort of introspective preparation for corporate worship on the following morning.

For sake of simplicity, “Week I” should line up with odd-numbered weeks in the liturgical calendar, and “Week II” with even-numbered weeks.  For example, this is the week (in modern reckoning) of Proper 13, so this week should be considered an odd-numbered week.

Collect for Proper 13

With the Transfiguration over, the Collect of the Day in the Daily Office returns to this past Sunday’s Collect – for Proper 13.

Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your grace that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

What we see at work in prayer is a biblical principle from verses like 1 Corinthians 4:7 – “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?”  This humbling reality, that all good things that we’ve got come from God, applies even to our worship and service.

This reality is a balance between two extremes.  On one hand is an error more often made by Roman Catholics: the assumption that ordinary Christians are just too sinful and ignorant to offer God any “laudable service”, and so we entrust the clergy and the ‘religious’ to offer God more perfect praise on our behalf.  Go to church, hear Father celebrate mass, and we can say that we vicariously offered something to God too.  On the other hand is an error more often made by evangelicals: the assumption that if we just worship God with heart-felt enthusiasm that he will be truly honored, and so we dive in to a string of worship songs with the mad assertion that our feelings of sincerity are more significant to God than the actual content of our words and actions.

Countering both these extremes is the biblical reality: we can offer worthy worship to God, but only by his grace.  Grace then precedes worship and works.  Because of grace, we offer laudable service to God and strive to “run without stumbling” to attain to God’s heavenly promises.  As the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews put it, “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (6:11-12).

So when you sit down to pray (or kneel, or whatever), remember not to be overconfident in your own worthiness, verbosity, or sincerity; and remember not to be embarrassed, discouraged by your bumbling ways.  God gives you grace to approach his throne with boldness.  We find that grace in confessing our sins to a merciful Lord; we find that grace in praying prayers that God himself provided us to pray (especially the Lord’s Prayer and the Psalms); we find that grace in an order, a liturgy, provided by his Church, to assist us not only to form our prayers into coherent sentences but also to unite our prayers with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

And underlying all of that, of course, is the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.  Every baptized person has God the Spirit within, it’s not a matter of elitism or ordination status or what-have-you.  Be not afraid, when your prayers are bumbling and crude, the Spirit will “translate” your intentions to the Father; and when you think you’ve got it just right and perfect on your own wit, the Spirit will ask the Father for the mercy and humility you omitted.  Let us learn from one another how to pray, how to worship.  Think of the Prayer Book as the compilation of centuries of insight in this matter!  Rather than asking advice in prayer from one or two friends or pastors, why not turn to the collective wisdom of millions as represented in the Common Prayer book.

A Hymn for Holy Matrimony

It is a curious thing that for all our culture’s love of weddings, our hymnals stand remarkably short on hymns for this blessed occasion.  Perhaps people had a tendency to choose other favorite hymns; perhaps weddings were not frequently celebrated with hymnody back in the great hymn-writing centuries; perhaps weddings have long been too secularized (at least in popular mindset) for enough people to dare consider singing a wedding hymn from a hymnal.  Blessed be the ties that bind is the only hymn I can think of that’s even marginally popular for weddings, and some hymnals don’t even put it in that category!  It’s appropriate, for sure, but it’s not specifically (or exclusively) about holy matrimony.

So let’s take a look at a hymn that is specifically about marriage: O Father, all creatingYou may notice that it’s also explicitly trinitarian, verse by verse.

O Father, all creating, Whose wisdom, love, and pow’r
First bound two lives together In Eden’s primal hour,
Today to these thy children Thine earliest gifts renew:
A home by thee made happy, A love by thee kept true.

O Savior, guest most bounteous Of old in Galilee,
Vouchsafe today thy presence With these who call on thee;
Their store of earthly gladness Transform to heav’nly wine,
And teach them in the tasting, To know the gift is thine.

O Spirit of the Father, Breathe on them from above,
So mighty in thy pureness, So tender in thy love;
That, guarded by thy presence, From sin and strife kept free,
Their lives may own thy guidance, Their hearts be ruled by thee.

Each Person of the Holy Trinity is called upon to bless and sanctify the marriage.  As each has been revealed in Scriptures to relate to and interact with us in particular ways, so this hymn prays for their respective forms of presence and guidance upon the married couple.

It is perhaps a “no-brainer” to most of you who follow this blog that a marriage needs the guarding and guidance of God to survive in a holy state and bear spiritual fruit, but it should be observed that the way many weddings are celebrated, even among Christians, often tends to focus upon the marvellous love the couple holds for one another.  This is all too often exaggerated to the point where the binding force and strength of marriage seems to be their mutual love; God is hardly more than a formal afterthought, a patron to invoke for the sake of custom and respect.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say this hymn (or similar songs) should be required at every wedding we officiate, but the prayer and sentiment it puts forth is definitely and sorely needed, not only in the ears of our congregations and wedding-goers, but on their lips as well.

Let’s see how the last verse ends it:

Except thou build it, Father, The house is built in vain;
Except thou, Savior, bless it, The joy will turn to pain;
But nought can break the marriage Of hearts in thee made one,
And love thy Spirit hallows Is endless love begun.  Amen.

Drawing from the language of Psalm 127, this stanza narrows in on the complete dependence of man upon God.  Note particularly that last line, “and love thy Spirit hallows is endless love begun.”  Divine-inspired love between husband and wife is not perfect love, nor love fulfilled, but still only love begun.  The world will not be saved by spousal fidelity, no matter what some false teachers say.  Rather, a holy marriage is only the beginning of a picture of salvation.  When God makes two hearts into one, a glimpse of his divine love is introduced, not consummated.  Only continual reliance upon that strength and foundation will survive the course there begun.  As St. Paul wrote, “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3).

Most of my friends’ and family members’ wedding anniversaries seem to be either in June or August, which is why this Customary appoints the two Matrimony Hymns in the 2017 hymnal in early June and early August.  Feel free to move them around in your own use of this order for daily hymnody, as songs like the one we’ve looked at here are great prayers for your own marriage, or those of your friends and family!

The August Major Feasts

As mentioned a little while ago, we’ve got a major feast day coming up next week: the Transfiguration (August 6th).  Hopefully that will adorn your worship of our Lord on Tuesday!

But let’s take this moment, today, to cast our eyes upon the rest of the month.  There are two more major feast days coming up: St. Mary’s on the 15th and St. Bartholomew’s on the 24th.  On the surface these are pretty straight-forward commemorations, honoring the Virgin Mary, mother of our Lord, and Bartholomew (or Nathaniel), one of the twelve apostles.  If you dig deeper you can make further connections to tradition and history.

St. Mary’s Day (August 15th) was not in the classical prayer books.  This was for two reasons: first it was likely considered sufficient to commemorate Mary in the Purification/Presentation (February 2nd) and the Annunciation (March 25th) and having a third holy day for her would be redundant; and second, August 15th was originally a more specific holy day in Western tradition: the “Assumption” of Mary.  The assumption refers to the post-biblical event of Mary being taken up (or assumed) into heaven.  This is different from Christ’s ascension into heaven in a key way: Christ ascended, which is an active verb; Mary was assumed, which is a passive verb.  Like Elijah and Enoch and presumably post-mortem Moses, the original holiday of August 15th was to commemorate when Mary was taken up into heaven like those Old Testament predecessors.  I call this “extra-biblical” because it takes place after most of the New Testament was written, and thus is not preserved for us as a sure doctrine within the Scriptures themselves.  The Reformers, thus, did not typically teach the Assumption of Mary (nor did they necessarily deny it); it’s purely a diaphora from our perspective.  Thus we are free to read the doctrine of the Assumption into the Collect for this day or not:

O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

For St. Bartholomew’s Day we can also look back at the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, a riot of angry Papists who killed thousands of Protestants across France in 1572.  Feel free to Google it if you want to know about the history, just be careful you don’t end up reading about the Doctor Who story about it!  Or do; Doctor Who’s a cool television show. I review stories from that franchise as a for-fun activity.  Anyway, even though there’s no real logical or thematic link between Bartholomew and the massacre of Hugenots, other than the common incident of martyrdom, it’s worthwhile taking note of how major events in history that concur with church holy days can leave deep impressions in popular memory.  Shakespeare helps us do this with St. Crispin’s Day too, for example.

So consider yourself forewarned for a Thursday and Saturday later this month.  We’ll probably take closer looks at the liturgical observances of these days when they arrive, but it’s important for the worshiper to be aware of feast days before they make their appearance.  We’re invited to anticipate them the same way we anticipate Sundays, after all.

Let’s pray Midday Prayer together!

One of the nice additions of modern prayer books like the 1979 or the 2019 is the recovery of two minor offices – Midday Prayer and Compline.  These are not parts of traditional prayer book liturgy, but they (or at least Compline) have been popular devotions continued by many Anglicans since the earliest times of the Reformation.  They are regarded as “extra” devotions, which is why they aren’t part of our official historical tradition, and so when we see them in modern prayer books we should understand the liturgies for Midday Prayer and Compline as offerings for standardization, not as binding liturgical mandates the way Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Holy Communion are.  In other words, as you’re building a faithfully Anglican life and parish, MP & EP plus the Communion on Sundays and other red-letter days are what’s required; Midday Prayer and Compline are the optional extras.

That said, let’s take a look at what Midday Prayer can sound like.  If you keep it simple you can zip through it in two minutes tops.  If you take your time, it’s still short.  Here’s today’s service in under 12 minutes:

Order of Service so you can have your books ready:

  • Midday Prayer begins on page 33 of BCP 2019.
  • Psalm: 124 (page 35) set to chant tune #739 (in the 2017 hymnal)
  • Reading: Ezekiel 32 (according to our supplemental lectionary)
  • Brief reflection
  • The Prayers (page 37-39)

Praying Humbly

The Collect for Proper 12 (or, in classical prayer books, for the 12th Sunday after Trinity) is a truly humble prayer.  If you want to see an example of what it means to pray with a humble heart, look no further.

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This prayer acknowledges several things that takes our egos down a notch.

  1. God is more ready to hear than we are to pray.
  2. God gives us more than we desire or deserve.
  3. God forgives us the things of which we’re afraid to ask for forgiveness.
  4. God gives us god things that we’re not worthy even to ask for.
  5. We’re only worthy to ask God for things through the merits of another: Jesus Christ our Savior.

If you chase down some Scripture references this one prayer could be turned into a Bible Study, even a sermon!  And why not? let’s grab a few verses right now.

  • Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. – Isa. 65:24
  • God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. – 1 Kings 3:11-12
  • I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. – John 16:33

Sometimes in a conservative, confessional, liturgical, or otherwise traditional church setting, we might find ourselves downplaying the prodigal love of God toward us, preferring to take a more severe and sober attitude concerning our sinfulness or concupiscence, pushing back against the excesses of pop-evangelical culture, or worse, the prosperity gospel heretics who go on about bastardized versions of “God’s love” all the time.  It’s important, with prayers such as this one, to maintain that biblical balance between sober awareness of our sinfulness and joyful recognition of God’s loving-kindness.

So enjoy this prayer for the rest of the week, and revel in God’s love for you!  (But if you’re in a classical-prayer-book parish, then I guess you have to wait another month or so for your turn with this Collect!)

A Hymn Old & New

If you follow this Customary’s “Daily Hymnody” plan, using the REC 2017 hymnal, one of the songs you’ll come to today (probably this evening) is #453, Before the throne of God above.  This is a song that I really quite like a lot, and it’s got an interesting history behind it.

It is best known as a contemporary worship song; the music was written (as far as I’m aware) by Vicki Cook in 1997, and it became relatively popular in the CCM world in the 2000’s.  As a music minister in the early 2010’s, it was on my shortlist of contemporary songs that I wanted to use along with the hymnal my church used at the time.  It was one of the only songs I was sad to lose when we went hymnal-only.  (That was mainly for practical and logistical reasons, by the way, not because of any serious push against CCM.)  But the 2017 hymnal has this song in it, so I’m quite happy to have it back again!

Despite its current popular tune only just passing 20 years old, its lyrics go back to the American Civil War period, 1863.  It never seemed to have universally settled on any one tune – perhaps the curse of the Long Meter Double metric is that there were too many possibilities.  Whatever the case, this song remained somewhat obscure until Cook gave it a unique melody, and it has thrived ever since.

A big reason I like this hymn so much is because it explores a critical theological aspect of Jesus that doesn’t get a lot of attention elsewhere: his priesthood.  I’ve addressed its lack of attention before, arguing for a greater place of prominence for it in understanding the atonement, our salvation, and the sacraments.  Let’s take a look:

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea,
A great high priest whose name is Love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on his hands,
My name is written on his heart.
I know that while in heav’n he stands,
No tongue can bed me thence depart.

(The modern tune has the last line of this and the following stanzas repeat.)

This is essentially an exposition of Hebrews 7:25 – “[Christ] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” – and its context in chapters 7 through 10.  The second stanza addresses the self:

When Satan tempts me to despair,
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see him there
Who made an end to all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died,
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on him and pardon me.

This is classic reformational soteriology – Jesus paid the price, cancelled the debt, for all sin.  Even in the midst of theological precision, the poetry is striking: “the sinless Savior died / my sinful soul is counted free.”  The final stanza does what the second stanza recommends, it looks “upward” to “see him there.”

Behold him there! the risen Lamb,
My perfect, spotless, Righteousness,
The great unchangeable I AM,
The King of glory and of grace!
One with himself, I cannot die;
My soul is purchased by his blood;
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ my Savior and my God.

If you are in a hymnal-only church, or just are personally critical of CCM (contemporary christian music), I recommend this hymn as a tasteful example of modern music-writing, and an example that modern settings of classic lyrics is indeed possible!

If you’re a contemporary music kind of person and aren’t usually into hymns, this song is an asset to you, too.  It shows how classic lyrics can still come alive on modern lips, without drastic reworking of lyrics and the addition of bridges and choruses.  If people can enjoy these words, perhaps there are more old hymns that can find their way back into the modern crowd also without doctoring!