Lenten Hymn of the Week: Hymn 603, Hymnal 1982

March 14, 2014 Comments Off on Lenten Hymn of the Week: Hymn 603, Hymnal 1982

Brian WrenThis coming Sunday, we will be singing Hymn #603 in the Hymnal 1982, “When Christ was lifted from the earth.” The words were composed by Brian Wren, one of the most prolific hymn writers of the 20th century.

When Christ was lifted from the earth His arms stretched out above
Through every culture, every birth, to draw an answering love.

Still east and west His love extends and always, near or far,
He calls and claims us as His friends and loves us as we are.

Where generation, class, or race divides us to our shame,
He sees not labels but a face, a person and a name.

Thus freely loved, though fully known, may I in Christ be free
To welcome and accept His own as Christ accepted me.

The hymn text recalls a portion of the Gospel text for the day, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15) The words ask us to lift up our gaze to Christ, who in his seemingly most desolate and humiliating moments, was lifted from the earth on the cross, but who draws not scorn from us but an inexplicable love, a bloom of compassion and gratitude for the depth of love that flows from his obedience unto death.

What a paradox! How can we gaze upon a man so wracked with pain and despair, so powerless and broken, and feel not repulsion but attraction? And how can his moment of desolation swing wide the gates of blessedness rather than clank them shut?

The hymn tune paired with this text reflects this blessed paradox. While the text reminds us of Christ’s awful lifting from the earth on Good Friday, the tune is in ¾ time: a slow waltz. While speaking of his cross, the tune and rhythm invite us to dance, to remember that this lifting, though terrible, is for us and for our salvation. The cross communicates to us definitively the lengths to which God is willing to go for the love of us, not as we may one day be, but just as we are. And knowing ourselves to be accepted and cherished, we find ourselves moved to reach forth our own hands in love, “to welcome and accept,” those who belong to Christ, which is everyone.

– The Rev. Gabriel Lamazares

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