This week’s Gospel finds Our Lord, having a mixed reception in his hometown, he sending the Twelve out with nothing but authority over unclean spirits and instructions to live in almost total poverty. With this charge, and a message that all should change their hearts and their ways, they are able to heal many who are suffering mental, spiritual, and physical illnesses.
‘We all are one in mission’, a song found in the Hymnal supplement Wonder, Love, and Praise, reminds us that all Christians, whatever our gifts and circumstances may be, are likewise called and sent out (which is what ‘apostle’ [Greek] and ‘missionary’ [Latin] mean) to share God’s love, grace, and redemption. The message of unity in service is perhaps reinforced by the repetition of the first half of the first verse as the last half of the last, and by its setting for unison singing to ‘Nyland’, a Finnish folk tune used more than once in the Hymnal. The author is the Rev. Howard ‘Rusty’ Edwards, an American Lutheran pastor.
This song’s further insistence that we work and pray that ‘people of all nations / may feel God’s warm embrace’ is a welcome reminder on a day when a more restricted vision perhaps inevitably finds its way into the Sunday liturgy. Two other hymns to be sung this Sunday have been chosen to nod in the direction of the coincident secular occasion while looking beyond narrowly nationalistic concerns.
‘God of our fathers, whose almighty hand’ was written for the centenary of the Declaration of Independence and doubtless intends the ‘we’ of the text to mean ‘American Christians’ (which categories were likely considered largely coterminous at the time), but it appropriately begins with an acknowledgement of divine sovereignty over creation, continuing with prayers for protection, guidance, peace, and faith (line 3.3 referring to a Collect now appointed for Proper 17). A prayer for defense ‘from deadly pestilence’ has not seemed so timely in a good while as it does today, while the hymn ends with an always relevant ascription of praise.
The original two stanzas of ‘A Song of Peace’ were written by American writer, illustrator, teacher, and composer Lloyd Stone in the early 1930s; an editor set the text to Sibelius’s ‘Finlandia Hymn’, the concluding part of the tone-poem Finlandia that has been used for many texts both Christian and national. Though Stone’s text invokes the ‘God of all the nations’, it is not overtly Christian, but rather simply observes that those in (equally beautiful) countries other than one’s own have equally valid aspirations, and asks that the ‘song’ (not explicitly a ‘prayer’) of peace be heard on high. A third stanza was added by Georgia Harkness, an American United Methodist theologian and philosopher who was a pioneer for women in her field; this stanza – now a ‘prayer’ rather than a ‘song’ – ties the concerns of the original text to the coming of Christ’s Kingdom, in which, she writes, all shall find common life.
The Introit appointed for this Sunday, taken from Psalm 48, also serendipitously recognizes God at both the center and the ends of the earth, and reminds the worshipper that it is in the place and act of worship – which, in the current age, may be found dispersed around the globe, among people of every tribe and language – that God’s loving-kindness is most reliably to be found; the appointment of this Introit also for Candlemas (the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord) tells us that it is in the person of Jesus that this loving-kindness most clearly appears.
The first and last words of the service are given to St Thomas Aquinas, author (or editor) of ‘Verbum supernum prodiens nec Patris’ (an Office hymn for the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi) and specifically its last two stanzas beginning ‘O salutaris hostia’, often sung separately, and found in the Hymnal 1982 [310/311]. (A tune to which ‘O salutaris’ is often sung is found at 220 and forms the basis of two French settings for organ, by Nicolas de Grigny [17th century] and Marcel Dupré [20th century]). Like Abelard’s ‘O quanta qualia’ , this hymn reminds Christians – and perhaps those of us who are members of colonial-settler societies, i.e. non-Indigenous citizens of countries like the United States of America, need to hear it the most – that our ‘true native land’ lies not here, but above; that we are ‘strangers and foreigners on the earth…seeking a homeland’… and ‘desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one’ (Hebrews 11.13–16).