Tuesday, 13 March 2018

The same indulgent grace

I talked at St James’ on Sunday about the bronze serpent raised up on a pole by Moses to be (exactly how it is difficult to fathom from this distance) the source of healing for God’s rebellious people (Numbers 21.4-9).

One member of the congregation said she’d never heard the story before.  She was surprised – she had been sure that her long ago Sunday School days had equipped her with the key Old Testament stories, but here now was one mentioned by Jesus (John 3.14) which was new to her.

Perhaps it never gets read aloud in church.  It isn’t set for Communion, Matins or Evensong on a Sunday in the Book of Common Prayer.  It wasn’t set for Communion on a Sunday in the Alternative Service Book 1980.  And, although it could have come up seven times as a reading set for the Principal Service on the Fourth Sunday in Lent in the cycle of  Sunday readings we’ve mainly used since the late 1990s, each time it may well have been replaced by alternative readings for Mothering Sunday.

Anyway, having recently delved briefly into a verse of a long forgotten early Issac Watts hymn, I did find another totally eclipsed eighteenth century hymn (which appears to be an expansion of a Watts hymn) which seemed to do the job for the Sunday quite thoroughly, so, to everyone’s greater surprise, we sang it.

With fiery serpents greatly pained,
when Israel's mourning tribes complained
and sighed to be relieved;
a serpent straight the prophet made
of molten brass, to view displayed:
the patient looked and lived.

But O what healing to the heart
doth Jesu's greater cross impart
to those that seek a cure?
Israel of old, and we no less,
the same indulgent grace confess,
while life and breath endure.

To reason's view this strange effect
self righteous souls will still reject,
and perish in their pride,
but those who sin and break the law
do all their rich salvation draw
from Jesu's bleeding side.

May we then view the matchless cross,
all other objects count but loss;
no other gain desire:
here still be fixed our feasting eyes,
weeping with tears of glad surprise;
and thankfully admire.

Hail, great Emmanuel (balmy name!),
thy praise the ransomed will proclaim;
thee we “Physician” call:
we own no other cure but thine,
thou, the deliverer divine,
our health, our life, our all.

Meanwhile, I love the patterns made by the windblown snow in this recent picture taken from near St Gabriel’s, Stanbury looking across the valley to Oldfield Primary School.

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