Saturday, September 25, 2010

Love bade me welcome . . .

When I was in the Concordia Festival Chorus at what was then called Concordia College in Bronxville, New York, we performed a piece called "Five Mystical Songs", a Ralph Vaughan Williams arrangement of four poems written by George Herbert, a poet and Anglican priest.  This was my Freshman year—has it really been seventeen years?—so I wasn't even a pre-seminary student at the time.  Yet the piece spoke to me about the nature of Easter and about the nature of baptismal faith.  (I've read that Vaughan Williams was an agnostic, and I hope the glory and goodness of God which his music so often proclaimed was able to reach his soul.)  It's seventeen years later, and I've been a pastor for ten years.  I've listened to that piece numerous times over the years, and it still speaks to me about Easter and the nature of faith. 

I recently came across a copy of George Herbert: the Complete English Works, and I couldn't resist.  I've started reading it, and the spiritual depth of his work is fascinating.  He articulates the tenets of the Christian faith in accessible terms, often in picture language.  I attempt as a writer to articulate the faith in both sermons and in verse, and it has always been a challenge and struggle.  Herbert's seeming ease in using the medium of verse to proclaim the faith is astonishing, revealing a spiritual maturity and a mastery of the language.

Let me share with you the poem "Love (III)", a work about the Sacrament of the Altar and the worthy reception thereof (and one of the Mystical Songs of the aforementioned piece).  Note how the unworthy guest is revealed to have been made worthy by Love to partake of the "meat", the body of Christ.

Love (III)

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
        Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
        From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
        If I lack'd anything.

"A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here";
        Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
        I cannot look on thee."
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
        "Who made the eyes but I?"

"Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them; let my shame
        Go where it doth deserve."
"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
        "My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
        So I did sit and eat.

And now, listen as the piece is performed.

What a great and glorious God we have, to reveal Himself to us in such wondrous ways!

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