One of the things I am missing most in our liturgy as we have to have it at the moment, is singing. (I know many of you will be relieved that I’m not singing!!) but I miss singing the mass and I miss the hymns. I have even had to ask our organists as they so beautifully enhance our worship, not to play familiar hymn tunes. I know that I couldn’t resist joining in!
The truth is though, that as well as enjoying a good sing, the hymns (well, the good ones anyway!) do give us such a lot in the way of easy to digest theology. (A few teach us some heresy too – but that’s another story for another day!)
In particular, this Sunday, as we celebrate the lovely Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, I would have liked us to sing two well-known hymns.
The first is by Bishop Thomas Ken, from the 17th Century, one of the so-called Anglican divines.
his hymn Her Virgin eyes saw God incarnate born, has much to teach us.
The second, by the great Charles Wesley, Love Divine all loves excelling teaches us too.
In the feast of the Assumption, we celebrate the beautiful belief that at the end of her earthly life, Mary went body and soul, to be with her son in heaven, that unlike us, she did not suffer bodily death and corruption.
Jesus fully God and fully Man as we say in the creeds, takes his humanity from Mary. Since no spot of sin could be found in Jesus, so Mary, unlike us who bear the stain of sin, was immaculately conceived, prepared in advance by the grace of God to be the pure Mother of God.
As Ken’s hymn puts it,
Her Virgin eyes saw God incarnate born,
As Eve, when she her fontal sin reviewed,
wept for herself and all she should include,
blest Mary, with man's Saviour in embrace,
joyed for herself and for all human race.
Heaven with transcendent joys her entrance graced,
near to his throne her Son his Mother placed;
and here below, now she's of heaven possest,
all generations are to call her blest.
But Mary is not given anything that cannot be ours. She may be the Queen of heaven, but we like her, with the grace of God, by washing away of our original sin in Baptism, by the forgiveness of our subsequent sins through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus, mediated by the sacraments of the church, can share with her the glory of the Kingdom of heaven.
The only difference is that for us this process of being made fit for heaven is a process, an ongoing process.
As Wesley, in the second of our hymns puts it:
Finish, then, thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.