Thursday, March 5, 2015

Teach Us With Thee to Mourn Our Sins

"Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days" by Claudia Hernaman is one of the few non-Holy Week hymns in the United Methodist Hymnal that is explicitly Lenten. It's commonly sung on Ash Wednesday or the first Sunday during Lent, but it's appropriate for the whole season.

Lord, who throughout these forty days
For us didst fast and pray,
Teach us with Thee to mourn our sins
And close by Thee to stay.

The first verse of this hymn is probably my favorite, and  "Teach us with Thee to mourn our sins" is without question my favorite line. The forty days of Lent mirror Christ's forty days in the wilderness, and so Lent should be for us a time of spiritual discipline as set forth in the Lord's example. Lent is a season of both penitence and reconciliation, and those require self-examination. But we don't observe Lent alone. It's not within our power to keep our Lenten disciplines alone! The point of Lent is our need for God's grace. Without God's grace we would not know what is sin, we would not be able to repent of sin, and we would not recognize in ourselves the image of God. We would not know God. Only by God's grace can we be cleansed, restored, and go on to perfect love.

Jesus was fully God and fully human; he was both tempted as we are and yet did not sin. So it is from the Lord who was incarnate as one of us that we must learn to mourn our sins and turn back to God. The second stanza of the hymn includes the lines, "O give us strength in Thee to fight, in Thee to conquer sin." We can only do that with strength from the Spirit. We can only overcome sin in God's grace.

Here's the third stanza:

As Thou didst hunger bear, and thirst,
So teach us, gracious Lord,
To die to self, and chiefly live
By Thy most holy Word.

"To die to self and chiefly live" is another line I love. I appreciate the juxtaposition of life and death, that what we must learn is first to die and then to live again, and it's so important that it is a Lord of grace who teaches us these things. We learn from the Lord who is so gracious that he not only bore hunger and thirst but died and lived again for us. God's grace is immeasurable, and yet the level of love and grace that Christ demonstrated, that level of setting aside ourselves and living in relationship with God and each other, is the goal. And when we seek to so live, it is by that Lord, who is the Word incarnate, that we do so.

Here are the last two verses, which really go together:

And through these days of penitence,
And through Thy passiontide,
Yea, evermore in life and death,
Jesus, with us abide.

Abide with us, that so, this life
Of suffering over past,
An Easter of unending joy
We may attain at last.

Easter is where we are going. The goal is new life, resurrection, perfect love. We pray for Christ to be with us in our season of penitence, in days of darkness, and then in the season of light and rebirth. We pray for Christ to abide with us in both life and death, in joy and time unending. It is only by God abiding with us now that we can hope for forever, but we know that Lent leads to Easter, and so we can live into that hope of what is coming.

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