Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Glory of These Forty Days

The United Methodist Hymnal doesn't have many Lent-specific hymns outside of the Holy Week section, which is a shame. "The Glory of These Forty Days" isn't in the UMH or any of the supplements, but it's in the Catholic Missal and the Hymnal 1982 (Episcopal).

The glory of these forty days
We celebrate with songs of praise;
For Christ, by Whom all things were made,
Himself has fasted and has prayed.

So often we don't think of Lent as a season of celebration or a time of glory. It's solemn and somber, a contrast to Easter following it. We bury alleluias during Lent! Nevertheless, though, a season of introspection and cleansing should be joyful. I'm reading through Mark, and I recently read the section in which Jesus tells the Pharisees that "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." Lent is a gift to us just as the Sabbath is. Lent is a time to look to the model of Christ, fully God and thus Creator, in fasting and prayer. As we seek to be renewed in God's image, we follow the example of God Incarnate.

John Wesley names fasting and prayer as two of the works of piety, thus listing them among the means of grace. These are disciplines that God uses particularly to work within us. The means of grace are not the only channels through which God works in us, of course, but they are the primary ones:
By "means of grace" I understand outward signs, words, or actions, ordained of God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels  whereby he might convey to men, preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace.
-- John Wesley, "The Means of Grace," Sermon 16
During Lent we incorporate fasting and prayer in particular into our daily lives, as set forth by the example of Christ, so that we may be cleansed, renewed, strengthened, and confirmed in our faith.

In the next two verses the hymn continues to list those whom we see fasting and praying throughout scripture, naming Moses, Elijah, Daniel, and John. (I always think of Esther, especially since that brings in the community aspect of fasting and prayer.) In light of the Lectionary readings this past week, which were about the law, I especially like the two lines about Moses:

Alone and fasting Moses saw
The loving God Who gave the law

Here's the fourth verse:

Then grant us, Lord, like them to be
Full oft in fast and prayer with Thee;
Our spirits strengthen with Thy grace,
And give us joy to see Thy face.

The hymn here turns to prayer and begins to address God. This is our prayer for all seasons but especially these forty days of Lent, that we, trusting in God's grace, could be strengthened and filled with joy in the Lord.

O Father, Son, and Spirit blest,
To thee be every prayer addressed,
Who art in threefold Name adored,
From age to age, the only Lord.

I've been reading about how few worship songs are explicitly Trinitarian, so coming across a hymn that was very Trinitarian despite the focus of most of the hymn being elsewhere really highlighted that point. God as the Trinity is always relevant. We are created, redeemed, and sustained by all three persons of God. All of our prayers and all of our praise are to God the Three in One.

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