An amazing collection of theologies and poetry, hymns are affirmations, encouragements and even admonitions. We cannot divorce ourselves from current life circumstances when encountering these powerful texts. And, as always, to read is to interpret. For me, a hymn is at its strongest when it speaks to today’s world issues. Brian Wren gets right to the core in his amazing metaphorical text: “When Christ was Lifted from the Earth” (Hymn 603).
When Christ was lifted from the earth, his arms stretched out above through every culture, every birth, to draw an answering love.
Still east and west his love extends and always, near or far, he calls and claims us as his friends and loves us as we are.
Where generation, class, or race divide us to our shame, he sees not labels but a face, a person, and a name.
Thus, freely loved, and fully known, may I in Christ be free to welcome and accept his own as Christ accepted me.
Some phrases stand out on my particular journey:
- “…. every culture….”- I wonder: if sin is defined as separation from god, then is the ultimate separation when we build walls between us and others (who are also made in the image)?
- “…. to draw an answering love.” – our answer (acting in true love) is modeled for us
- “…. loves us as we are.” – calling us to do the same (“answering love”), but our fear often causes us to lead with intolerance and bigotry in forms large and small.
- “Where…class or race divide us…”- easy to love those who look like us or follow what we have decided are the rules, but that sense of “control” only feeds our fears.
- “…. free to welcome and accept his own….” – Every! Culture! Every! Birth!
I believe Wren has captured the essence of the Christian message (if not that of all religions) through the model of Jesus’ earthly acts: a global compassion, tolerance, justice and servanthood. I am reminded that Love doesn’t mean adore, it means much more than that: an all-encompassing compassion and tolerance, especially when it is not easy. Neighbor doesn’t just mean next door, but literally all of humanity – messy and glorious. Out of dualistic thinking and fear, we apply our filters: “he just needs to get a job” or “the Bible says what she is doing is wrong.” Or we forget that love does not equal “agree”. Wren reminds that there are no filters for true love. In fact, this hymn says to me that what we sometimes eschew as “political correctness” may actually be the very act of love we should be showing to the neighbor we are not sure we like. It makes life easier, actually, because we do not have to stop to figure out who it is our religion allows us to serve. The answer, in the Christ, is: everyone! The hymn stands equally as an affirmation and as a pointed reminder in my daily struggle (especially when singing it, because singing takes things to the heart). This hymn reminds me what I need to be about. I believe it’s where the kingdom is.
When I am at my best, my life sings: “…. he sees not labels, but…a person and a name.”