A Bishop, A Hymn, and God’s Grace

With apologies to Laurence, Deacon and Martyr at Rome in 258 A.D., I’d like to write about something that happened on my drive in to church yesterday morning.  As I was making my way through Georgetown, my iPod which was in “shuffle mode,” randomly played the hymn (yes, hard to believe that a priest would have hymns in his iPod!) “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken.”  In The Hymnal 1982 there are two tunes associated with these words, written by John Newton (1725-1807), Hymnal 522 and Hymnal 523.  The first is Austria taken from a Croatian folk tune and arranged by Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809); the second is the tune Abbot’s Leigh by Cyril Vincent Taylor (1907-1991).  It was this second tune that my iPod chose as I slowly crept up Wisconsin Avenue.

Before arriving in Alexandria to attend Virginia Theological Seminary in the summer of 2007 I worked in an office building in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio.  The building was right across the street from the diocese of Southern Ohio’s offices.  Frequently, because we took the same route to get home, up Interstate 71-North, I would catch a glimpse of our bishop, Herb Thompson.  It was difficult to miss him–he drove a mint green BMW with a license plate that read, “THE BISH.”  The bishop was not a sullen demure man…at all.  One of the things that bishop Thompson loved to do was sing while driving in the car.  And I’m not talking about humming along, I’m talking about full blown, mouth open, belting-it-out SINGING.  One day I spotted him singing and slowed down to pull up beside him on the highway.  As usual, he was belting out a hymn.  Eventually he looked over at me and smiled and waved.  I gestured back that I had seen him singing and he looked at me and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “What?!  Why aren’t YOU singing God’s praises too?”  He had a lovely baritone voice and I am convinced that he had memorized every hymn in the hymnal.  I never once saw him open the hymnal during a service, he just sung it from memory, from his heart.

So there I was in Georgetown on Thursday morning having a Herb Thompson moment singing “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” while creeping up Wisconsin Avenue.

What struck me was the second stanza of the hymn:

“See, the streams of living waters, 

springing from eternal love,

well supply thy sons and daughters,

and all want of fear remove.

Who can faint while such a river

ever will their thirst assuage?

Grace which like the Lord, the giver, 

never fails from age to age.”

The theology of this second stanza is wonderful in its imagery of God as loving, giving, eternal.  The words should give us not only hope, but strength and courage in our lives knowing that the God who created us, who knows each of us more intimately than we even know ourselves–knowing and feeling our every thought, love, desire, guilt, frustration, and joy–gives us the living water of salvation.  And it is this live-giving, life-sustaining, redeeming water for which our souls, and indeed the whole world longs to receive.  God’s grace, our salvation from sin and death is freely given by the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  God’s grace is eternal, given to all of God’s children…even to you and to me.  Claim it.  Live it boldly–singing loudly and unabashedly in the car if you’d like; and give thanks to the God who loves you without ceasing.

In the name of God,


About matthewhanisian

Associate Rector at St. Alban's Episcopal Church, Washington, D.C.
This entry was posted in The Rev. Matthew R. Hanisian and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A Bishop, A Hymn, and God’s Grace

  1. Beatrice Meyerson says:

    Hymns are great. I wish we sang more of them. As a child I was very restless during sermons. My father told me that if I didn’t want to listen I should open a hymn book and memorize a hymn. As a result I have committed many hymns to memory. It was great advice.

  2. Anton Vanterpool II says:

    I’m still thumbing through Bishop Thompson’s life journey. Sometimes i wonder why I stay Episcopalian. All I do is look through the Hymnal. Maybe it’s Hymn #599, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” or some other tune that comes to mind and I return. Good to see some bishops aren’t afraid to carry a tune and sing God’s praises outside the church walls. Good Reflection.

  3. Kristie Hassett says:

    Hi Matthew. Yes, we should all sing out our faith more often, in many different ways and in many different places!

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