Just about every Sunday morning something in the service at church comes as a pleasant surprise or a special joy. Often it is music by Byrd, Bach, Victoria, or Palestrina sung by the choir, but just as often it is a hymn. This past Sunday was no exception. The special joy came in the form of the processional hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation,” number 525 in the Hymnal 1982.
Often used at confirmation and ordination services, it has another special meaning for me and Jonnie Sue. We have used it in the funeral services for our parents and my brother. It is the fifth verse that makes it seem especially appropriate:
Yet she on earth hath union with God the Three in One,
and mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won.
O happy ones and holy! Lord give us grace that we
like them the meek and lowly, on high may dwell with thee.
I can seldom get through it without tears welling up. It is a hymn of wide ranging imagery, each verse featuring a different facet of the church: its creation by Jesus (vs 1), its oneness over all the earth (vs 2), its struggle with discord and its faithfulness nonetheless (vs 3), its longing for peace and the beatific vision – “the vision glorious” (vs 4), and the communion of saints (vs 5).
The hymns are a prime example to me of the value of repetition. The prayers that we say consistently, such as the General Thanksgiving in Morning and Evening Prayer, the Prayer of Humble Access at the beginning of the service of Holy Eucharist (Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hid…”), and hymns that I have sung for years, some since childhood, such as “Holy, holy holy! Lord God Almighty” (number 362) are deeply embedded in my consciousness as a result.
What hymns have come to have special meaning for you? Which have become part of your whole mental and spiritual makeup, the sound track in the background of your mind and life?
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 28-April-2015.