Monday, January 23, 2012

Come Ye Disconsolate

Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish,
Come, at the shrine of God fervently kneel;
Here bring your wounded hearts; here tell your anguish;
Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.

Joy of the desolate, light of the straying,
Hope when all others die, fadeless and pure;
Here speaks the Comforter, in God’s name saying,
“Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot cure.”

Come, ask the infidel what boon he brings us,
What charm for aching hearts he can reveal,
Sweet is that heavenly promise Hope sings us—
“Earth has no sorrow that God cannot heal.”[i]

The last verse of this fine old hymn was changed by Thomas Hastings in his Spiritual Songs for Social Worship in 1831, probably because of the implication of calling non-believers ‘infidels.’  I’m not suggesting that we start doing that, but neither do I want us to miss the point of the Irish poet Thomas Moore.  What does that embarrassing line ask?

“Come, ask the infidel what boon he brings us,
What charm for aching hearts he can reveal.”

That is indeed the question!  We are first of all loath to admit that those who are not Christians are infidels, and once having surmounted that insurmountable obstacle we are loath to admit the infidel has no boon to offer, no charm for aching hearts.  The word ‘infidel’ comes from the Middle English ‘infidele’ and means unbelieving.  No other religion, no infidel, offers the comfort that is an essential element of Christian faith. ‘He leadeth me:  O blessed thought!  O words with heavenly comfort fraught!  Whate'er I do, where'er I be, still 'tis God's hand that leadeth me.”[ii]

We live in a world fraught with many fears.  Hear the words of the Psalmist: “Destroy, O Lord, divide their tongues; for I see violence and strife in the city.  Day and night they go around it on its walls, and iniquity and trouble are within it; ruin is in its midst; oppression and fraud do not depart from its marketplace.”[iii]  We need the reassurance that “Earth has no sorrow that God cannot heal,’ and we need those “words with heavenly comfort fraught.”  After all, let me ask you, where can you go but to the Lord? 

The words of the Psalmist sound surprisingly like the evening news.  We live in the midst of Babylon.  There is violence and strife in the city; there is iniquity, trouble, ruin, oppression and fraud, and today there are many voices declaiming the moral decay of our society.  As a society we are like so many drunks sitting on bar stools mourning the fact that we are having a problem with alcohol and calling for another beer.  It’s not that we don’t see and to some extent even understand the situation we are in, but we have seemingly lost the will to do something about it.  But we Christians are in the world but not of the world.[iv]  There is a difference between the believer and the hopeless infidel.

The place to start is in persistent humble prayer.  The Psalmist cries,But I call to God, and the LORD will save me.  Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice.”[v]   The Hebrew way of reckoning the day started in the evening and The Book of Common Prayer does the same, which explains why the first services of Christmas and Easter are on the Saturday evenings before the Feast Day.   In the midst of the spiritual dangers of our society we are to cry out, we would say, “morning, noon, and night.”  The day is to be encompassed in prayer.

The Psalmist exhorts us, “Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.”[vi]  The Psalmist prays, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”  He confesses, “In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?”  Neither the Psalmist, nor Jesus in the Gospels, are na├»ve about the very real dangers.  Jesus tells us, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  The Christian living in a world with infidels filled faces very real dangers and today there are many who are martyrs the world over, especially in Muslim lands.  As hard as it is to hear, there are worse things than suffering pain or the loss of life.  The martyrs know what boon the infidel brings; they know what charm the infidel offers for aching hearts.

Peter, who himself was going to suffer martyrdom, asks us, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?  But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.  For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.”[vii]

Put your trust alone in Jesus.  Life is transitory.  Heaven is for ever, and heaven is real.  “Sweet is that heavenly promise (that) Hope sings us—Earth has no sorrow that God cannot heal.”  That is why, among other reasons, that St. Benedict tells us to “Prefer nothing whatever to Christ.”[viii]

[i] Thomas Moore, Irish Poet in Sacred Songs, 1816
[ii] Joseph H. Gilmore, 1834-1918
[iii] Psalm 55:9-11  
[iv] John 17:16
[v] Psalm 55:16-17
[vi] Psalm 55:22  
[vii] 1 Peter 3:13-17  
[viii] The Rule of St. Benedict, Prologue