Holiness must be derived from something holy in and of itself. Where God breaks in, there is holiness. We don’t strain and strive to become our version of holy – John Wesley tried that, it didn’t go well.
The people of God were called to exude that more gracious and merciful identity and action all the time.
A focus on numbers may tempt us to simply rearrange the deck chairs on a sinking ship rather than seeking to reach people who have not heard or had the opportunity to respond to the Gospel.
These hymns, like the psalms, come from or speak to different experiences – some quite specific, others more general – and they express a wide variety of feelings toward God, ranging from thanksgiving and adoration to supplication to bitter grief. The hymn I came upon that had a reference to Jesus weeping was under the heading of “For a Child in the Small-Pox.” In the midst of what would have been an agonizing time for the parents as they prayed through tears that God might bring healing to their child, Charles offered lyrics that help us to embrace this sort of grief and to not hold back in pouring out our hearts to God.
It took me a while to realize that I needed to sing the Old Testament so I was ready to sing the New. That is, we need to recognize how our world got lost; only then will we understand why God sent his Son to find it. I had to remember that we humans have needed Jesus from the time we stumbled out of Eden, and that our hearts have longed for him ever since Eve heard that her seed would crush the serpent’s head. When Wesley prays, “Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,” he is reminding us that our longing for Jesus is as old as the human heart.
So, while we can and should sing of Christ’s return throughout the year, Advent presents a key opportunity to declare with clarity this crucial doctrine in our faith. And as Wesleyans we have a gem in Charles’ hymn, “Lo! He Comes With Clouds, Descending.”
When I came back to this story of Jacob wrestling the stranger at the River Jabbok, I saw something that I had never noticed before. That is, Jacob is like Prometheus, in the Greek myth. Prometheus stole the fire from heaven and brought it down to human beings so that we could be like gods.
“From very early on Christians buried their dead near their places of worship. Where others placed their dead outside of cities and avoided such sites, Christians often celebrated the anniversaries of the death of their martyrs with the Lord’s Supper. Oftentimes this celebration was held at the place where the martyr was buried. Soon, many churches included the bones of the martyrs within the church building. Since death was not the final word about our bodily existence, it didn’t need to be something fearful. Christians understood that to be absent from the body was to be present with the Lord and there was no place where the Lord was more present than in the community gathered for worship. The understanding was that in Christ all are one.”
We ought to sing it more! Sing it, indeed, until we re-discover the power of this Name. Sing it until, as Charles Wesley urged, “Happy, if with my latest breath/ I may but gasp his name, / preach him to all and cry in death, / ‘Behold, behold the Lamb!’”
Our Lord’s ascension is, as I like to phrase it, “Easter’s exclamation point.” It tells us that the resurrection of our Lord is not simply a miracle, something to astonish us as with thousands of other miracles; it is a re-shaping of the order of the universe; it is the death of death. It is not simply a lengthening of life; it is a re-definition of life.