Sunday, 20 May 2012

A Sunday Morning Hymn

The dawn of God’s dear Sabbath
Breaks o’er the earth again,
As some sweet summer morning
After a night of pain;
It comes as cooling showers
To some exhausted land,
As shade of clustered palm trees
’Mid weary wastes of sand.

Lord, we would bring for offering
Though marred with earthly soil,
Our week of earnest labour,
Of useful daily toil;
Fair fruits of self denial,
Of strong, deep love to Thee,
Fostered by Thine own Spirit
In our humility.

And, we would bring our burden
Of sinful thought and deed,
In Thy pure presence kneeling,
From bondage to be freed;
Our heart’s most bitter sorrow
For all Thy work undone;
So many talents wasted!
So few bright laurels won!

And with that sorrow mingling,
A steadfast faith, and sure,
And love so deep and fervent,
That tries to make it pure;
In His dear presence finding
The pardon that we need;
And then the peace so lasting,
Celestial peace indeed!

So be it, Lord, forever;
O may we evermore
In Jesus’ holy presence
His blessèd name adore,
Upon His peaceful Sabbath,
Within His temple walls—
Type of the stainless worship
In Zion’s golden halls.

This hymn is by Ada Cambridge Cross (1844-1926). I just discovered it, at the dawn of this Sunday morning. I have a fondness for literature in praise of Sundays, like George Herbert's beautiful poem of that name:

Sundays the pillars are,
On which heaven's palace arched lies:
The other days fill up the spare
And hollow room with vanities.
They are the fruitfull beds and borders
In God's rich garden: that is bare,
Which parts their ranks and orders.

The Sundays of man's life,
Thredded together on time's string,
Make bracelets to adorn the wife
Of the eternal glorious King.
On Sunday heaven's gate stands ope:
Blessings are plentiful and rife,
More plentiful then hope.

People always talk about how dull Sundays were in the days before Sunday trading, when the Sabbath was strictly kept, and I'm sure they could be tedious. But this is the other side of it, which you don't hear so much about: a true day of rest, set aside from the cares and business of the week - whether "useful daily toil" or "so many talents wasted/so few bright laurels won" - a day of reflection and peace, to make us stronger for the week ahead. No wonder this hymn calls it the 'dear Sabbath'.

Also, I really like the kind of self-referential hymn which pays attention to what people might be thinking as they gather in church. Modern church music often tries to do this and sometimes does it badly, focusing on us and focusing what we're doing (singing a new church into being, apparently) rather than God. But this strikes a nice balance between acknowledging that people may have worries on their mind, and pointing them upwards to the eternal Sabbath in "Zion's golden halls". It reminds me of 'Not for our sins alone', another hymn which is highly self-referential but nonetheless humble and devotional, and completely focused in the right direction. 'Hymns about hymns' are always something special: this, one of my favourites, speaks of the other end of the Sabbath day:

Our day of praise is done;
The evening shadows fall;
But pass not from us with the sun,
True Light that lightenest all.

Around the throne on high,
Where night can never be,
The white-robed harpers of the sky
Bring ceaseless hymns to thee.

Too faint our anthems here;
Too soon of praise we tire;
But O the strains, how full and clear,
Of that eternal choir!

Yet, Lord, to thy dear will
If thou attune the heart,
We in thine angels’ music still
May bear our lower part.

’Tis thine each soul to calm,
Each wayward thought reclaim,
And make our life a daily psalm
Of glory to thy name.

A little while, and then
Shall come the glorious end;
And songs of angels and of men
In perfect praise shall blend.

Have a happy Sunday!

Pictures: two sunny Suffolk churches, Aldeburgh (top) and Stoke-by-Nayland

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