Thursday, May 20, 2010

Reflections on an Easter Hymn

As the time of the Easter season draws to a close, I thought it appropriate to revisit a timeless Easter hymn. For those of you in our church at Mountain View, this is a song we used on Easter Sunday this year. It's title: This is the Threefold Truth.

This is the threefold truth
on which our faith depends;
and with this joyful cry
worship begins and ends:
Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!

On this we fix our minds
as, kneeling side by side,
we take the bread and wine
from him the Crucified:
Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!

By this we are upheld
when doubt and grief assails
our Christian fortitude,
and only grace avails:
Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!

This is the threefold truth
which, if we hold it fast,
changes the world and us
and brings us home at last.
Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!
Let's reflect for a moment on the refrain of that song (in italics). How fully does this capture our hope and message? How central is it to who we are as a redeemed people? This line, though beautifully put to music, is not original to this song. In many churches this is spoken by the congregation as part of the liturgy known as the "gospel acclamation." How many evangelicals, if approached on the street and asked to define the gospel, would include these three essentials in their response? I'm afraid, as shown on the White Horse Inn, most would launch right in to a man-centered definition that revolves around their own personal experience of conversion.

What is the significance of this gospel acclamation? I find it interesting to note how the truth is threefold. So is trinitarian God whom it reveals. I find that it captures the Good News in a way that no other 10 words can. In the death of Christ we find our forgiveness of sins and peace with God (justification). In His resurrection and life we are given new life, strength for today, and the power to do what is right (sanctification). And by his future coming we are given hope for tomorrow and the life eternal, which is bound up in an intimate knowledge of our Creator, as we are caught up into his presence (glorification).

The gospel is an ever-present reality. Notice how the gospel acclamation covers all time: past, present, future... A theme which you can find being marketed and exploited all over modern culture from contemporary new age spirituality to your local jeweler. However, this concept of the redemption of all time has unique origins in the Christian story of redemption through Christ. Even as early as the third or fourth century, we have the ancient Christian prayer that captures this theme. We know it today as the Gloria Patri:
"Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever, amen."
This prayer serves as a reminder to us that all time and existence is for the glory of God. It finds its most common use as a refrain to Christian singing of the Psalms, in order to bring a trinitarian focus to inspired poems written prior to the full revelation of the Messiah.

Two interesting notes on the Gloria Patri: First of all, the traditional language version ends the second phrase of the prayer this way: " it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end." World without end... a traditional English colloquialism found in the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. The song sung at my wedding, "Grow Old Along With Me" by Mary Chapin Carpenter, uses this line to express the eternity of love. This is an example of the Christian tradition influencing culture. Mostly today we see the opposite.

The second item of note about this prayer is the way that it anticipates one of the crucial doctrines of the Protestant reformation: Soli Deo Gloria. Simply put, all things exist for the glory of God. Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, as the Westminster catechism says. So in the Gloria Patri we see, as early as the fourth century, evidence of this timeless truth, which was rediscovered 1200 years later, being carried by the Christian tradition (it's highest aim, imo).

And indeed God is glorified through all time. He chooses to glorify Himself through even His enemies, sinners such as we were, as we get caught up in the life of the triune God through the threefold truth for all eternity. Let us not fall into a single dimensional understanding of grace that merely declares the good news of what Christ has done. It doesn't stop there: He is doing today, and he ever shall, world without end. To God be the glory, amen.

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