Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Song of Christ's Goodness

Our first reading for the coming Sunday, the Second Sunday of Advent, concludes with the verses:
See, the Lord GOD comes with might,
    and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
    and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
    he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
    and gently lead the mother sheep.
It's not often that we hear about the mighty arms of our tender mother God. What does it mean for God's arm to rule, Isaiah seems to ask, if not for God to gently gather us together in those arms?

St. Anselm of Canterbury
I was reminded, on reading this passage today, of the great poem by St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), the medieval theologian, philosopher, and pastor, that we call "A Song of Christ's Goodness." Here's the version used as a canticle (a response to the readings in Morning or Evening Prayer) in the Episcopal Church's Enriching Our Worship:
Jesus, as a mother you gather your people to you; *
    you are gentle with us as a mother with her children.
Often you weep over our sins and our pride, *
    tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgment.
You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds, *
    in sickness you nurse us and with pure milk you feed us.
Jesus, by your dying, we are born to new life; *
    by your anguish and labor we come forth in joy.
Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness; *
    through your gentleness, we find comfort in fear.
Your warmth gives life to the dead, *
    your touch makes sinners righteous.
Lord Jesus, in your mercy, heal us; *
    in your love and tenderness, remake us.
In your compassion, bring grace and forgiveness, *
    for the beauty of heaven, may your love prepare us.
In a time when members of churches across the world are searching for language that expresses God's love with something other than masculine imagery, I'm always excited to see such beautiful examples from ancient and medieval sources within the Christian tradition.

And of course, in this season when we prepare to celebrate the simple and beautiful story of the Holy Family, of God born into the world to and through a kind and gentle mother, let's remember the beautiful circle of the love of our God, who was born of a human mother in order to be mother to all humans.

Pieta, sculptor unknown, c. 1420. Harvard Art Museums.

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