This week I have the great privilege to attend the St. Olaf Conference on Worship, Theology, and Arts, at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. The schedule is filled with acts of worship, which include art making, music, theological discussion, preaching, and of course corporate worship. Monday night’s Eucharistic Worship Gathering was one of the most enriching services I have ever attended. Yes, the service was filled with many acts of worship, most of whom would call “high church;” or as I heard another conference attendee call it today “cathedral worship.” Brass, timpani, organ, and voices filled the sanctuary with praise, prayer, and lament. Liturgy (literally: the work of the people) was not a feeling of making checks next to the completed actions in the bulletin, rather; Liturgy was an active agent of moving hearts closer to God in the worship setting.
There were many things that were said, sung, and prayed in the worship gathering; yet, most of it all encompassed me when the choir led the congregation in a powerful hymn movement. As the words to the hymn began to be sung, and as they flowed from my tongue, I could not help but think of all of the many places of division, hurt, grief, and pain happening in this very moment all around the world. Here I am, praising and worshipping God, listening to a sermon about the “split personality” of God, if you will, as judgmental and grace-filled … and all that comes to my mind is the very divisiveness that has taken hold of each and every one of us, in some way or another. We look to God, and cry out, “How long?” But what if God is trying to tell us too, “Yeah- tell me about it- How long will you all divide and conquer one another?” The church universal, it is divided theologically, numerically, sociologically, geographically, soteriologically (understanding of salvation), Ethnically, etc, etc… And we, as the church, are calling upon God to help us in times of terror, hatred, bigotry, murder, and the like, when we cannot even gather ourselves together in one accord locally. We are, as well, caught in the dichotomy of judgmental behavior, and grace-filled behavior.
As we began to sing the song, the words reminded me of a God – my God – that does not want terror attacks, killings, hatred, etc. to be the answer; rather, my God – the one that created me, the one that continues to save me, the one that continues to guide me – is looking and calling upon true disciples to share loving grace, unity, rest, nourishment, and the Word.
The song is, “The Church’s One Foundation,” written in 1866 by Samuel Stone, in response to disunity in the church.
The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord;
she is his new creation by water and the Word.
From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride;
with his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died.
Elect from every nation, yet one o’er all the earth;
her charter of salvation: one Lord, one faith, one birth.
One holy name she blesses, partakes one holy food,
and to one hope she presses, with every grace endued.
Though with a scornful wonder the world see her oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping; their cry goes up: “How long?”
and soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.
Mid toil and tribulation, and tumult of her war,
she waits the consummation of peace forevermore,
till with the vision glorious her longing eyes are blest,
and the great church victorious shall be the church at rest.
Yet she on earth hath union with God the Three in One,
and mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won:
O happy ones and holy! Lord, give us grace that we
like them, the meek and lowly, may live eternally.
My prayer, this day and in the days ahead, is that we may live eternally in union with each other and with Christ; that we may move forward in grace-filled actions; that we may stop blaming someone else for our own actions; that we may embrace the saying I saw on a clip-art picture: “Different kinds of trees can grow together … why can’t people do the same?”
May God enrich you with this recording of last night’s hymn:
- The Church's One Foundation St. Olaf Conference on Worship, Theology, and Arts Mixed Choir and Congregation | Augsburg Fortress, St. Olaf Choral Series, 1999 | Recording from St. Olaf College Streaming Service | Dr. Anton Armstrong, conductor 5:29
In the mid-nineteenth century, Bishop John William Colenso of Natal raised a ruckus in the Catholic Church when he challenged the historicity and authority of many of the Old Testament books. Bishop Gray of Capetown wrote a stirring response of defense, which, in 1866, inspired Samuel Stone, to write this beloved hymn, basing his text on Article 9 of the Apostle’s Creed: “The Holy Catholic (Universal) Church; the Communion of Saints; He is the Head of this Body.” Now an affirmation of Christ as the foundation of our faith, we sing this hymn with those who have gone before us and with Christians around the world, declaring that beyond any theological differences, cultural divides, and variances in practice, we are all part of the same body, the body of Christ.
 The United Methodist Hymnal, (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1989), #545.