Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Putting the Devil to Flight: NRH hymn sing with Greg Wilbur NRH 09

With Greg Wilbur at New Reformation Hymns sing
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We Worship Christ, the Cornerstone ( NRH 09

October 1, 2016 (the Bond's first anniversary of moving to the Red House Farm) we hosted a hymn sing with composer extraordinaire (etc.) Greg Wilbur at my Scriptorium on our farm. Rainy fall evening that it was, nearly 50 people from a a dozen churches gathered to sing New Reformation Hymns set to Greg Wilbur's warm, appropriate, and wide-embracingly accessible tunes (with background accompaniment in the form of lowing, clucking, bleating, and oinking). 

The finale of our evening of singing was We Worship Christ, the Cornerstone, and by request, appropriately, and with triumphal resolve, sung twice over. So grateful to Greg and a number of able musicians, from upright bass to recorders, for the rich accompaniment!

“Music is the art of the prophets," wrote Luther. "It is the only other art which, like theology, can calm the agitations of the soul and put the Devil to flight.” I opened our evening with this reminder from the great Reformer and hymn writer. Our functional goal in creating NRH hymns is to wed solid reformational theology with poetry (hopefully of the enduring quality; remains to be seen), with the best tunes, accessible to the whole body of Christ, regardless of age, church background (or none), hipster, non-hipster, black, white, and everything between, for "One body made of many parts." Our theological/liturgical goal in writing NRH? To glorify Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; to build up the body with adoring, Psalm-like praises to Jesus Christ; and to put the Devil to flight.

How We Worship Christ, the Cornerstone, my most ironic hymn, came about: I was included in the loop of a series of emails from church musicians who had attended a music symposium in Florida. They all seemed to agree that there was a dearth of hymn poetry on the theme of unity and oneness in the body of Christ as explored by Paul in Ephesians 2:11-22. I'm pretty certain that the dearth of hymns on this theme is simply objective reality on display, the inevitable mirroring of the woeful lack of substantive unity within the church. It's difficult to rise and lustily sing about something experientially absent.

My process when I am going to write a hymn on a particular theme is to read the passages of Scripture that preceptually lay out the theme, then to cross-reference with everything I can unearth on the theme in sermons and commentaries; after that I begin gathering reoccurring phrases and words. All the while praying for the Spirit to sanctify my imagination, I enter with trepidation into the mysterious realm of poetry (Tolkien believed that all communication was poetry before the Fall and that in some mysterious way poetry moves us back to the garden, my paraphrase).
Why is NRH 09 my most ironic hymn? The year I wrote it, 2009, marked a major turning point in the Bond family life. After coming to our wits' ends at preaching wrenching us back to Moses more than fixing our eyes on Jesus, we began a process of rediscovering the beauty and wonder of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That rediscovery would come at a price: 25 years of visible church unity was severed; after my publisher urged me to write a book on how covenant moralism and legalism erode the gospel, and my reluctantly writing GRACE WORKS! (And Ways We Think It Doesn't), months after its release, I was terminated after more than two decades of commended teaching at an institution led by men who had decided that mine was a trajectory at odds with theirs.

Hence, ironically, in December of 2009, when what the Bible means about confessional unity had been wrenched from the theoretical to the wincingly real and immediate in our lives, I managed to write the following lines. They came together as if I had been given a poetical/theological spinal block--painlessly, at least while writing the hymn. I won't kid you; there's a great deal of lingering pain in the process of rediscovering the gospel of Jesus and being misrepresented, misunderstood, maligned, ostracized, even shunned. Is it worth it? "Saints, apostles, martyrs Answer, Yes!" And if they can, under infinitely weightier crosses, by the grace of God, YES! So can we. 

We worship Christ, the Cornerstone,
Who made us one in him alone!
Not Jew nor Gentile, bond nor free,
This commonwealth of unity.           
Our Lord has from the two made one,
And with his blood our peace has won.

Brought near in Christ, the Prince of Peace,
Our envy, strife, and warfare cease;
For tribes and tongues, and strangers all,
Our Peace has broken down the wall;
New covenant mercy he extends
To us his fellow heirs and friends.

One faith, one hope of heav’n above,
A unity of holy love;
One body made of many parts,

A unity of loving hearts;
One temple built of cast-off stone,
Made holy by the Holy One.

To Jesus Christ we lift one voice— 
The household of our Father’s choice—
Whose love makes ours for others grow
And makes the watching world to know
That our abiding Cornerstone
Has made us one in Christ alone!

       Douglas Bond, Copyright, December 2, 2009

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