Lenten Hymns: Walking the Road Bravely
For the next few weeks, our NorthPark bloggers will make Lenten reflections based on their favorite hymns.
This week, Rev. Kelly Staples has chosen “What Wondrous Love,” which is found in the PC(USA) Glory to God Hymnal #215.
One of my favorite Lenten hymns opens with the line, “What wondrous love is this? O my soul.” I think I’m drawn to it stylistically because I think it takes serious musical “guts” to open your song with a question.
We didn’t read the Old Testament lectionary text in church this past Sunday, but it’s a text from the beginning chapters of Genesis, where God shows Adam the Garden of Eden and warns him against the forbidden fruit.
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”
– Genesis 2:15-17
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’
– Genesis 3:1-6
When I was in seminary we read and translated this story from Hebrew, and one of the things that we lose in the translation to English is what the serpent says to Eve. The serpent says (literally) “you won’t DIE die.” The word is repeated for emphasis, which makes the statement less of “you will not die” and more “you won’t really die” or “you’re not going to drop dead right now if you eat that fruit.”
This means (and it is always hard for me to grasp) that the serpent is telling the truth.
Adam and Eve do not drop dead instantly on the ground the moment they swallow a bite. But God is also telling the truth, because this is the moment that mortality is introduced to the first humans. Now they will eventually die. This is an intense story because it means that both God and the forces of the world can tell me something true, and the two can be in disagreement with each other.
This is a deep and intense theological question that follows me daily: “Whose truth will I believe? Whose truth is most relevant?” Sadly, God’s truth doesn’t always win the arguments I have with myself.
Part of Lent is coming to terms with your own mortality and the truth that one day we will die – and that death and sin are tied together. We began the season with “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” I don’t like thinking about death, any more than I like thinking about how pervasive sin is in my life. But this is the call of the season, to ponder death and the hope offered in Jesus; to ponder sin and the forgiveness offered by our Christ; to feel fear and also courage in facing death, knowing the messiah has conquered it on our behalf.
The hymn goes on: “To God and to the Lamb who is the great I AM, while millions join the theme, I will sing.” I find this line to be so powerful – the image of singing when you are afraid, of lifting praise when you are lost and feel abandoned. It speaks to me of a Christ-follower who is walking the road bravely. That is the way I want to face Lent and my own mortality every day.
Finally, the last words offer us the promise of Easter, reminding us that when we are through with this season, whether we speak of Lent or life in general, that joy, love and endless celebration await us.
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
and when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on;
and when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be,
and through eternity, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
and through eternity I’ll sing on.
This Lenten season, I invite you to sing with NorthPark Presbyterian Church.
Sing your songs of lament and fear. Sing your songs of hope and courage. Sing the songs of universal experience. Sing the private songs that live only in your heart. Sing for the lamb who was come to redeem us, and for the one who created us and loves us. Warm up your voices for the Alleluia! that will surely come in 40 days.
Rev. Kelly Staples is Associate Pastor and Director of Youth Ministries for NorthPark Presbyterian. She grew up a member of First Presbyterian Church of Shreveport, received her Bachelor's degree from Middle Tennessee State University and her Masters of Divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.