August 2, 2020

My whole self longs for you, O God

Wondrous Love

by Pastor Bernt

A theme for Lent this year is the title of a favorite hymn: Wondrous Love.

In a year when people are anxious about the future of our country, we lift up this American hymn: it comes out of the Second Great Awakening, a series of religious revivals with a complicated legacy, including evangelicalism as well as movements for the abolition of slavery.

I was delighted to read on Wikipedia that the tune was borrowed – as Joe Hillesland puts it, truly “pirated” – from a more popular song of the day, the Ballad of Captain Kidd:

My name is William Kidd,as I sailed, as I sailed
My name is William Kidd, as I sailed
My name is William Kidd, God’s laws I did forbid
And most wickedly I did, as I sailed, as I sailed …

My repentance lasted not, As I sailed, as I sailed
My repentance lasted not, As I sailed,
My repentance lasted not, my vows I soon forgot,
Damnation was my lot, As I sailed. …

I spied three ships from Spain, As I sailed, as I sailed
I spied three ships from Spain, As I sailed,
I spied three ships from Spain, I looted them for gain,
Till most of them were slain, As I sailed. … and so on.

Could the ballad have influenced not just the hymn’s tune, but its text, with its pirate-sounding “dreadful curse” and “as I was sinking down?”  I don’t know.

What’s “wondrous” about God’s love, from the first verse, is that God would do it all for me, such as I am – for my soul, cursed as it may be:

What wondrous love is this, O my soul! O my soul!
What wondrous love is this! O my soul!
What wondrous love is this! That caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse, for my soul …

For my soul … Many of the scripture readings we’ll hear during Lent, especially from John’s gospel, are about Jesus spending time with individuals: Nicodemus, a Samaritan woman, a man born blind, Lazarus.  “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that every one who believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life.”   Each of us is one such person – even if we’re Captain Kidd himself, a soul loved by God and personally called by God to faith.  Each of us has the ashes marked on our foreheads.  The word ‘Lent’ means ‘Spring’ – and Spring begins in me.

But what’s “wondrous” about this love is also how far it spreads, bringing people together even across generations – as fits this centennial year – and from every corner of creation: from the deepest pit of damnation to the heights of heaven:

To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb, I will sing–
To God and to the Lamb, who is the great I AM,
while millions join the theme, I will sing …

We hope this Lent can be a time to experience God’s wondrous love reaching each of us and drawing us together.