O man, I’m nobler far than all the Seraphim.
What they are, I can be. They can’t be what I am.

~ Angelus Silesius, Cherubinischer Wandersmann IV.145

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He sent no angel to our race

I first heard this hymn (copied below) in a Lutheran church, on the Feast of the Transfiguration. It must (imperatively!) be sung to the original 15th-century Agincourt tune; otherwise, it loses vigor.

The unique stanza is the second.  “He sent no angel to our race / of higher or of lower place.” It’s the only such stanza I know of among hymns.  The rest of the song is a fairly standard repetition of our Lord’s life; but the reference to angels is the eye-catcher.  It’s an echo of Hebrews 1, and it references both the fact that Christ is greater than the angels (being God) and that He made Himself lower than the angels to take on our nature.

The fact is that we live in a world without Gandalfs.  However much we like to imagine supernatural Servants of the Secret Fire laboring among men and leading them out of their darkness, that is not how God has dealt with our world.  He sent the Secret Fire directly.  And that secret is what was revealed for a moment in a flash of glory on the Mount of Transfiguration.

At the Transfiguration, significantly, there are no angels. There are only Men.  Moses appears, and Elijah.  Our Lord undergoes such a transformation as can only be called a theophany; and yet it is a theophany in which God speaks with Moses and Elijah face to face, as a man speaks with his friends.

Interestingly, the hymn below doesn’t itself mention the Transfiguration, exactly.  But an oblique reference occurs in the third stanza. Notice the “holy fast” of the Lord.  The Feast of the Transfiguration originally took place near the beginning of Lent, the 40 days during which we remember and symbolically imitate Christ’s 40 days of fasting in the wilderness.  The original idea was perhaps that the Transfiguration is a source of strength–as a vision of the stars might give one hope in the darkness.

The Christian life is hard. Our Lord made no secret of that fact among his disciples. And it is significant that before going into His darkest hour, He manifested Himself for a moment as He truly was, in the other world.  Perhaps this manifestation is indeed meant to be for us like the phial of Galadriel:  “a light in dark places, when all other lights go out.”

Or as St. Peter puts it:

Such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:17-19)

*       *       *       *       *

O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High

O love, how deep, how broad, how high,
It fills the heart with ecstasy,
That God, the Son of God, should take
Our mortal form for mortals’ sake!

He sent no angel to our race
Of higher or of lower place,
But wore the robe of human frame
Himself, and to this lost world came.

For us baptized, for us He bore
His holy fast and hungered sore,
For us temptation sharp He knew;
For us the tempter overthrew.

For us He prayed; for us He taught;
For us His daily works He wrought;
By words and signs and actions thus
Still seeking not Himself, but us.

For us to wicked men betrayed,
Scourged, mocked, in purple robe arrayed,
He bore the shameful cross and death,
For us gave up His dying breath.

For us He rose from death again;
For us He went on high to reign;
For us He sent His Spirit here,
To guide, to strengthen, and to cheer.

To Him Whose boundless love has won
Salvation for us through His Son,
To God the Father, glory be
Both now and through eternity.

~ Unknown author, 15th century. Tune: “Agincourt Hymn,” 1415.

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How Things Really Are

For that one moment, ‘in and out of time’,
On that one mountain where all moments meet,
The daily veil that covers the sublime
In darkling glass fell dazzled at his feet.
There were no angels full of eyes and wings
Just living glory full of truth and grace.
The Love that dances at the heart of things
Shone out upon us from a human face
And to that light the light in us leaped up,
We felt it quicken somewhere deep within,
A sudden blaze of long-extinguished hope
Trembled and tingled through the tender skin.
Nor can this this blackened sky, this darkened scar
Eclipse that glimpse of how things really are.

~ Malcolm Guite, 1957-

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More than psalms

To speak my own sense freely, I do not think David ever wrote a psalm of sufficient glory and sweetness to represent the blessings of this holy institution of Christ. [. . .] Therefore it is my opinion that other spiritual songs should sometimes be used to render Christian Psalmody complete.

~ Isaac Watts, The Psalms of David (1719)

. . . from a man who is perhaps best known for metricizing the Psalms.

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The Silent Stars are Strong

“Thy kingdom come!” on bended knee
The passing ages pray;
And faithful souls have yearned to see
On earth that kingdom’s day.

But the slow watches of the night
Not less to God belong;
And for the everlasting right
The silent stars are strong.

And lo, already on the hills
The flags of dawn appear;
Gird up your loins, ye prophet souls,
Proclaim the day is near:

The day to whose clear shining light
All wrong shall stand revealed,
When justice shall be throned in might,
And every heart be healed;

When knowledge, hand in hand with peace,
Shall walk the earth abroad;
The day of perfect righteousness,
The promised day of God.

~ Frederick Lucian Hosmer, 1891

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Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow.

So one hundred worshipers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.

~ A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

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For Prisoners

O GOD, who sparest when we deserve punishment, and in thy wrath rememberest mercy; We humbly beseech thee, of thy goodness, to comfort and succour all prisoners, especially those who are condemned to die. Give them a right understanding of themselves, and of thy promises; that, trusting wholly in thy mercy, they may not place their confidence anywhere but in thee.

Relieve the distressed, protect the innocent, awaken the guilty; and forasmuch as thou alone bringest light out of darkness, and good out of evil, grant to these thy servants, that by the power of thy Holy Spirit they may be set free from the chains of sin, and may be brought to newness of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

~ The Book of Common Prayer, 1928

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