“Blest be the King whose coming…”

All of my life, I have taken part in corporate Christian worship, both as a layperson (from the time I was a baby nestled in my parents’ arms) and, for the past over forty years, as an ordained minister. There is, for me, a sacred rhythm to liturgy; very much like being afloat and carried along on a body of water. I think of the words of that 19th century nursery rhyme:

Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.

And though the course of the stream is known, still, there can be, aye, there are surprises.

I love to sing. I especially love the hymnody of the church, the verses of which, for me, delve into and reveal theological treasures. Nevertheless, sometimes when I am caught up in the mechanics of worship, its construction and implementation, I can find myself mindlessly saying or singing familiar words. Until, suddenly (I have come to believe by the urgency of the Holy Spirit), I am caught in the clutch of an “Aha!” moment of new or renewed revelation.

So, it was this past Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent; inaugurating a new church year and the church’s preparation for the celebration of Christmas. We, the community of Epiphany Church, Laurens, South Carolina, sang, as our closing hymn, “Blest be the King whose coming.”(1) When we arrived at the final verse, my voice, on its own, as if outside of my control, fell mute as I stared at the page, concentrating on the text (my emphasis):

Blest be the King whose coming is in the name of God!
He offers to the burdened the rest and grace they need.
Gentle is he and humble! And light his yoke shall be,
for he would have us bear it so he can make us free.

Double yoke for oxen, Musée de la civilisation à Québec

Episcopalians are known for being reserved (read: quiet) in worship. Nevertheless, I almost shouted aloud for joy (although I did say to the choir, more or less sotto voce, “Sometimes, we need to throw up our hands and say, ‘Thank you, Jesus!’”). For I was astonished anew at the naked paradox of a yoke (literally, a wooden crosspiece fastened over the neck of a plow-pulling animal and, figuratively, still, a burden of whatever sort) that is an instrument of emancipation. Even more, I was astounded at the image that came to my mind (never having occurred to me) of a double yoke with me harnessed on one side and Jesus on the other. For he never demands anything of us that he, first, has not borne and continually does not bear!

Over the hours and days since Sunday, I’ve given thought to Jesus’ words, which, undoubtedly, were the stimulus for the hymn writer: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”(2)

Countless times, in reflecting on this text, I’ve understood that Jesus refers to the onerous system of the Pharisaical works-righteousness of legalistic law-keeping (some 600+ specific regulations!); that is, by one’s (human) faithful good-doing, right-relationship with God could be achieved. Indeed, Jesus admonished the Pharisees for “tying up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and laying them on the shoulders of others.”(3)

Rather, what Jesus offers is the easy yoke, the light burden of repentance, turning away from self-reliance, and the freedom of faith, trusting solely in the grace, the gift of God’s unconditional love.

Gentle is he and humble! And light his yoke shall be,
for he would have us bear it so he can make us free.

Amen! Thank you, Jesus!

 

Footnotes:
(1) Blest be the King whose coming (1974); words by Federico José Pagura (1923-2016), translated by Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000)
(2) Matthew 11.28-30
(3) Matthew 23.4a (my paraphrase)

2 thoughts on ““Blest be the King whose coming…”

  1. That was so powerful Paul!! I wasn’t sure where that post was going but it was cool! I thought you were going to say you sang the last verse at the top of your lungs!! Reading the last part of this post several times I have to say I won’t think of those words in the same way now. I think for those of us who can’t sing, we try to get to the end of the hymn by not offending others with our voices, and not so much focusing on the words themselves. I learned from this post I need to pay more attention to the words!!

    Much love!

    Like

  2. Loretta, here’s yet another (second? third? nth degree?) thought…

    So many (so very many!) times, o’er the years, when leading corporate worship, I have found my mind drifting, especially given the familiarity of the liturgical text or hymn lyrics. In one sense, I consider this mindlessness, for I’m not paying strictest attention to the moment. Still, in another far distant sense, I consider this appropriate. For one of the virtues of familiarity (for example, when reciting the Lord’s Prayer) is that I do not have to render my closest focus and I can allow my mind to wander, I pray, heavenward. What I’m striving (struggling!) to get at here is that repetition and familiarity grant me the freedom to rise above in the immediate moment of physical time and space and seek the realm of the spirit (if only to dwell in it for an instant).

    Now, in writing this (and, taking a moment to re-read it, for, truly, it was produced as stream of consciousness, and, as I’m wont to say, I oft don’t know what I’m thinking or feeling unless and until I hear myself say it or see myself write it!), perhaps this is what was going on with me when my voice fell mute and I concentrated on the words of that last verse of the hymn, “Blest be the King whose coming…” For though my concentration was an aspect of my being in the physical/earthly moment of time and space, the revelation of being joined with Jesus in his yoke was the fruit of having been transported to the spirit realm (or, perhaps, better said, being open to the bestowal of spiritual insight from above).

    And, in moments like this, I know that this life – as wonderful and as terrible as it can be – is not all there is to life.

    Love

    Like

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