Pastoral Series

Worship Matters: Beautiful Savior

  How intriguing is it that most of us have little snatches of memory from very early childhood, not a continuous story but a moment here or there that has stuck somehow. I can’t be sure how old I was – maybe 4 or 5? My mother took me with her to a white cider-block church near our home in Savannah, where my dad was serving in the Air Force. We were picking up my older sister, Jann, who had been dropped off for some children’s choir practice. They weren’t done yet, so we sat in the hall – and from behind the closed door I heard little girls singing “Fairest Lord Jesus,” in unison at first, and then they broke into harmony. It struck me as so beautiful, a marvel, unforgettable.

God gave humanity the capacity to make sounds, even musical sounds, beautiful sounds. And the wonder of harmony is amazing: we have to work together, we need one another, and the shared effort is glorious. We humans can together make beautiful sounds, and usually we do so in response to beauty, praising beauty. If you hear, or sing something beautiful, it’s the beautiful thing, it’s that some composer made something beautiful out of it, and then we live into that composition with our own beauty.

Trust me: this is worth pondering, especially since we live in a world of so much ugliness. Not just suffering but also the meanness, the impatience, the way we hurt one another. Dostoevsky wrote that “beauty will save the world.” What else will?

“Fairest Lord Jesus” so very simply notices, and then extols the beauty of Jesus. He must have been immensely and mystically attractive, since people dropped everything to traipse off after him; then they risked their lives, so great was their devotion to him. This hymn is very old, sung to an old Silesian tune from centuries ago. A myth arose that the Crusaders sang this hymn as they marched off to war. I adamantly hope and pray this is false, and if it is true, it would only prove the Crusaders were clueless about the beauty of the beautiful savior of which they sang. The Crusades are our constant reminder that religious zeal can easily run amok and attach itself to violent causes that are not of God.

The hymn speaks directly to Jesus, and pledges that we will “cherish” and “honor” him, that my soul’s glory is not sought or found anywhere else than in him. Nature’s beauty even is a refraction of Jesus’ own beauty; St. Thomas Aquinas reminded us that God wove beauty into the world to reflect God’s own beauty. Jesus, if we think of him in his mother’s womb, as an infant in the manger, as a healer, teacher, one who touched the untouchable, in agony on the cross, rising triumphantly from the tomb, and tenderly forgiving and sending, will “make the woeful heart to sing.” The antidote to sorry isn’t having a bunch of fun, but looking to Jesus.

Listen to the hymn – and reply and let me know of moments you have seen great beauty in the world or in Jesus himself.

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