Pastoral Series

Worship Matters: My Soul, My Life, My All

   When he was 18 years old, Isaac Watts left church one Sunday, complaining to his father about how deplorable the music in the service had been. His father replied, “Well then, young man, why don’t you give us something better to sing?”

One of his best was “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” No hymn captures so thrillingly the paradox that is the cross of Christ. Tragic, cruel, bloody suffering – and yet here is the hope, the love, the glory, the transformation. No wonder we call it “Good Friday.”

We “survey” the cross. We don’t just glance at it. We measure it carefully, size it up, consider every angle. We often sanitize the cross, preferring those of smooth wood or some shiny metal. The original cross would have been of olive wood, gnarled, hacked hurriedly, with human flesh gruesomely nailed into it. “See from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down.” Just meditate on that for a minute, or an hour, or the rest of your life.

This cross isn’t just some religious artifact, or even the mechanism God uses to get you into heaven once you’ve died. It fundamentally alters our values, and how we live. If this is God, if the heart of God was fully manifest in this moment, if this is what God’s love actually looks like, then everything changes. “My richest gain I count but loss” (echoing Paul’s words in Philippians 3:8), “Pour contempt on all my pride,” “All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them.” Indeed, the more we ponder the crucified Lord on the cross, the less attached we are to the gadgets and baubles of this world, the less arrogant we become – and then we are ready to abandon what we were clinging to, as we realize in the face of our mortality, and God’s redeeming love, these formerly valued things are just nothing. Or perhaps we get caught up in Christ’s causes, and become generous with our money and things.

What is your offering to God? Watts’s hymn imagines “Were the whole realm of nature mine” (an absurd idea, that the richest of the rich could have so much!) “that were an offering far too small.” No gift I could muster would be enough to begin to match Christ’s sacrificial gift to me, to us – so when then is my giving so measured, so chintzy?

We get busy and deluded and forget what the life of faith is about. We water it down to a little add-on, something we indulge in when convenient, a place we turn when we’re in a pickle. But the last words of the hymn get to the truth of things – and stand as a stirring, unavoidable challenge to us, if we sing with any sincerity at all: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” Not this compartment of my soul, or this segment of my life, or the part of me I don’t mind parting with. My soul. My life. My all.

Take a few moments to listen to the stunning Gilbert Martin arrangement of “When I Survey” – and here is our choir (in St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh) singing its glorious ending.

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