By Ian Adams, mission spirituality adviser for Church Mission Society
Others have gone this way before us. The mission of the church has been shaped over two millennia, the Christ story pondered, practised and shared by a huge variety of people in different contexts. One wonderful treasure trove of this experience is the collection of songs we know as canticles that emerged from some of the earliest songs of the church.
These songs have been sung in times of plenty and in times of need, in times of joy and in times of persecution. Grounded in Scripture and shaped by experience, they continue to offer gifts to us now as we seek to live and share the Jesus Way. While necessarily reshaped for time and context, their message of faith, hope and love remains the same.
What might happen if we begin to speak or sing these canticles again? How might we be changed if we allow them to seep into us?
This new series for The Call begins by exploring the canticle Saviour of the world, itself drawing on themes in the New Testament.
Jesus, Saviour of the world,
come to us in your mercy:
we look to you to save and help us.
By your cross and your life laid down,
you set your people free:
we look to you to save and help us.
When they were ready to perish,
you saved your disciples:
we look to you to come to our help.
In the greatness of your mercy,
loose us from our chains,
forgive the sins of all your people.
Make yourself known as our Saviour and mighty deliverer;
save and help us that we may praise you.
Come now and dwell with us, Lord Christ Jesus:
hear our prayer and be with us always.
And when you come in your glory:
make us to be one with you and to share the life of your kingdom.
The canticle takes us immediately to a key question: what is at the heart of our life and mission?
In its answer the canticle is bold. The first line is “Jesus, Saviour of the world”. He is the pivot upon which all our being and doing must rest. Christ alone. The one to whom we look, source of our hope.
We cannot engage in the task of life alone. We know that. And the canticle acknowledges that. So it speaks of Jesus as the source of help and mercy.
This is the core theme unfolding in the first half of the canticle, drawing both on great salvation themes of Scripture and on Gospel stories of the disciples’ experience.
There is an interesting link here to the practice of the classic Orthodox “Jesus Prayer”: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner. A prayer that is about orientation, expressing our desire to focus on Christ in all we do, asking for help to do so.
The canticle then unfolds as a threefold prayer to this Jesus, Saviour of the world and source of help and mercy.
First, a prayer for an experience of Christ’s saving power.
“Make yourself known as our Saviour and mighty deliverer.”
This is a call for Christ’s mercy to evolve from an idea into an experience. And it’s an encouragement to us to be bold in our prayer and action. Lord, make yourself known!
A question: how might you be bold in prayer and action today?
Second, a prayer for Christ’s presence.
Seeking a new sense of Jesus close to us. “Come now and dwell with us, Lord Christ Jesus.” Most of the time God’s presence can seem hazy. The canticle’s encouragement is to pray for God’s presence, revealed in Jesus. Or perhaps more accurately to pray for a revelation of his presence – already with us.
A question: presence calls for us to be present. How might we renew our presence to Christ today?
Third, a prayer without end.
“And when you come in your glory…” The presence of Christ is without limit and without end. The encouragement here is to see our lives and mission as part of much greater, longer patterns.
A question: how might your prayer and action today take on a “forever” character?
The canticle ends with a revelation. The path we are taking is a path towards oneness: “make us to be one with you and to share the life of your kingdom…” This is a prayer for unity with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3); unity also with all that has been created. Everything is included in the liberating mission of Jesus! All that you are and everything that you do today is part of this coming together.
As you read (and perhaps speak or sing out) the canticle, be alert for what catches your attention. What in God’s grace might be the gift for you here today? You might like to commit to learning the canticle, making it part of your daily prayer, returning to it whenever prompted.