Canticles: songs of the church | Part 4: A Song of Humility

BY IAN ADAMS, MISSION SPIRITUALITY ADVISER FOR CHURCH MISSION SOCIETY

The mission of the church has been shaped over two millennia. One wonderful repository of this experience lies in the collection of songs we know as canticles, which 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 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?

This series in The Call continues by exploring the canticle A Song of Humility based on Hosea 6:1–6 – a canticle often sung during the season of Lent.

Reflection

The prophet Hosea was active in Israel in the second half of the 8th century BC, a period in which the kingdom fell into decline. Hosea was clear that this was due to the apostasy of the people. His call to repentance before the overwhelming love of God was largely unheeded.

The Song of Humility comes to us in two distinct halves. Both are calls to repentance. The first half (stanzas 1–5) is spoken by the prophet to his people. The second half (6–9) has God speaking to his people. Both the prophet and God have the same end in mind – a repentant people turning back to the God of love.

The opening section begins in remorse, with a call to return to the Lord. In the previous chapter of Hosea, God has been likened to a lion who will tear into this unrepentant people. The prophet urges a return to the same God – now pictured a s one who heals and binds up wounds.

1 Come, let us return to the Lord who has torn us and will heal us.

2 God has stricken us and will bind up our wounds.

This Lent, let us return to the Lord. Let us seek healing. Let us seek the binding of our wounds. Let us repent for ourselves, and for our world.

In stanzas 3 and 4 the Lenten pattern to the canticle becomes clearer. If this is a time for repentance, it is also important to keep holding on to the promise of new life.

3 After two days, he will revive us, and on the third day will raise us up, that we may live in his presence.

Lent requires serious self-examination and repentance. But in God’s grace the hope of resurrection life is never far away. However challenging this Lent may be, let us hold on to the hope of Easter.

The prophet Hosea’s words close this section with reassurance that God is constant and good, and a God of blessing.

4 Let us strive to know the Lord; his appearing is as sure as the sunrise.

5 He will come to us like the showers, like the spring rains that water the earth.

May we find God’s blessing showering upon us “like the spring rains” this Lent. Make this a prayer this season for those around you, and for your world.

Now to God’s words. And as portrayed by Hosea, God has a dilemma. How to deal with a people who have rejected him and his ways, a people whose love for God is as temporary as a morning mist.

6 O Ephraim, how shall I deal with you? How shall I deal with you, O Judah?

7 Your love for me is like the morning mist, like the dew that goes early away. Judgement has already come and will yet come, but God is ultimately a God of love above all.

8 Therefore, I have hewn them by the prophets, and my judgement goes forth as the light.

We might have expected more “tearing by the lion”. But God’s “hewing” of the people will be the words of the prophets. We might have expected more darkness. But his judgement will come in the form of light. If there are more tough implications yet to come for the people of Israel – and there will be – they will be of the people’s own making. God seeks loyalty to him and knowledge of him.

9 For loyalty is my desire and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

What is the gift of the Song of Humility?

It is perhaps the revelation that God calls his people above all to presence and to intimacy. To be with him. To remain with him.

Practice

This Lent, find yourself gradually becoming drawn deeper into the loving presence of God.

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