Jacob Manier, Organist/Choirmaster

This Sunday’s final hymn is one of my favorites. Incredibly rich, both textually and musically, it is worth studying a bit before we sing it together.

I always try to match the final hymn to the missional directive of the Dismissal. As we reflect on hymn 573, we might ask ourselves:

  •  In what ways does this 100-year old text still ring true today?
  • Are there ways in which I’d like this text to be irrelevant a generation from now?
  • What am I going to do about that today, this week, and in the months to come, as I answer God’s call to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly?

The Text

Lawrence Housman

Lawrence Housman, poet

Laurence Housman (English, 1865-1959), the younger brother of the poet and scholar A.E. Housman, was a graphic artist, art critic, and journalist who wrote articles on issues considered radical at the time. He grew up in the Church of England but later joined the Quakers, drawn by their pacifist convictions, which he shared with the vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields (H.R.L. ‘Dick’ Sheppard) who asked him to write this hymn text. Written at the close of World War I, the hymn confronts the appalling waste of war and calls for a change of heart on the part of nations and peoples.

In the Anglican journal The Living Church, theology scholar Sam Keyes writes:

One can see, perhaps, Housman’s Christian pacifism and socialism coming through in his indictment of corrupt rulers more intent to model the arrogance and violence of Babel (“proud towers which shall not reach to heaven”) than the patient discernment of the Magi at the Epiphany (“led by no star, the rulers … fail to bring us to the blissful birth”). These complaints against worldly powers surely remain true, regardless of whether we share the political activism of Housman or his intellectual descendants, and the decades since the 1920s have brought their further share of disillusionment.

The Tune

LANGHAM was composed by Geoffrey Shaw for use with this text for a meeting of the Life and Liberty Movement in Queen’s Hall, London. Set in the wooly key of C minor, Shaw’s beautiful – but not exactly easygoing – tune is a tour de force as it builds toward the plea taken from the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, O Lord, thy will be done!”

Listen to it here:

YouTube player

1. Father eternal, Ruler of creation,
Spirit of life which moved e’er form was made, through the thick darkness covering every nation, light to our blindness, O be thou our aid:
Thy kingdom come, O Lord, thy will be done!

2. Races and peoples, lo, we stand divided,
and, sharing not our griefs, no joy can share; by wars and tumults, love is mocked, derided; his saving cross no nation yet will bear:
Thy kingdom come, O Lord, thy will be done!

3. Envious of heart, blind-eyed, with tongues confounded, nation by nation still goes unforgiven,
in wrath and fear, by jealousies surrounded,
building proud towers which shall not reach to heaven: Thy kingdom come, O Lord, thy will be done!

4. Lust of possession worketh desolations; there is no meekness in the powers of earth; led by no star, the rulers of the nations
still fail to bring us to the blissful birth:
Thy kingdom come, O Lord, thy will be done!

5. How shall we love thee, holy hidden Being,
if we love not the world which thou hast made? Bind us in thine own love for better seeing
thy Word made flesh, and in a manger laid: Thy kingdom come, O Lord, thy will be done!