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The hope of salvation

by
04 March 2016

Jo Spreadbury explores this week’s theme in prayer and liturgy

Paul T. McCain/WIKI

Rare: Early printing of a second edition of Martin Luther’s hymn, Ein Feste Burg

Rare: Early printing of a second edition of Martin Luther’s hymn, Ein Feste Burg

THE liturgy reminds us that without God we have no hope. The words used at the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday take us back to Genesis 3.19: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.”

But we are also reminded of what God has done for us in Christ. The Easter eucharistic preface in Common Worship tells us that, “by the mystery of his passion, Jesus Christ, your risen Son, has conquered the powers of death and hell and restored in men and women the image of your glory.”

At the simplest, our response and our prayer is to ask for God’s mercy. The great Orthodox Trisagion contrasts God’s holiness and power with our need: “Holy God, holy and strong, holy and immortal: have mercy on us.”

Its words were echoed by John Henry Newman in his hymn “Firmly I believe and truly” — “And I love supremely, solely, Him the Holy, him the Strong.”

The idea of our dependence on grace is a constant theme in Christian worship, the hymn “Rock of ages” by Augustus Toplady being a favourite example.

 

FREQUENTLY (and perhaps unsurprisingly) in liturgy, baptism becomes a source of assurance about salvation, recalling Martin Luther’s constant watchword “Baptizatus sum” (I have been baptised). The Prayer Book Catechism teaches that “in my Baptism. . . I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.”

In the Common Worship baptism service, one of the strongest statements of the effectiveness of baptism comes in the Prayer over the water: “In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.”

 

DIFFERENT strands of prayer and liturgy reflect different doctrinal emphases. Substitutionary atonement underlies Stuart Townend’s approach:

“How deep the Father’s love for us,

how vast beyond all measure,

that he should give his only Son

to make a wretch his treasure.”

Viewing the cross as the place where Christ triumphs has a long liturgical history, from hymns such as Vexilla regis (“The royal banners forward go”) on Good Friday, to the image in the Easter sequence, to be sung before the Gospel reading, “Victimae paschali laudes”:

Death and life have contended

In that combat stupendous;

The Prince of Life, who died,

Reigns immortal.

In prayer and devotion we are encouraged to share in the suffering of Christ and so to share in his victory. The simplest parallel is given in Donald Fishel’s Easter song: “We have been crucified with Christ Now we shall live for ever.”

Easter and resurrection await, memorably anticipated by Peter Abelard in the Maundy Thursday hymn (best sung to Charles Parry’s stunning tune “Intercessor”): “This is the night, dear friends, the night for weeping”:

”O make us sharers, Saviour, of your Passion,

That we may share your glory that shall be;

Let us pass through these three dark nights of sorrow

To Easter’s laughter and its liberty.”

 

The Revd Dr Jo Spreadbury is the Precentor of Portsmouth Cathedral; she also chairs Praxis.

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