* A hymn inspired by the Holy ‘Social’ Trinity.Asw-we-share-this-life-between-us
The prayer widely known as ‘The Grace’ offers a picture of the Blessed Trinity that contrasts in character with Reginald Heber‘s in his hymn ‘Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!’ In that hymn the being of God is imaged in state, receiving the praises of saints ‘casting down their golden crowns’ and ‘cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee’; it is like a picture of a feudal lord receiving his subjects’ pledges of loyal service.
Here, by contrast, God is represented as outgoing, as action. Grace and love and communion are nouns only because each represents enacted verbs. None is a ‘thing’ that can be conferred; each is an indication that it is being done. Like the word ‘action’, they are words that signify acting, doing. The being of God is thus known in divine activity. That is what this hymn seeks to express.
The music PLEADING SAVIOUR, with its flowing melodic line, is an admirable vehicle to carry this understanding. It has a quality that allows one to suppose that it began way back before we became aware of it and will carry on long after we have ceased to hear it. It is not possible to think of this melody as frozen or static. It comes from its source and proceeds to its goal, connecting beginning and end in joyful unity. The melody harmonized adds a dimension that further enhances the integrity of the whole. It is music that catches listeners into itself, invites participation, singing.
The opening couplet of the hymn could be taken to be an exposition of 2 Corinthians 6.1: As we work together with (God), we urge you not to accept the grace of God in vain. Represented here is a well-developed religious view of life, one that might not appeal to many who do not explain their ‘feeding, clothing, honouring all, caring to restore the meanest’ by reference to any religious source or narrative. But Paul offers, not interpretation, but an invitation to recognise the resourcefulness that is pledged and, indeed, engaged on behalf of creation. On this understanding grace may be said to be like the atmosphere that supports life, like the breath that enables each living individual potentially to thrive.
The world being as it is, thriving is by no means certain for anyone. But the God of Genesis 1 to 2.3 creates thriving, and the Christ of John 10.10b comes to a plundered world in order that people may have life, and have it abundantly. This is not argument so much as prayer: “May our hearts be open, that we may see wonderful things out of (God’s) law”.
With this preoccupation the hymn chooses grace, love, communion as names for God, and aims to suggest a double understanding: of the being of God, and of human life developed to the full. Each understanding belongs within the other, and to separate them would be to diminish each of them and the whole. Where, in the last line, the hymn sings that ‘all in grace of love unite’, it is the marriage of heaven and earth, earth and heaven that is intimated. The doctrine of the Trinity is thus expounded as living the mystery and the mystery of living. Any notion of the Trinity as standing separate from that which expresses God’s life, is doomed to sterility.
This is summed up in the brain-teasing line: ‘grace, the song of Christ encoded, gives, receives, love’s life, love’s own’. Grace is a code because it yields its fuller meaning only when Jesus’ life and ministry is considered. In John 13.34 it is summarised as both statement and commandment (which the hymn effectively characterises as ‘the song of Christ’): Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. Those who respond, who sing along, are not only ‘earth’s beloved’ but ‘freedom’s slaves’, that is, people who freely enter bondage in order win freedom for all. In the hymn worshippers renew their prayer to be caught into divine bondage, in order that all may ‘in grace of love unite’.
 Some, indeed, speak of ‘secular grace’, though it may be suspected that they wish to separate the concept of grace from its roots in what they perceive as corrupt and corrupting religious institutions.