* Some Bible passages are notoriously difficult to understand and interpret. This hymn tries to get to grips with one of them.Commend-me-to-my-Lord
A lone round-the-world sailor approaches home waters, and a large flotilla of yachts sails out to meet her. Surprisingly, she is not on her own, for some, wanting to be the very first to greet her, have already flown out to join ocean-going yachts escorting her homeward. But, in terms of welcoming, the ocean-goers have no advantage over the channel sailors: all are part of the single welcome for the triumphant solo yachtswoman.
Paul seems to assert something similar in 1 Thessalonians 4.15: we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. The already departed have not disappeared: through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. In the late first century the seer in 4 Ezra 5.41-42 hears the same assertion in other terms:
‘Yet, O Lord, you have charge of those who are alive at the end, but what will those do who lived before me (and have died), or those who come after us?’ He said to me, ‘I shall liken my judgement to a circle, just as for those who are last there is no slowness, so for those who are first there is no haste.’
This hymn works with the background concerns of 1 Thessalonians 4.15, obliquely addressing the relationship of the living and the dead in the context of Christ’s return. Also in the hymn’s background is Jesus’ parable of the bridesmaids who, like the yachts meeting the returning sailor, were the advance welcoming party for the coming bridegroom.
The hymn ignores the question of whether Christ will return, but stands foursquare with Paul’s expectation that the return is imminent. Since, taken literally, Paul’s image of living believers being caught up in the clouds together with (the dead) to meet the Lord in the air is commonly perceived to be plainly silly, the hymn translates it into sober terms, and presents a level-headed, everyday summary of the situation both of believers and of ‘the fading’ and ‘the lost’: ‘We stand before the Lord, whose grace awakens praise, restores, … finds, …and brings us on our ways.’
It was Paul’s exhortation that the saints should encourage one another with these words that got me writing this hymn. ‘Encouraging’ had me thinking of the somewhat courtly word ‘Commend’; and ‘Commend me to my Lord’ is in conscious imitation of Shakespeare’s use of ‘Commend me …’ in ‘Julius Caesr’ Act 2 Scene 4. But the imitation isn’t meant as poetic conceit: each singer prays others to pray to the Lord in remembrance of his or her faith, which is in truth Christ’s faith that ‘goes with me to the end, and fortifies my soul’.
There is a movement in the first three stanzas in which worshippers recognize themselves as part of an infinitely large company of ‘all who’ve gone before to greet in death the life to come through heaven’s full-opened door’. All ‘who work and wait till Christ shall raise both live and dead’ are actively orientated towards ‘joys beyond all fate’, and this is the dynamo that drives the church. Not at all other-worldly, and not preoccupied, as others script them to be, with ‘pie-in-the-sky-when-you’re-dead’, Christians see themselves as standing ‘before the Lord … one truth we share, one earth we mind … (and tasting now) the banquet yet to come …’
This may appear to be a subjective hymn, overly concerned with ‘me’ and ‘us’. But it has a rich objective core that discloses the character of the God of Christian belief. It is really a reflexive piece that uses worship to clarify believers’ understanding of the question of how mortality fits in the frame of eternity. Any understanding we may have comes from God, whose ‘self makes all things pure’.
 1 Thessalonians 4.14
 But not by all. I have heard of car-stickers declaring that in the event of ‘the Rapture’ occurring while the car is on the road, the driver will be taken, and an empty seat remain.