Revitalise our spirits, Lord

*** This a hymn for Advent Sunday.



Two Scripture passages have inspired this hymn. They make it plain that everyday human time is to be interrupted by the coming of the Son of Man. Announced in Matthew 24.36-44, it is characterised in Romans 13.11-14 as salvation that is nearer to us than when we first became believers. In Matthew it will be at the least expected time (But about that day and hour no one knows…), but Paul tells Christians you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.

 So the hymn responds to the announcement of Christ’s imminent coming. There is a prayer, used by many to prepare for the Eucharist: “As watchers look for the morning, so do we wait for you, O Christ…” ; the watchers in this prayer are depicted as awake, alert, eager. But this is not the picture given in today’s texts from Romans and Matthew. In the one, it is implied that people are normally asleep. In the other, people are preoccupied with daily living. Either way, being alert to the imminent coming of divine salvation isn’t something that most people think much about.

Whilst addressing the Coming One, who is recognised as “Love”, the hymn acknowledges that (in general) we are not alert to this overwhelming change that is to   come. Christians are not exempt from being infected by the ‘hopelessness’ that tries to cope by ignoring or denying whatever feels too big to cope with. It is not something we are comfortable with admitting, but the hymn offers help for us to name how we secretly feel.

The fifth stanza lays out the ground of faith, that You heal all grief and shame, restoring strength… It is why we can dare to face the truth that our lives, both personal and public, tend to settle for less than what is humanly worthy. Put simply, no amount of falling short can overcome the power of grace to renew the world, beginning with me and you.

So the hymn is, first and last, a prayer, as the opening and closing verses make plain. It is a slightly unusual prayer in that we are asking, not to be (as it were) cut down to size, reminded of how insignificant we are; such a request is hardly in line with the view of humankind that Scripture sets forth, and that most people believe. The prayer is that we may display the full vigour of human dignity and joy and love. It suggests that this joy and love express the very being of God, which is here characterised by a non-Biblical but highly expressive word ‘zest’.

The music REDOULINE was conceived while visiting the home of friends in the Dordogne. The music is intended to be bright enough to carry the lyric from the upward thrust of the opening prayer through the trough of stanzas two to four on to the solid and rising ground of the final stanzas. The first three lines of melody, contained within five notes, are variations on a simple theme, while the last line colours that theme with a blues-ish hint, reminding us that humans pray in this world as it is (not as it isn’t). Most of the hymn’s atmosphere is conveyed musically by the harmonies, particularly through the chromaticism of the last line.

Overall, I have tried to pitch both the lyric and music of this hymn in our experience of everyday living. But our conviction is that everyday living is transformed by the light of Christ’s coming; and that conviction is written into the whole piece. Instead of beginning Advent in fear (as does the hymn ‘O quickly come, dread Judge of all’[1], not much sung these days), this hymn offers a springboard of confidence and gladness about the coming future.

[1] by Rev. Lawrence.R.Tuttiet 1825-99