This year on Good Friday, the priest I live with, Mother Anne-Marie, preached a series of sermons interspersed with prayer and silence on the hymn ‘In Christ Alone’ – here is number five.
Here in the power of Christ I stand
“No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.”
If you were here for the first talk you may remember that soldier I talked about in Iraq, who told how he repeated this hymn over to himself every day to help him cope with the stresses he was facing. He talked specifically about this last verse in this way:
“Verse 4 is what I am singing as I drive down the highway with my M-16 pointed out the window and my pistol tucked in my flak jacket pocket. I can tell you that I feel more secure in claiming the promise: ‘no power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from his hand, till he returns or calls me home’ – than I do with that rifle and pistol.”
Now we may have mixed feelings about American and British soldiers being in places like Iraq and Afghanistan in the first place, but here is a young soldier trying to cope in a very scary situation, thousands of miles from home and it is not his gun that gives him security but his faith in Jesus Christ.
And to give this young man his due – I don’t know his name – he said that particularly verse two of the hymn had helped have real compassion for the Iraqi people because it reminded that Jesus came to save everyone.
A soldier in a war zone faces death every day he goes out on patrol and so to be able to sing those words – till he returns or calls me home – with gusto – means here was a young man not afraid to die because he knew death was going home to Jesus.
A soldier in a war zone faces death every day, but so do we. We never know the day or the hour.
When I was training for ordination, the most memorable weekend we had was the one on death and dying. And part of the teaching (and I find it hard to call it teaching because it was much more a weekend of spiritual experience) – part of the teaching was helping us to think of our own deaths. The very experienced clergyman who took that weekend said a priest would be far more effective in his or her ministry if they had come to terms with their own death and were comfortable with it. I think that is not something just for priests it applies to anyone who is a Christian. If we have thought about own death and have that deep sense that it is about going home, then that will affect how we live now and probably how we come across to other people.
To have some sense of another home, our real home, to which we will return when we die, is a great source of strength. And the faith to believe there is that other home comes from the cross of Christ. The belief that Jesus conquered death on the cross and entered heaven ahead of us, gives us that assurance.
But that is a head exercise and to perhaps be really comfortable with the idea of our death, we need to experience that feeling of certainty that there is another home to which we will return. Many people never feel truly at peace. They are always striving for something else, or thinking there is something better in store for them. And Christians are not immune from this. We seem to have a restlessness about us that cannot be stilled. Or can it?
St Augustine said “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you”.
Here in the power of Christ I stand. Here in the power of Christ I rest. As St Paul said “our faith rests not on human wisdom but on the power of God”. Now power is a pretty aggressive word, but I think in terms of Jesus Christ, power goes hand in hand with peace. To know the power of God in Jesus Christ, to know that Jesus commands our destiny, is to find our peace.
And I think it is another word beginning with p that will help us to experience his power and his peace and that is prayer. Not the prayer of asking for endless things, but the prayer of silence and – yes another p – presence.
In our final period of silence, let us ask Jesus to be present with us, to assure us of his power and to give us his peace, so that when the time comes we will be happy to be called home. Let us pray.