Tuesday, December 1, 2015

World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day may not (yet) be a liturgical observance in most places, but I believe
that it is marked in an increasing number of ways. It's not possible for any site to
consolidate and list them all, but there are different sites for different countries and
umbrella organizations.  Social media and the internet has made it much easier for 
such organizations to help people plan a local event in the last decade, and in many places 
churches have stepped up to do their part.

Thinking about the day this year I was reminded of a hymn connection from several years
ago.  In 1989 we were just beginning our hymnal project for Metropolitan Community
Church, and sketching out lists of the hymns we wanted to distribute over the next three
years. The worship leaders for the denomination's General Conference to be held that
summer had agreed to use these new resources, endorsing the inclusive and expansive 
language and theology of our texts.  We then received a special request from the Reverend
EldeNancy Wilson for a hymn that she particularly wanted to be sung at the conference:
Charles Wesley's And are we yet alive.  This hymn was not on our lists at the time (and we
had no former Methodists on our committee who might have suggested it).  Left to our own
devices we might not have encountered it at all.

But in that time and place it expressed something important, the affirmation of a community
in crisis.  When we gathered for worship, either at an annual conference or even week-to-
week in local churches, we knew that we were in the midst of a great struggle -- fightings
without and fears within / Since we assembled last.  It was a significant question: And are
we yet alive, / And see each other's face?

And are we yet alive,
And see each other’s face?
Glory and thanks to Jesus give
For great redeeming grace!
Preserved by power divine
To full salvation here,
Again in Jesus’ praise we join
In Jesus' sight appear.

What troubles have we seen,
What mighty conflicts past,
Fightings without, and fears within,
Since we assembled last!

Yet out of all our God
Hath brought us by great love;
And all along our paths hath trod,
To guard our life above.

Then let us make our boast
Of God's redeeming power,
Which saves us to the uttermost,
Till we can sin no more.

Let us take up the cross
Till we the crown obtain,
And gladly reckon all things loss
So we may Jesus gain.
Charles Wesley, 1749; alt.
Tune: DENNIS (S.M.)
Hans Nageli, 19th cent.
arr. Lowell Mason, 1845

Over time it became more important for many of the the hymns we sang to include two
additional  themes: the life to come (seen here in the final stanza), and the memorialization
of those we loved and lost (see the hymn at the link below). Our churches sang about heaven
with an urgency that the rest of the world did not always comprehend.  We came to under-
stand why the hymnwriters of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries often concluded their
texts with a stanza about heaven, so that even on Christmas Day, when we sang Once in
royal David's city, the final stanza begins: 

Not in that poor, lowly stable
With the oxen standing by,
We shall see you, but in heaven,
Set at God's right hand on high.

In those earlier times, life expectancy was short (which also inspires Wesley's hymn).  The
hope of a life to come was an important comfort.  Toward the end of the twentieth century
we understood in a profound way the continuing need for that hope.

Five Years Ago:  World AIDS Day

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