Lent is a time of penitence, but like too much in our spiritual lives, we often try to do it on our own: If only I can drum up strong feelings of remorse and repentance. If only I can be more disciplined. If only…
But you can’t.
You can’t forgive yourself, you can’t save yourself, and you can’t sanctify yourself. That is the beauty—and the tension—of the Christian life. We can’t add anything to what Christ has already done. With this in mind, Lent is simply a season of walking more intentionally in the path of grace that Christ has cleared for us.
This theme is taken up in Frederick W. Faber’s 1862 text “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy.” It is a “back to the basics” hymn that reminds us of God’s kindness. Take some time to meditate on Faber’s text. It is rich. He drives home the point that none of our sins, sorrows, or failings can keep us from God’s infinitely broad love. Ordinarily, I would be put off by a hymn that ends with the promise, “our lives would be all sunshine in the sweetness of the Lord,” but in this case, Faber has laid out such a convincing description of God’s mercy in the early verses of the hymn that he earns the right to conclude with such an unadulterated happy ending!
“There’s a Wideness” is a text that has been paired with a number of tunes over the years, never settling down with one. It most frequently appears with WELLESLY, a sprightly and disappointing tune. The rousing IN BABILONE provides more confidence than comfort. Johann Steiner’s GOTT WILL’S MACHEN that appears in COS’s Joyful Noises is more rare, but to my ear the best fit of the traditional tunes. Newer tunes written for this text include one by Calvin Hampton which appears in the new Lutheran hymnal, a tune by Gregg “My Friends May You Grow in Grace” DeMey that will be published in the forthcoming denominational hymnal, and one that I just finished.
All this talk of tunes simply to say that we’ll be singing “There’s a Wideness” in a variety of musical settings throughout the season of Lent. We can all use the repeated reminders of God’s unswerving affection for us, his children. The plethora of tunes will help us hear the message in fresh ways each week.
Can’t tell a sprightly WELLESLY from a rousing IN BABILONE? Contact Greg Scheer (firstname.lastname@example.org).
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in his justice
Which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner,
And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior;
There is healing in his blood.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows
Are more felt than up in heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failings
Have such kindly judgment given.
There is plentiful redemption
In the blood that has been shed;
There is joy for all the members
In the sorrows of the Head.
For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of man’s mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most infinitely kind.
If our love were but more simple,
We should take him at his word;
And our lives would be all sunshine
In the sweetness of the Lord.