A HYMN OF GLORY LET US SING (THIRTY-FIFTH IN A SERIES)
On what is now known as Maundy Thursday, Jesus gathered in an upper room with His disciples to celebrate the Passover with them before He died. In the course of that evening, He said to them, “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another.” (John 13:34 CSB17) He wanted His followers to love one another by serving each other in a self-sacrificing way, and He demonstrated such love that same evening when He took up the job of a servant and washed His disciples’ feet (John 13:14-15).
Serving others, however, is not an activity that comes naturally to us. We must be reminded frequently of Christ’s love and service to us so that we are moved to reflect that sort of loving activity in our own lives. From perhaps as early as the fourth century, one way that the matter of Christian love was regularly kept before the people was through the Latin hymn Ubi caritas. This hymn was customarily sung on Maundy Thursday (and still is in some circles).
A metrical translation/adaptation of the ancient hymn into English was made in 1960 by Omer Westendorf, and appears in Lutheran Service Book (845). The first stanza reads, “Where charity and love prevail / There God is ever found; / Brought here together by Christ’s love / By love we are thus bound.”
In our Christian congregations today, we understand that we did not come together by accident. Christ demonstrated His self-sacrificing love toward us all through His death on the cross to pay for our sin and through His resurrection from the dead to seal our eternal life in heaven. We now having been bought by Him, His Holy Spirit called us and gathered us together around that cross and empty tomb. By His acts of love, we are brought into Christian fellowship with others that we might serve God and also our neighbors.
As He taught His disciples on Maundy Thursday, Christ continues to teach us what love is (Stanza 2): “With grateful joy and holy fear / His charity we learn; / Let us with heart and mind and soul / Now love Him in return.”
The third stanza focuses on the heart of both Jesus’ love and ours: The forgiveness of sins. It reads, “Forgive we now each other’s faults / As we our faults confess, / And let us love each other well / In Christian holiness.” By nature we want to hold onto those things others do to hurt us because it gives us something we can bring up against them later. But when a brother or sister comes to you confessing and desiring to be rid of a sin, you have the blessed privilege of sharing Christ’s own forgiveness with that person. Further, you can reassure such that neither will you use their fault against them. What an act of service this is that we can do for one another! What an act of love it is!
Love demonstrated in forgiveness eases the strife and tension that so often arises between us, and brings about peace. This peace is a blessing from the Lord. Therefore, the apostle writes, “. . . as we have opportunity, let us work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10 CSB17). And we pray along with the fourth stanza, “Let strife among us be unknown; / Let all contention cease; / Be God’s the glory that we seek; / Be ours His holy peace.”
David Schaller is pastor of Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sister Lakes, Michigan. He also prepares the “Bread of Life” devotions for the Lutheran Spokesman.