Your Hand, O Lord in Days of Old
“Your Hand, O Lord” This text was written by Edward Plumptre (1821-1891), who also wrote “My Song is Love Unknown.” The hauntingly-beautiful tune is traditional English, having been arranged and adapted by the great composer Ralph Vaughn Williams (1872-1958.)
This hymn puts forth the idea of God’s healing and forgiveness spanning the continuum of time. The gospel lesson relates the story of the ten lepers who were cleansed by Jesus, although only one of whom offered any thanks to Jesus. Plumptre’s first stanza observes, “Your hand, O Lord, in days of old, was strong to heal and save; it triumphed over ills and death, o’er darkness and the grave. To You they came, the blind, the mute, the palsied and the lame, the lepers in their misery, the sick with fevered frame.” Not only the lepers were healed, but the ancient Hebrews were guided, guarded and protected as they left Egypt and wandered in the desert. (The reference to “Gennes’ret” in the second stanza is another name for the Sea of Galilee or Lake Tiberius.) The final stanza prays that God “Be our great deliverer still, the Lord of life and death; restore and quicken soothe and bless, with Your lifegiving breath.”
The modern Christian would do well to remember the sentiments conveyed by this hymn; although it is sometimes easy to think the current generation is the most advanced, smart, ambitious, or savvy, we need always to remember that our human condition has not changed through the centuries. Ancient cultures may have had their own ridiculous superstitions, but a walk through the New Age section in the bookstore should put to rest the idea that the current culture is any more grounded. How many of us have behaved as the Children of Israel? We praise God during the good times, but during the bad times we bemoan why He has given us such crosses to bear. Or, we pray to God during the bad times and forsake Him during the good? Perhaps we select a church based on its programmes, attractiveness, personality, or its ability to fulfill our own wants and desires. This hymn seeks to remind us that we not only share the same flaws as those throughout history, but we receive the same forgiveness. We sing or say psalms every Sunday not simply to bore each other with tales of honey dripping from Aaron’s beard or ponderings of sitting next to Babylonian rivers, but to remind us that the emotions, experiences, frustrations and joys of the Hebrews are similar to ours. We are assured that God will act graciously to us not only because He assures us He will, but also because God’s witness through history is one of continual forgiveness and protection. For those who have difficulty believing the words of scripture, the testimony of God’s action in scripture should serve to remind that “actions speak louder than words.”
It is sad and, dare one say it, unChristian for a church to separate itself from the believers of history. In so doing, we risk misunderstanding what the Church Invisible truly is—all of those, past, present and future who share redemption in Christ Jesus. The Church is about “finding truth” in Christ and not in one’s sinful nature. . . by keeping ourselves aware of God’s actions and faithfulness in the past, we are assured that He will continue to guard and protect us.