When I Survey Life’s Varied Scene

When I Survey Life’s Varied Scene

Liturgy Lesson: June 28, 2020

Morning Worship (Sanctuary, 10:30 a.m.)
Call to Worship: Psalm 107:1-9 (w/ responsive refrain)
Prayer of Invocation
Hymn of Praise: For the Beauty of the Earth
Confession: Romans 1:18-22 and prayer
Assurance of Pardon: Romans 5:8-10
Hymn of Assurance: Blessed Assurance (#693)
Reading of the Word: Luke 17:5-19
Doxology: #731
Sermon: “The Key that Unlocks our Faith”, Rev. Shiv Muthukumar
The Lord’s Supper: When I Survey Life’s Varied Scene; Now Thank We All Our God (#98)

Evening Worship (Parking Lot, 6:30 p.m.)
Call to Worship: Psalm 104:31-35
Hymn: Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
Confession of Faith: Psalm 90
Hymn: O God, Our Help in Ages Past
Pastoral Prayer
Scripture Reading: Mark 1:9-11
Homily: “Acceptance Before Performance”, Rev. Shiv Muthukumar
Communion: The Love of God; Here is Love
Hymn: Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken

“My life flows on in endless song, above earth’s lamentation,
I catch the sweet, though far-off hymn, that hails a new creation.
No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?”

– American Folk Hymn

The word convenience dates from the late 14th century, where it was birthed by two parent words: com “with, together” and venire “to come”. It was originally derived from the Latin convenientia, which means “a meeting together, agreement, or harmony.” This is the present-participle stem of convenire, a verb still used in Italian that means “to come together, meet together, assemble.” It can also mean “to join or unite.” The modern English meaning of “that which is easy or comfortable” only dates from the 1670s, and the sense of “quality of being personally not difficult” is from 1703.

This means that if you went to church between the years of 1400 and 1700, even if you had to walk several miles to get there, you would describe this as an act of convenience. But from the 18th century to present day, getting up on Sunday morning and going to church could rightly be described as inconvenient. It is not surprising, then, that modern people have chosen to forego the old conveniences in favor of the new. As it pertains to church attendance, this renaissance of the word convenience has not been progress. Fewer and fewer people go to church on Sundays, despite the efforts of the CCC (contemporary comfort clergy) to build a cathedral of coffee-house cheer. And now, in the internet age of livestreamed services, Sunday morning worship is more convenient (18th c.) and inconvenient (14th c.) than ever. The pandemic, with all its necessary in-person precautions for worship, has only exacerbated this problem.

And yet, church is not a convenience store. The liturgical re-enactment of the marriage supper of the Lamb is not a marriage of convenience. I understand that there are myriad reasons that Christians may choose to not come to church, but convenience should not be among these. For some people, the livestream service is a necessary and crucial compromise during a pandemic. But for others it could easily be mere convenience, a laissez-faire laxurgy with loafers and latte in the lazy boy.

As we roll into the leisurely days of summer, my encouragement to you is this: choose the old definition of convenience over the new. I recognize that circumstances make this difficult, and for some of you it is impossible. There are serious health considerations. There are risks and numeric restrictions. But as far as you and we are physically able, let’s “not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25).

When I Survey Life’s Varied Scene
Text: Anne “Nanny” Steele, 1760
Tune: Ross Hauck, 2020

On the website hymnary.org, Diane Shapiro gives a summary about this hymn’s author, Anne Steele. Steele stands alongside Frances Havergal and Fanny Crosby as one of the greatest female hymnwriters of all time.

“Anne Steele was born at Broughton, Hampshire in 1717. Her father was a timber merchant, and at the same time officiated as the lay pastor of the Baptist Society at Broughton. Her mother died when she was 3. At the age of 19 she became an invalid after injuring her hip. At the age of 21 she was engaged to be married, but her fiancé drowned the day of the wedding. After the death of her fiancé she assisted her father with his ministry and remained single. Despite her sufferings she maintained a cheerful attitude. She published a book of poetry Poems on subjects chiefly devotional in 1760 under the pseudonym ‘Theodosia.’ The remaining works were published after her death, they include 144 hymns, 34 metrical psalms, and about 50 poems on metrical subjects.”

On the same website, Chris Fenner notes:

“For most of her life, she exhibited symptoms of malaria, including persistent pain, fever, headaches, and stomach aches. Caleb Evans, in his preface to Steele’s posthumous Miscellaneous Pieces in Verse and Prose (1780), noted that she had been bed ridden for “some years” before her death:

‘When the interesting hour came, she welcomed its arrival, and though her feeble body was excruciated with pain, her mind was perfectly serene. . . . She took the most affectionate leave of her weeping friends around her, and at length, the happy moment of her dismission arising, she closed her eyes, and with these animating words on her dying lips, “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” gently fell asleep in Jesus.’

Historically, Steele’s most popular hymn has been “When I Survey Life’s Varied Scene” (and its shortened form, “Father, Whate’er of Earthly Bliss”), a hymn that turns earthly loss or denial into a spirit of thankfulness.”

This is the hymn that she wrote after the death of her fiancé. It It has been published in various permutations in many hymnals since 1792. The original version, entitled “Desiring Resignation and Thankfulness”, consists of ten stanzas.

I read the original earlier this week and was struck by how relevant it was to our current moment. I was inspired to write a tune for it. I adapted a bit of the poetry so I could double up the couplets, and then I wrote a long-form melody to fit. This makes it a 5-verse hymn, which we will sing during communion in our morning service this week. This means that the 80 lucky folks who attend Sunday morning will be the choir for the debut recording that will be on YouTube in perpetuum.

Steele’s hymns have always been noted for their accessibility, a big reason why they have been a mainstay in churches for over two hundred years. But the direct language she employs is not mere sentimentalism. There is a deeply devotional heart behind each couplet. Her desire for intimacy with the Lord drips onto the page. The displayed love for Jesus is undeniable.

Above all of this, what I appreciate the most about this particular hymn is the sheer determination to praise in the midst of every circumstance. There is no masking or muzzling this melody-maker. No pandemic would put down her praise. This hymn and its author embody the spirit of the Psalmists when they declare “My heart is steadfast. I will sing and make melody with all my heart” (Ps. 57:7, 108:1).

Lead sheet with melody and lyrics