Tuesday, April 17, 2012

CP 172 Hilda Clark, Brigitte Radomskyj and Hymn 301

Hilda Rose Clark was buried on March 19, 2009. It was the last funeral at which I officiated before ending my Call at St Pauls, Sydney. We had met only once. It was sometime in 2007. Only five people at St Pauls could remember that Hilda had ever worshipped there. She was in a nursing home, had been for many years, and had completely succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease. Hilda was actually a founding member of St Pauls and was a sister to Lily who features in my book. I had not visited her for the first 7 years in Sydney because I was told there was no point.

There are no excuses to be offered for my failure to care for her. Eventually I went, taking a Lutheran Hymnal with me. When I sat by her bed and addressed her she was blank. No recognition. Blank. What to do? I pulled out the hymnbook, opened it at Hymn 301, and quietly began to sing. “Take Thou my hand and lead me o’er life’s rough way…” To my astonishment, and the astonishment of surrounding staff, she immediately joined in with her own faltering voice. “With heavenly manna feed me from day to day…” We sang together through the full three verses.

Hilda went blank again. I started singing, “What a friend we have in Jesus…”, and she again sang with me to the end. And predictably blanked. I began, “Jesus loves me this I know…” and she completed it with me. She was gone again until I began the Lord’s Prayer (old form) and we prayed together. I assured her of her heavenly Father’s love and forgiveness and then she joined me for the benediction. “The Lord bless you and keep you…” She closed her eyes and I left, rejoicing that the words of her faith were in her, embedded in those hymns and prayers. More important than her conscious memory was the truth that her Spirit-born spirit memory was intact and strong, and her Father had not forgotten her.

Why write about this today? Because yesterday Brigitte Radomskyj was called from this life, aged 82. Her favourite hymn? LH 301, “Take thou my hand and lead me…” We shall sing it at her funeral on Thursday. There is no surprise that this hymn gripped her spirit. Here is the last verse. Consider its meaningfulness to someone born in Germany between the two world wars with all the accompanying fears, darkness and horror, and crushed hopes:

“Though oft it seems Thou hidest
Thy wondrous might,
Yet me Thou safely guidest
Through darkest night.
Take then my hand and lead me
Till life is o’er,
With heavenly manna feed me
For evermore.

Of course I have a question for us, for myself and for you. Do we have an ‘inbuilt word resource’ like these old folks have? I wonder. It has not been fashionable for many years to memorize stuff. Not in school and not in confirmation. We have access to any amount of knowledge and information through the internet. But what will be accessible in our spirit and to our spirit when the mind and memory can no longer function properly?

There is a second question I have for us. What is the content of the worship songs we do sing? You might be astonished at the way much of modern ‘songnody’ delivers only ‘faith and discipleship lite’, if it delivers it at all. I have a theory that the reason choruses have become so popular is that the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ is using that medium to sing simple scripture into the hearts of children. Why? Because children, let alone the culture, are largely illiterate in the things of Jesus Christ. Whatever we do, let us at least sing songs and hymns which carry the Gospel in its fullness, which honour Jesus as the Christ and Lord, and which reveal the heart of the Father.

***

Now, a related coincidence of no particular importance… Some of you are aware that I met Rosemarie (Birthday today) at Coogee Beach in Sydney. That was in 1968. While in Sydney she boarded at 6 Marion St in Coogee. Sometime around 1980, as a Pastor in Eudunda, South Australia, I was skimming the Marriage Register for St Stephens at Neales Flat and came upon the marriage of the daughter of our next door neighbours in Eudunda. Her husband had boarded at 6 Marion St in Coogee! Then when I took Hilda Clark’s funeral in 2009 I noticed that she had lived at 4 Marion St in Coogee. The first person I spoke to at that funeral had lived at, you guessed it, 6 Marion St in Coogee. Our Father’s world can be a small world indeed.

Be blessed in the Risen Lord.

Fred

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