There are not many occasions to sing evening hymns, which is sort of unfortunate because some of them are quite beautiful. Hymns that speak about the end of our day, both literally and figuratively, in ways that provide comfort, reassurance and peace. Words and music that carry us beyond the day’s struggles or celebrations into places of rest.
When John Ellerton wrote this hymn in 1863, his intention was for it to be used at the close of a church service. A means of encouraging the parishioners to contemplate how their worship and faith could influence their interactions with one another, as they went about their daily lives.
Saviour, again to your dear name we raise
with one accord our parting hymn of praise.
We give you thanks before our worship cease;
then, in the silence, hear your word of peace.
Grant us your peace, Lord, on our homeward way.
With you began, with you shall end the day.
Guard now the lips from sin, the hearts from shame,
that in this house have called upon your name.
Grant us your peace, Lord, through the coming night;
turn all our darkness into perfect light.
Then, through our sleep, our hope and strength renew,
for dark and light are both alike to you.
Grant us your peace throughout our earthly life,
comfort in sorrow, courage in the strife.
Then, when your voice shall bid our conflict cease,
call us, O Lord, to your eternal peace.
There is an abundant use of the word peace in this hymn. It is interesting. This plea for peace as a way to give thanks, to guard against shame and hurtful words, to renew strength and hope, to comfort our sorrow and to end conflict. Interesting, because we often think of peace as the end result of the absence of these things. And yet, Ellerton seems to be suggesting that while we wish for peace, it is also the thing that allows us to achieve it. What a circle!
There are lots of definitions of peace. There are ambitious ideas of freedom from war and violence, and intimate interpretations about silence and calm. Most of us are looking for all that this spectrum offers – and would happily accept the ability to achieve the result; to benefit from the accomplishment of peace. But as I’m thinking about this hymn’s words, I am wondering if peace is something we achieve, or if it is something we must choose.
Choosing peace requires me to give thanks. Even when I do not have what I want or need.
Choosing peace requires me to be kind with my words. Even when I am justified in my criticism.
Choosing peace requires me to value who I am and what I contribute. Even when I struggle with confidence or shame.
Choosing peace requires me to renew my strength. Even when I need to seek renewal outside of myself.
Choosing peace requires me to be hopeful. Even when I have no answers.
Choosing peace requires me to comfort the sorrowful. Even when I have no idea what to say.
Choosing peace requires me to end conflict. Even when I am in the right.
Choosing peace is, in reality, extremely difficult. For example, that last one is an immense challenge. How do we end conflict in the face of incredible wrongs? It is a conundrum. But peace is the absence of conflict. How can we possibly expect to achieve it if we use the tools of violence to lay its foundations? I suspect the answers lie in the previous assertion that peace is as much the starting point as the desired end. How we choose to take on the challenges of our world – the injustice, the pain, and even the blessings – makes a huge difference.
Our lives are filled with so much that is beyond our control. Yet we have a tremendous ability to influence our world with every decision we make. It is both a responsibility and a great privilege. Not one of us is so small that these choices are meaningless. We are individually and collectively powerful, often in ways we cannot even imagine. Make your choices carefully and let peace be your guide.
Go in peace.