Rex caelestis, Rex gloriae
morte surrexit hodie.
There is nothing more majestic and awesome than a glorious church organ performing the 16th-century tune, O Filii et Filiae, with all its simple pomp and richness. Nothing moves the spirit more than this.
Set in a soaring cathedral to the rhythmic wafts of incense curling up to the bright stained glass, O Sons and Daughters is everything my faith at once demands: a comfort, an awe, a reverence, and a humiliation in the face of centuries of Christian history.
To many, this hymn is just one more ugly reminder why they left the overbearing church. The music isn’t accessible; the incense makes them gag; the vaulting stone dwarfs them.
Ah, but this is what “church” seems to be leaving behind—the awe and majesty of our great God! These days, so much conversation rests on the buddy-buddy Jesus who comes to you with casual conversation and a cup of tea. But the Bible—indeed our own life—reminds us that sometimes, a commanding God is what we need in our stubborn moments. We need a deity to knock us down and show us how to be modest every once in a while.
The glory of this hymn is not only in the music—though the music is what has kept my rapt attention from the beginning. No, it is the great juxtaposition of a powerful tune carrying the levity of a poor man’s sordid story. The story of Jesus and his resurrection is not the miracle-gilded Godsend the Jews were hoping for in first-century Jerusalem. What they didn’t want, they got—a God who stooped low to save. What God stoops? This one, said Jesus.
And while I am as much an advocate for a God who is accessible to us, I must insist that we not forget about the awe and majesty of the Creator God we seem to have left behind. God wishes us no ill will, most certainly, but don’t you think we occasionally need a little tough love to get us on the right path? That’s what this hymn says to me—it is a comfort in knowing God is watching over me, and a reminder that it is God’s will be done, not our own.
So I relish the Sundays when I hear this hymn. Seldom anymore do I hear it in cathedrals—it is far too traditional for that. But every once in a while, its heavy notes will hound the air on a Sunday morning and jog my memory. This is the great and glorious God, I whisper to myself. And this is the Christ who ate with outcasts and sinners.
They are always and forever, one and the same.