“Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small
Love so amazing, so divine demands my soul, my life, my all.”
If you think you have heard this before it is because this is the last verse of “When I survey the wondrous cross”. Now imagine singing this hymn with great gusto with about 2000 other folk in an English Church in Oxford. Before the last verse the leader of the service simply stops the whole thing and asks you to read through the words you were about to sing without even thinking about them. “If you mean them, even a little bit, say them very quietly,” says an English voice. Now 2000 people whisper these words.
This really happened in 1931 in the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford. The speaker was William Temple, who would become Archbishop of Canterbury just a few years later. Temple himself has been compared to some of the great theologians of the Church, but in this case, his point is simple, yet profound. Can we read the words and say them as if we mean them, as if they are consequential and deliberate? This hymn might be odd to be thinking about at this time of year but as we enter into another season, Advent and Christmas, we might want to look carefully at some of the other well worn words which we sing and consider what they mean and what we mean by them.