During November we travel through the period between All Saints Day and Advent, sometimes known as ‘Kingdom Season’. On these Sundays before Advent Sunday we are encouraged to celebrate and reflect on the reign of Christ in earth and in heaven. This culminates on the last Sunday of the church’s liturgical year, the Sunday next before Advent Sunday, the Feast of Christ the King. The church’s year begins at Advent with the hope of the coming Messiah and culminates with the proclamation of his universal sovereignty.
I reflected on the Kingship of Christ in heaven at the recent funeral of Jean Matthews, for many years a faithful worshipper at Christ Church. Jean’s family asked to sing the hymn ‘I vow to thee, my country’ as part of the service. It is a hymn that is best known as a patriotic hymn that speaks of dedication to the nation.
The hymn began life as a poem written by Cecil Spring Rice, a British diplomat who, between 1912 and 1917, served as ambassador to Washington. He is credited, at least in part, with persuading the United States to join the first World War.
His poem, entitled Urbs Dei (‘The City of God’), but also known as ‘The Two Fatherlands’, was written some time between 1908 and 1912, before the outbreak of war, whilst Spring Rice was serving in the Embassy in Stockholm. Its call to offer love to country without questioning, to the point of sacrificing upon the altar of war “the dearest and the best”, has led some to suggest that it is not appropriate to sing in an act of worship, especially as, other than in the title, there is no direct mention of God in the hymn.
However, the second verse of the hymn points us towards Christ the King. We are told of “another country” whose “fortress is a faithful heart” and whose “pride is suffering”. We are called to be faithful to the King of that country and to share in his suffering. However, it is his faithfulness and his suffering that gives us permission to enter that land.
When we struggle with the pressures and difficulties of this world, it is good to be reminded that this is not the full story, for there is another country.
“For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”(2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.
Revd Andy Wilson
Vicar, Christ Church Portsdown
Priest-in-Charge, St John the Baptist Purbrook
Curate, Church of the Good Shepherd Crookhorn
Chaplain, Havant & Waterlooville FC