1. God eternal, timeless moment,
un-named Name of majesty,
morning star and evening glory,
source of life — its destiny:
you yet chose to shape and name us,
wove us in the deepest earth;
you ordained our days before us,
gave us freedom, gave us worth.
2. Jesus, helper in our sorrow,
Christ, who helpless chose to be:
is it sacrifice to follow
you to Calvary’s cruel tree?
Grant us courage, grant us grace to
die to self and love you still;
counting all things loss to know you,
walk your way and live your will.
3. Holy Spirit, word of wisdom,
dove descending, wind and fire:
sighing deep beyond our knowledge
search our minds, our lives inspire.
Tongues of flame and tongues of language
blaze the Word of God abroad;
may we here translate your wisdom,
guide your world to Christ her Lord.
4. God beyond us, God among us,
ever three, yet ever one:
re-create us, re-confirm us,
re-inspire us, lead us on.
God eternal, go before us;
Christ companion, come beside;
Spirit, be the life within, through
whom our God is glorified.
Words: © David Lee
Tune: Written with Blaenwern in mind (StF 503); a lighter, flowing feel is offered by both Scarlet Ribbons (StF 131) and Saltash (StF 197i)
Ideas for use
These are words are especially suitable for Trinity Sunday, with their emphasis on God the creator (v.1), Jesus the “helpless helper” (v.2), and God’s spirit urging us towards the task of sharing the gospel news (v.3).
Some of the imagery used by David Lee is arresting, including the phrase “Morning star”, which he notes is Trinitarian. In 2 Peter 1: 16-21 it describes our encounter with God as “the morning star rises in your hearts”; while in Revelation 22: 16 Christ refers to himself as “the bright morning star”. David describes the final verse as Trinitarian summing up of the preceding three verses.
But this hymn needn’t be used exclusively on one Sunday of the year – it offers an ongoing reflection on the character of God who is both all-encompassing and nearby. And the allusions to the post-resurrection story of the road to Emmaus (see below) make it especially useful for the days following Easter, when the great joy of the disciples is preceded, initially, by sorrow and bewilderment.
David Lee comments: “While many hymns seek to direct a narrative sequence of statements along a particular track, this one is intended to engage the imagination and open up questions for exploration and reflection.” One of the inspirations behind the text is David’s personal memories of his aunt, Shirley Lees, and her husband Bill, “who spent much of their lives working in Borneo, translating the Bible into local languages and cultures, and in medical and educational work”. Verse 2, line 3 (“is it sacrifice to follow”) references the title of their book about the cost and reward of discipleship (Is it Sacrifice? Experiencing Mission and Revival in Borneo pub.1987 Inter-Varsity Press).
David’s words draw upon a wide range of biblical reference and story, all set within in an overriding sense of the glory of God and the encompassing vision of God’s creation – from the “eternal, timeless moment” of the very first line to the glorification of God in the last. But within this is the awareness, too, of God’s presence alongside us in the person of Jesus and in the reassuring presence of the spirit, imaged as a gentle dove as well as powerful wind and fire.
In particular, David alludes to the post-resurrection account of Jesus walking the road to Emmaus with two confused and upset disciples. The story is hinted at in the “evening glory” of the first verse but comes into focus in verse 4: “Christ companion, come beside”. David notes that the word “companion” means literally “with bread”, and it is in the breaking of bread that the two friends finally recognise Jesus: Luke 24: 13-35.
You can read more about the thinking behind this hymn in David’s line by line commentary, from which the above notes are drawn.