Touch, Worship

Unity before missions

Which hymns would you choose to sing for Missions Sunday? Might you consider hymns that do not specifically mention missions?

In the topical index of The United Methodist Hymnal (UMH), there are at least 26 hymns under the category “Mission & Outreach” (UMH 567-593). There are an additional six hymns which are found under other categories but also share the theme of mission.

To this list of hymns on “Mission & Outreach”, I would like to suggest that we add one of Charles Wesley’s hymns for consideration: “Christ, from Whom All Blessings Flow” (UMH 550). This hymn is under the category “United In Christ”.

Doing missions is not merely an activity for individual members of the church; it is a corporate endeavour. It therefore calls for unity before any mission work is carried out. Dr S. T. Kimbrough, Jr., put it simply: “Either we are unified in Christ or we are not in mission!”

Here is the hymn text:
Christ, from whom all blessings flow,
perfecting the saints below,
hear us, who thy nature share,
who thy mystic body are.
Join us, in one spirit join,
let us still receive of thine;
still for more on thee we call,
thou who fillest all in all.
Move and actuate and guide,
diverse gifts to each divide;
placed according to thy will,
let us all our work fulfil;

Never from thy service move,
needful to each other prove;
use the grace on each bestowed,
tempered by the art of God.
Many are we now, and one,
we who Jesus have put on;
there is neither bond nor free,
male nor female, Lord, in thee.
Love, like death, hath all destroyed,
rendered all distinctions void;
names and sects and parties fall;
thou, O Christ, art all in all!

The hymn is described by Carlton Young (editor of the UMH) as “an eloquent statement on unity within our diversity we seek and already have in Christ, and our interdependence on one another as members in the body of Christ”. I believe that unity within the body of Christ precedes mission.

This hymn was originally a poem entitled “Communion of Saints” consisting of six parts with 39 stanzas of eight lines. It appeared in Hymns and Sacred Poems in 1740. In 1780, John Wesley arranged the hymn into ten four-line stanzas, and this version was first included in the hymnal A Selection of Hymns, 1810. It was dropped from the 1905 and 1955 editions, but was reinserted in 1966.

The hymn text notes that even as we acknowledge the various gifts given us, we ought to seek the Lord’s continuing guidance so that the work (in missions) is fulfilled. Through the hymn, Charles Wesley also teaches us that even with the gifts we already hold, we still need each other to
complete the task.

The fourth stanza can be more challenging as it calls us to put aside our differences and instead put on our oneness in Christ. It is through this oneness in Christ that we can enrich others with the different gifts bestowed upon us. Wesley then declares that it is love that voids all these distinctions and discriminations among us.

If we are willing, it will be by and through God’s grace that all these can and will be achieved.

Team of friends showing unity with their hands together
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Judith Mosomos is Acting Director of Worship and Church Music at the Methodist School of Music, and a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.