Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

Throughout history, many churches have utilized liturgical services, where both the order and much of the content of a worship service is written out in full.  This hymn comes from one of these service orders, the Liturgy of Saint James, a liturgy for celebrating the Eucharist that originated with the church at Jerusalem, dating back to at least the 4th Century.  It is named for James, the brother of Christ, author of the New Testament Epistle bearing his name, and the first bishop of the Jerusalem church.  Some of the eastern churches still use this liturgy today.Saint James

The first part of this liturgical service was open to anyone, including those who might just be investigating Christianity, as well as those who had accepted the claims of Christianity but had not yet been baptized.  Like our own service, this first part included hymns, prayers, the reading of Scripture, and instruction from the Word.  However, as they prepared to partake of the Communion elements, the catechumens, or unbaptized, would be dismissed, and the choir would chant this hymn as the bread and the wine were brought in to be placed on the altar:

“Let all mortal flesh be silent, and stand with fear and trembling, and meditate nothing earthly within itself.  For the King of kings and Lord of lords, Christ our God, comes forward to be sacrificed, and to be given for food to the faithful; and the bands of angels go before Him with every power and dominion, the many-eyed cherubim, and the six-winged seraphim, covering their faces, and crying aloud the hymn, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”

The first phrase echoes Habakkuk 2:20, which says, “the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.”  It brings to mind Isaiah chapter 6, where Isaiah sees the Lord on his throne, surrounded by the seraphim, and Isaiah responds with fear and trembling.  Or, the last few chapters of Job, where God “answers” Job with questions that reveal God’s surpassing greatness and authority, and Job’s response is to “lay his hand on his mouth.”

So there is a somberness to these words that we sing, as we ponder our own sinfulness, our need for a Savior, and we rightfully tremble before the power and authority of our Creator.  However, silence before God is not only due to standing before Him with fear and trembling, but also because we have no need to fret or worry.  As the psalmist wrote in Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  If we are God’s children, we can have internal peace, and be calm and silent when we see God for who He is.  We also sing with rejoicing in our hearts, because we are celebrating the arrival of our glorious Savior.

Perhaps especially meaningful for the church at Jerusalem would have been the prophecy from Zechariah chapter 2, where verses 10-13 read, “‘Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the LORD.  And many nations shall join themselves to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people.  And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.  And the LORD will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem.’  Be silent, all flesh, before the LORD, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.

And so, we sing this classic hymn, not just imitating traditions of the past, but standing alongside the saints from throughout history, unified in our doctrine and our devotion.  Let us stand, and with a holy mixture of fear and joy, give homage to our Lord who came to redeem us and nourish us by giving us himself.

In Christ Alone

In Christ Alone…”  These three words are a fragment, implying that we need to finish the sentence.  In Christ alone ______________.

This hymn fills in that blank by answering the question of “where do we place our hope?”  The world suggests we place our hope in having lots of money.  Or, if that doesn’t work, the government will take care of us.  But ultimately, everyone will let us down, so we have to be prepared to pull ourselves up by our own boot straps, and look out for Number One, says the world.  We can’t count on someone else to save us after all, but we can save ourselves.  “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”  Well… we know that that’s not true.  We are broken and powerless, in need of a Savior, and we place our hope in Christ, and in no one else.cross

The hymn also answers the question of “what is the basis for that hope?” If Christ alone is the source of our hope, what is it that makes that hope secure?  And so, we sing about the work of Christ on the cross.  The death that He died on our behalf accomplished what only He could accomplish.  The wrath of God, which we justly faced because of our sin, was satisfied by Jesus.  No one else could secure our freedom.  Only His blood could purchase our redemption.  Only His resurrection could conquer the effects of sin and death, and grant us the same victory.  We place our hope in Christ, because only He can save us.  The things that we need can be found in Him alone.

Here is my favorite line in the hymn:  “From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.”  This sums it up:  “Jesus commands my destiny.”  For starters, what this says to me is that I don’t control my own destiny.  I may want to sometimes.  I may try to.  But my destiny is not up to me.  It would be futile to put my hope in myself, because I don’t have the power to determine my future.  I don’t have the power to determine my eternal worth.  My destiny is controlled by Christ alone.

Furthermore, not only does Jesus hold the reins to my destiny, but He really is in command.  My destiny is not a wild, out-of-control horse that Jesus is trying to rein in.  My destiny is not up in the air.  My destiny is certain, because the one who controls my destiny has all the power in heaven and earth, forever and ever.  Jesus commands my destiny.  What more could I want?  What more could I hope for?