Prayer for Liverpool
It will seem a very strange Good Friday this year without being able to join with others in singing those hymns and hearing those readings that are so much a part of the worship of this most holy day. One of my favourite hymns is ‘There is a green hill far away’; I have loved it ever since I was a child. I remember asking my mum why it was that the hymn-writer had to point out that the green hill didn’t have a city wall around it! Surely it stands to reason that hills don’t have walls around them? She then explained that it was ‘old English’ and really meant that the green hill was outside the walls of the city, as opposed to being within in them. Then it all made sense, as she explained that Jesus died on a hill, outside (or ‘without’) the walls of the city of Jerusalem. She also told me a facinating story about that hymn, by Cecil Frances Alexander.
I was born and bred in Farnborough, in Hampshire, about 35 miles south-west of London. It’s not a very distinguished place, it has to be admitted. Yes, it has a certain air-show named after it, and it was the setting for the very first powered flight of an aeroplane in Britain, by Samuel Cody, in 1908. Another claim to ‘fame’ was that the last recorded (and by then illegal) prize-fight (that is boxing without gloves) took place in Farnborough. Farnborough’s old name is ‘Ferneberga’, which means ‘hill of ferns’. Above what is now the centre of Farnborough is a small hill, and before houses were built on it in the first half of the 20th century, it was covered in ferns – hence the name. Atop this ferny hill is St. Peter’s Church – known as the Old Parish Church to locals. This church, with its Norman origins, has stood overlooking Farnborough for well over 900 years. Not quite so long ago – although long enough back in time – it was where I was baptised and confirmed, and attended Sunday School and Youth Group. The story is that Cecil Frances Alexander was travelling through Farnborough on one occasion and saw the little church on top of the ferny hill, and was inspired to write ‘There is a green hill’. Well it may or may not be true, but it’s a great story!
Whether or not Farnborough played any role in the genesis of this very famous hymn, of much greater significance are the words of the hymn – a powerful reflection on the events of the Crucifixion. Like so many great hymns and songs, it teaches us foundational truths about what Christians believe about the work of Jesus on the cross that day.
“He died to save us all” – the name ‘Jesus’ means ‘God saves’.
“He died that we might be forgiven” – the cross is the place where the slate is wiped clean and we can make a fresh start with God and each other.
“There was no other good enough” – Jesus’ work and calling was unique to him. I am so thankful that he chose to accept that calling, despite the utter devastation it caused to him – physically, emotionally and spiritually.
“O dearly, dearly has he loved” – yes, Good Friday is good because it shows us the extent of God’s love for us. With good reason, the words of John 3:16 are carved into the Lady Chapel at Liverpool Cathedral: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
“Trust in his redeeming blood, and try his works to do.” – I always struggled with this line at the end of the hymn. I find trusting in God a real challenge at times, partly because I am a natural worrier, and partly because I often wonder what God is up to when I look at some of things going on in our world. And how can I ‘try his works to do’? Well, of course, the point is that only Jesus could do precisely what he did, but on the evening before Good Friday, as he spent that most precious time with his disciples, he said this: “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:25-27). It is in the strength of the Holy Spirit of Jesus, that I can try to walk in the way of the cross of Jesus.
So one thing that I will be doing today will be to download a clip of the choir of Liverpool Cathedral singing ‘There is a green hill’. I invite you, with me, quietly to sing along to this wonderful hymn, giving thanks for the Saviour who inspired it.
While you're here:
Why not prepare for next Sunday's worship? Our preparation sheet for adults and for children can be accessed by clicking on the Resources tab of this website: https://www.prayerforliverpool.org/prayer-resources.html.
And check out the following calendar of services this Holy Week (Links will be posted individually):
Holy Week Reflections and Services
Joint Good Friday Service between the two Cathedrals
The Passion Gospel read by Precentors from Cathedrals around the Country
Performance of Crucifixus by Cathedral Choir, sung remotely
Vigil Prayers and Night Prayer by National Cathedral Precentors
10.30am Service for Easter Day, Bishop Paul preaching
Prayer for Liverpool
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