This morning I have been thinking about a hymn that has been a golden thread running through my life since childhood “Amazing Grace” It’s one of those hymns that people don’t always realise are actually hymns as they have slipped into our popular culture unnoticed. It is often the choice of families for funerals as it is well known and has the right gravitas for such an occasion.
One of my abiding memories of it being used at a funeral goes back a few days when I conducted the service of a lady at a woodland burial ground. It was a beautiful summers day, not unlike today, and we had the doors of the tiny chapel open. One the pieces of music was indeed Amazing Grace but it had been recorded by some musicians who were friends of the family and the sound of this beautiful melody playing as the breeze blew through the grass and trees is something I will never forget.
Amazing Grace was written in the 18th Century by John Newton, a man who grew up with no strong religious convictions but as a result of a spiritual encounter with God, began to study theology and was eventually ordained.
The lyrics of Amazing Grace are Newton’s testimony to that conversion and the profound effect it had on his whole life. The popularity of this hymn has continued over more than 200 years and many different versions have been released.
But if we really press into the lyrics what do they mean for each of us in this season. What is this “amazing grace” that has the power to transform lives, to lift us out of despair?
There are many references in scripture to grace and one of my favourite is from Ephesians 2 8-9 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Paul is explaining that God’s grace is not something that we earn through our actions but is a pure and generous gift to us all from our Heavenly Father which is available to everyone through their faith in Him and what He has done for us through the sacrifice of His Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Newton recognised this when we wrote of how grace “saved a wretch like me” He knew that he was unworthy, as we all are, yet in God’s eyes we are valued as His precious children for who he only wants the best. So that is what He gives us – the best, grace in all its transformative power, gifted to us through His abundant love.
But like any gift we have to be willing to accept it and value it, not just toss it into the corner to gather dust. And when we do embrace this gift of grace, we are assured of God’s protection to bring us through the “dangers, toils and snares” of life.
In this season that grace becomes even more important in our lives. Never more have we as individuals and indeed all of humanity, needed protection not just from the virus but from the challenges that this new “normal” is bringing and will continue to do so for many months to come.
Grace is not a magical cure though. God doesn’t wave His wand and suddenly everything is ok – no matter how much we might wish he would! What grace does though is strengthen us, give us hope and enable us to share that strength and hope with others.
Throughout these past weeks I have experienced grace in all its amazing power and I have seen it when I least expected to do so, in those moments of despair and confusion when I have called out to God , He has shown me the way through and he has done so by His grace. May we all know God’s grace in these times and may we all be encouraged to lead others to it as well, in Jesus’s name. Amen
(This is the Chris Tomlin version https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrwkCOUOliI )