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A reflection on the Hymn ‘Lo, he comes with clouds descending’ – The Revd Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)

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Preacher: The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)
Title of sermon: A reflection on the Hymn ‘Lo, he comes with clouds descending’

Date/time/service: Advent Sunday – Evening – 29th November 2020

When I read comics I loved it when, very occasionally, Desperate Dan turned up in a story about Roger the Dodger. I remember an exciting sense of chaos and anarchy when different stories and different characters were mixed up in this way.

Last year I experienced a similar sense of excitement when I wrote a story imagining one of the wise men, from the Christmas story, returning to Jerusalem as an elderly gentleman, with his son, and witnessing the death of the man he had a visited as a new-born baby over thirty years before. As I began to write it felt as though he was in the wrong story.

Because of the way we have made festivals out of the highs and lows of the story of Jesus we have a tendency to think about these stories in isolation. There is the Christmas story, the Easter Story, the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit and numerous other offshoot stories. What we have to remember is that there is actually only one story.

This evening we are reflecting on the hymn. ‘Lo, he comes with clouds descending’. A great hymn for Advent, which pictures the second coming of Christ, in clouds, with ‘thousand thousand saints attending’. There are three panels in our great East Window that depict this dramatic scene from the Book of Revelation.

It is easy to get carried away with the glorious and awe inspiring images of the second coming conjured up in the Book of Revelation, depicted in our great window and sung about in many hymns. We can easily come to think that the second coming is basically a divine promise that all will be well. The cynical would say that, like any good fairy tale, the second coming of Christ in glory is the happy ending we all yearn for in a story.

This hymn does not allow us to fall into this simplistic way of thinking. It reminds us very starkly that the one coming on the clouds, attended by a whole host of saints, is the same one who was ‘pierced and nailed’ to a tree. He comes in glory still bearing the ‘glorious scars’, the ‘dear tokens’ of the agonising death he endured for us. As Advent begins we are made to remember the painful story of Good Friday.

There is one story of Jesus and that story includes being born in poverty and utter vulnerability, a life of sacrificial love leading to an agonising death, a glorious resurrection and the expectation that one day the same Jesus, bearing the eternal scars of suffering, will return to claim his kingdom in which ‘God shall wipe away all tears…. and there shall be no more death …’ Rev 21.4

Thank God that this hymn reminds us that the scars of grief and pain we all bear are not wasted, they are part of who we are and they will be transformed, will be part of the ‘dazzling’ resurrection body we will share with Christ.

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