When Wesley prays, “Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,” he is reminding us that our longing for Jesus is as old as the human heart.
It took me a while to realize that I needed to sing the Old Testament so I was ready to sing the New. That is, we need to recognize how our world got lost; only then will we understand why God sent his Son to find it. I had to remember that we humans have needed Jesus from the time we stumbled out of Eden, and that our hearts have longed for him ever since Eve heard that her seed would crush the serpent’s head. When Wesley prays, “Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,” he is reminding us that our longing for Jesus is as old as the human heart.
We ought to sing it more! Sing it, indeed, until we re-discover the power of this Name. Sing it until, as Charles Wesley urged, “Happy, if with my latest breath/ I may but gasp his name, / preach him to all and cry in death, / ‘Behold, behold the Lamb!’”
Our Lord’s ascension is, as I like to phrase it, “Easter’s exclamation point.” It tells us that the resurrection of our Lord is not simply a miracle, something to astonish us as with thousands of other miracles; it is a re-shaping of the order of the universe; it is the death of death. It is not simply a lengthening of life; it is a re-definition of life.
There’s no question but that the first line ought to be the first line – “Christ the Lord is risen today” – because all else follows from that premise. If you accept that fact (and God have mercy on you if you don’t), it’s easy to “raise your joys and triumphs high,” and to know as you do so that the “heavens and earth reply.”
Wesley leads us to the heart of Lent and to the heart of every day of seeking the fullness of life in Christ: such a longing to please our Lord that we want the Holy Spirit to check us at the first sense of pride, wrong desire, or the wandering will — anything, that is, that might “quench the kindling fire.”
Charles Wesley wrote songs for sinners. For those who were lost in sin, his hymns promised salvation, and for those who had come to Christ they were hymns that celebrated the day when it happened… These hymns are as true as ever and it is only our spiritual and doctrinal naivete that keeps us from seeing it.
Wesley knew how to be abased and how to abound. He intended, as did his brother John, to live all of life under God’s hand, whatever the circumstances of any given day.
We Methodists don’t “believe” in backsliding, as some have accused us, but we’re honest enough to confess a fact when it stares us in the face, and we’re sensitive enough to our spiritual condition that we can tell the difference.
The first verse of “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” is an invitation to join the angels who announced Christ’s birth. In fact, Wesley wants all nations to rise and “join the triumph of the skies” in the tumultuous news, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!” Notice the exclamation point. Wesley was inclined that way. It’s hard to end all your sentences with periods when your soul is on the rise.