SATB choir; keyboard or harp
The Calvin Institute for Christian Worship
The Calvin Institute for Christian Worship (2003)
GIA Publication - G-6359
One might expect the world glory to be treated, well with glory! And indeed, many choral settings reflect the glorious messages in Luke 2:14 when the angels filled the heavens with their announcement of the birth of Christ, “Glory to God in the highest.” But instead, this anthem begins with the word offered slowly, humbly, simply. We remember that Christ laid aside his glory to become one with us, taking on our likeness, taking on our sin (Philippians 2).
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he dealt with a problem in the church. The Corinthians were puzzled, even offended, that Paul would be in prison – anything but a glorious position for their spiritual leader. But Paul reminded them, and us, that it is not our glory we seek, it is the glory of the gospel. And that glory is of Christ, not of us “clay pots.” Being in prison allows Paul to make clear that the power and glory of the gospel comes not from ourselves, but from God. That kind of a message is not able to be received by those who would seek their own glory. But it is both a humbling and comforting message to those who have found new life in Christ. And so the anthem continues with this encouragement: “When we lose heart, we are renewed each day.” Here the word gloria is echoed, inside the text, inside us, as it were, now in Latin, bringing to mind the whole text of the gospel contained in that ancient text of the church. The anthem continues with encouragement that we “look not to the things we see,” since “our sight [is] obscured by sin.” Then, after just a bit of a rise in dynamics, still quite and humble, come the closing words, “We are but vessels of the Lord, whose light we hold within.”
The image of Christ as the light of the world is central to the gospel, so this anthem could find use many different times throughout the year, perhaps especially during Epiphany. Its humble character commends it as a response to confession of sin and assurance of pardon, or as parting words of encouragement when, like Paul, we too struggle. (See the list in 2 Corinthians 4:8-12 of ways Paul struggled, yet was not driven to despair – let no one think that being in prison was easy for him.) This text also brings to mind Jeremiah 18:1-4, in which God told Jeremiah to go to the potter’s house and provide a visual lesson for the people to remember who was the potter and who was the clay. For a visual image, one pastor put a candle in a cracked clay pot in front of the church when preaching on these passages, commenting that God uses cracked pots to allow the light of Christ to shine through us.
Editor, Reformed Worship
Senior Research Fellow, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship
God’s glory dwells in each of us
We are treasure in jars of clay
So it is when we lose heart,
We are renewed each day.
Look not to the things we see
Let Light shine forth from sin,
We are but vessels of the Lord,
Th’eternal lies within.
–Peter Elliot, based on Corinthians 4:7, 16-18
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