Tuesday, November 15, 2005

We Gather Together

As a family that is fairly new to our Reforming journey, we have recently begun singing hymns in our family worship. My hubby, TheMadMonk, has put me in charge of picking out appropriate hymns. I have this handy little book called Then Sings My Soul (there are books I & II) which lists hymns and the stories behind them. One of my favorite hymns happens to be We Gather Together. Now some of you"experienced" Reformed folk out there might already know the history of this great hymn, but I did not until last evening.

It seems as if this particular hymn was written by an unknown Dutchman in 1597. It was written after horrific atrocities were committed against the people of the Netherlands by the Duke of Alba (Fernando Alvarez de Toledo). The acts of barbarism included the massacre of entire cities, bodies of thousands being hung in the streets and literally on the doorposts of homes for all to see. Approximately 10,000 people were executed and another 40,000 exiled. The Duke's ruling council was the "Council of Troubles" or better known as the "Blood Council". Does anyone out there in blogdom know why this happened? It happened because the winds of Calvinistic Reformation had reached the Netherlands. You see, King Phillip II of Spain, who owned this country at the time, was an arch-Catholic and he didn't like the fact that the Reformation was taking over, so he sent his Duke friend in to clean up the countryside. In the end the Catholic southern regions of the Netherlands (modern Belgium) pledged their allegiance to Phillip. The story doesn't end there though. Three weeks after the southern regions waned, the northern region (modern Holland) refused to submit to the Catholic Spain and declared its independence. The struggle was long and the country was devestated by warfare, but in the end the nation would not be denied and Spain lost its hold on the Dutch Republic. All of this, for the name of Christ.

I don't think I could ever imagine coming home to find my dear hubby's body hanging from our doorpost. Or watching my children die because of what their parents believe. We sometimes look at hymns and just see words with a nice tune. This hymn was written to express thanksgiving to God for a people's freedom from Spain and the ability to worship freely. A worship that is often taken for granted. A terrible price was paid that we might be able to gather together and worship freely in the name of Christ. Two thousand years ago another terrible price was paid on a cross. A price that has afforded me a Grace which I do not deserve. I can only hope that I can look back on history with reverence and appreciation for all that was sacrificed that I may be here, this hour, expressing my love for Christ and the grace He bestowed for which I have done nothing to merit.

We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,
And pray that Thou still our Defender wilt be.
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation:
Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

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