Hymn for the day graphic

24 Rainbow – Canham

The rainbow of God’s mercy

Alan Gaunt (1935 - )

© 1991 Stainer & Bell Ltd
Used by Permission of Stainer & Bell Ltd

23 Gruneisen Road, London N3 1DZ, www.stainer.co.uk

Robert Canham
  1. The rainbow of God’s mercy
    has over-arched the years,
    creating joyful colours
    from human grief and tears;
    we see the dark clouds gather,
    we hear the thunder roll,
    then, suddenly the rainbow
    elates the fearful soul.
  2. As we approach the future,
    not knowing what we’ll find;
    aware that storms of evil
    could swamp all human kind;
    the rainbow arches over
    our ignorance and strife:
    God's promise of forgiveness,
    our gateway into Life.
  3. God, let your light in Jesus,
    love’s pure white light ablaze,
    diffracted into rainbows
    through faithfulness and praise,
    shed faith, hope, love and mercy
    — the colours of your grace —
    with peace, delight and justice,
    on all the human race.

Alan Gaunt (born 1935)

© 1991 Stainer & Bell Ltd
Used by Permission of Stainer & Bell Ltd

23 Gruneisen Road, London N3 1DZ, www.stainer.co.uk

The hymn goes well to either CLONMEL or OFFERTORIUM.

Ever since Planet Earth has had atmosphere, sunshine and rain there have been rainbows. Rainbows can be seen when there are drops of water in the air with sunlight shining from behind the person viewing it. In theory, every rainbow is a complete circle but most of the time, because of where we are standing, we can only see a rainbow-arch.

Necessarily, the source of light has to be behind us, we cannot see the rainbow and its light-source at the same time.

Rainbows are easily explained rationally and scientifically, there is no mystery. When the conditions coalesce, there will be a rainbow – there is nothing more to it than that – or is there?

Humankind possesses more than the ability to discover, sift and assess factual information. We are also blessed with the gift of imagination, and faith, without imagination, remains arid.

Imaginative faith assures us in O love that wilt not let me go:

O joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
and feel the promise is not vain,
that morn shall tearless be.
George Matheson (1842-1906)

Similarly, in Lord of all being, throned afar:

Our midnight is thy smile withdrawn,
our noontide is thy gracious dawn,
our rainbow arch thy mercy’s sign;
all, save the clouds of sin, are thine.
Oliver Wendell Homes (1809-94)

Both these verses can, to the eye of faith, bring hope, encouragement and colour to these monochrome virus-infested times through which we are living.

Strange as it may seem, there are very few rainbows mentioned in the Bible, by my reckoning, probably only four, but they are pivotal.

In the first book of the Bible, in Genesis 9:13 (cp. Ezekiel 1:28) the rainbow becomes the sign of God’s first, and only unconditional, covenant with humankind; it is God’s unilateral doing, God’s initiative, sign of the grace, the extraordinary self-giving, of God. When clouds enshroud the earth, the rainbow may be seen, a reminder to God and us of God’s love for us.

Then in the last book of the Bible, in Revelation 4:3 (cp. Revelation 10:1) the Visionary, having been invited through ‘a door opened in heaven’, glimpses the awesome throne of God encircled by a unique rainbow, ‘bright as an emerald’. From the throne issue ‘flashes of lightning and peals of thunder’ (reminiscent of Moses and Sinai) but they are, so to speak, contained by ‘The rainbow of God’s mercy’, a reminder that there is no exercising of God’s justice at the expense of God’s love. God’s justice may be ‘like mountains’ but, high soaring above are God’s clouds which remain ‘fountains of goodness and love.’ (Walter Chalmers Smith, 1824-1908).

In these days of Covid-19 the NHS Rainbow has captured the imagination of people throughout the country. Alan Gaunt’s hymn begins by reminding us that the rainbow of God’s mercy over-arches not only the aeons of our world but the span of our lives; that somehow the sight of the rainbow after rain grants the souls ‘a season of clear shining to cheer it after rain’ (William Cowper, 1731-1800). The rainbow of God’s mercy encapsulates that hope.

The second verse reminds us that the future, by its very nature, is uncertain; that storms of evil, be they the impersonal virus, climate change, oceanic pollution, the ambition of nations or the intolerance of people, could so easily swamp all human kind. And yet, despite our woeful ignorance and strife, the rainbow periodically arches over and reminds us that there is an alternative through God’s promise of forgiveness; our gateway into life.

The final verse further develops this, offering powerful imagery of the pure white love of God, channelled through Jesus, which through faithfulness and praise is, through our lives, diffracted into the seven ‘colours’ of faith, hope, love, mercy, peace, delight and justice with power to transform the human race and thereby the whole creation.

Jenny and I have experienced many memorable rainbows which have appeared at significant moments in our life together. They can, of course, be easily explained rationally and scientifically, there is no mystery. Or is there? Through the prism of imaginative faith, new vistas of possibility and hope are opened up.

A Prayer:

Rainbow God, spectrum of hope arching over humankind, as you enrich our lives
with the full palette of your colours, may the white light of your Presence
illumine our lives and the life of this world. Amen.

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