Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer; for he said, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.’ (1 Samuel 7:12)
I’m remembering a time when my then-teenaged daughter came to my church office during choir rehearsal. She was crying. There’d been a disagreement about the words in the New Century Hymnal (that hymnal was much newer then than now). Some of the older folks refused to sing the ‘new words’ in a hymn saying ‘The old words are our words and those are the ones we will sing.’ My daughter had replied saying, ‘But the new words are the only words I’ve ever known. What about MY words?’ Things went downhill from there.
I have an art piece on my office wall illustrating the beginning words of my favorite hymn:
Come Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise
It’s the second verse that caused my remembrance of an earlier choir practice. The words I know say:
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I’m come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
The New Century Hymnal says something quite different and I trip over the words every time we sing it:
Here I pause in my sojourning
Giving thanks for having come
Come to trust at every turning
God will guide me safely home.
Sorry, daughter. I like the old words better on this one.
An “Ebenezer” is a ‘stone of help’, a memorial raised to God in remembrance of all the help God has given up until that point. It’s much more than a break from traveling. It’s much more than saying “I’m glad I got here.” Rather, it credits God with every good thing that has come before and says those things are worth remembering with thanksgiving.
That’s the message I want to sing in October 2020. Nonetheless, however you choose to sing it and even if you trip over the words, it is appropriate to offer thanksgiving to God in a time of pandemic, of civil unrest, of political uncertainty, of shaky economy, of climate change, of daily challenges you face that are known only to you and those you love. Raise your Ebenezer and recall on those difficult days that God has helped us thus far and will bring us safely home.
Rev. John Vertigan, Florida Conference Minister, United Church of Christ
Prayer Focus: God’s unchanging love
Prayer: Dear God, you have helped us immeasurably in the past. Until that day when at last we arrive safely at home, may we continue to trust you to help us as you have so far. Amen