We are a couple weeks into Lent now, and this week I thought I would re-visit one of my favorite hymns of all time, “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy.” I was introduced to this hymn rather late in life by a friend during college. He was the musical type and played a version of the song from the band The Prayers & Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers at a coffee house on campus. I had never heard this hymn before then, as the church I grew up in tended to gravitate to more contemporary worship songs, but “Come, Ye Sinners” spoke a direct, much-needed message into my life. At its core, “Come, Ye Sinners” proclaims a very simple message: all are welcome in God’s kingdom, no questions asked. The refrain of the song puts it beautifully: “I will arise and go to Jesus/ He will embrace me in his arms.” He will embrace me, not he might embrace me, not he will embrace me once I get my act together—he will embrace me, case closed. When I hear “arise” in the refrain, I immediately think of several of Jesus’s miracles, and considering those miracles casts the refrain in an even more inviting light. When Jesus heals the paralytic man lowered through the roof in Luke 9, he says to him, “Rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” Jesus only says this after having forgiven the man of his sins, dealing with both the physical and spiritual malady of the man. In a spiritual sense, we are all like this man, paralyzed and unable to walk. In this condition, God doesn’t ask us to “pull ourselves up by our moral bootstraps” (to borrow a phrase from Fr. Kevin) and rise in our own power, rather he performs the miracle that give us the ability to rise and seek embrace in his arms. Here, our role (one worth keeping in mind during Lent) consists of accepting this miracle of grace and collapsing into our Savior’s arms, something the rest of the song brings into clarity. Two of the hymn’s verses still strike me powerfully, even though I’ve heard this song over and over again. Verse two goes like this: “Come, ye weary, heavy-laden/ Lost and ruined by the fall/ If you wait until you’re better/ You will never come at all.” Out of all the excuses we may employ to avoid addressing our spiritual condition (and believe me, I am well acquainted with many of them), perhaps the most insidious takes the form of “I need to get better before I go back to church/read the Bible/pray/etc.” This excuse, while motivated, at its best, out of a respect for God’s Law (i.e. we know something is wrong with us), misses the overwhelming flood of grace that pours from the outstretched arms of Christ on the cross. The final verse also takes aim at this mentality: “Let not conscience make you linger/ Nor of fitness fondly dream/ All the fitness God requires/ Is to feel your need of Him.” When we think that God will not accept us as we are, we are listening to a voice that does not come from God. It may come from the devil, it may come from our own failings and shortcomings, it may come (as it often does in my case) from perfectionism, it may come (in horribly ironic fashion) from the Church, but one thing is certain—that voice is not God’s. As this final verse says, the only fitness God requires is, in essence, a lack of fitness. In feeling a need for God, we admit that we cannot rise on our own. With that acknowledgement, instead of gathering our resolve and continuing our ascent up the ladder of moralism, we have lowered our beds through the roof, moving downward towards the open, grace-filled arms of Jesus. To hear the hymn, click below.