shepherd sounds: Sunday Music: Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday Music: Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

19 September 2010

In the midst of life’s transactions and turmoil, there is one master to follow. That’s the message of today’s Gospel lesson. The manager, a shrewd fellow, who settled his servant’s debts with the master, did so to his own advantage. In the short run he was clever, but he did not have his master’s interests at heart. The music for today asks us to remember our focus and our relationship with the one Master who counts most of all. Because next Tuesday remembers Matthew, apostle and evangelist, the first communion hymn helps us think about another man who struggled with transactions, but who kept his focus better than the manager in the parable.

The Introit hymn, ‘Christ, whose glory fills the skies’, is a general morning hymn that lifts our spirits to Christ who greets us at the break of day. Written by Charles Wesley (1793–1870), the most prolific of English-language poets, the words work as powerful tools to prepare our sluggish and weary spirits for vital worship. The tune, ‘Ratisbon’, first appeared in Johann Werner’s Choralbuch, published in Leipzig in 1815. The harmonization used in our hymnal was prepared by William Henry Havergal (1793–1870), an Anglican priest who penned 25 hymn texts, and who was the father of the much more prolific poet, Frances Havergal.

The first communion hymn, ‘He sat to watch o’er customs paid’, remembers St Matthew. Written by William Bright (1824–1901), an Anglican priest who wrote a number of other texts as well, it is set here to the tune ‘Breslau’, taken from the Lochamer Gesangbuch of c.1450. Felix Mendellsohn (1809–1847) provided the harmony used in the Hymnal.

The second communion hymn, ‘Be thou my vision’, comes from an ancient Irish text of the 600s. Set to verse by Mary Byrne (1880–1931), it has become immensely popular because of its being sung to the Irish tune ‘Slane’. Named after Slane Hill, the place where St Patrick defied the High King Lóegaire mac Néill of Tara and burned candles on Easter Eve in 433, it, along with the text, places the singer deep in the spirit of ancient Irish Christianity. Today’s worshipper remembers that the high king on whom we focus is the same one whom Matthew followed, and of whom the parable’s manager lost sight.

The post-communion hymn, ‘Jesus calls us o’er the tumult’, typically sung to remember 
St Andrew’s day, helps us all to seek the obedience that disciples long for. Written by Cecil Frances Alexander (1818–1895), an Irish poetess who wrote many notable hymns included in The Children’s Hymnal, which went into a 69th edition. 
They include ‘All things bright and beautiful’, ‘There is a green hill far away’, and ‘Once in royal David’s city’. The tune, ‘Restoration’, written by William Walker (1809–1875), with powerful rhythmic movement in a minor key, is a typical Southern Harmony approach to congregational singing. This closing hymn reminds us, disciples all, that Andrew, Matthew and the master’s manager have been called from the tumult of life to follow Jesus.

David Zersen

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