shepherd sounds: Sunday Music: Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday Music: Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

14 November 2010

Introit hymn
632 ‘O Christ, the Word Incarnate’

Offertory anthem
‘Salvation is created’ (Pavel Grigorievich Chesnokov)

Communion anthem
‘A Communion Prayer’ (Gerald Near)

Communion hymns
620 ‘Jerusalem, my happy home’
615 ‘Eternal Ruler of the ceaseless round’

Postcommunion hymn
665 ‘All my hope on God is founded’


Sometimes life becomes so overwhelming that it surely seems that things will be worse before they get better (nice quote from Revelation). Jesus surely felt this way as pressures and threats mounted around him. Yet he knew that this was the time to give testimony, to share the confidence that is rooted in faith in God’s rule, not in the madness that belongs to those who are tied to their anger and impatience. We may think there is contemporary meaning in such words, but the poets and musicians down through the centuries have known this to be true as well. Today’s choice of hymns makes that clear.

‘O Christ, the Word Incarnate’ reminds us that the church’s faith floats like a banner and shines like a beacon in a dark world; it provides a chart and compass in life’s surging sea that points us always to God. Its author, William Walsham How (1823–1897), knew well how overwhelming life could be because he served as suffragan bishop of East London, known in How’s time for its misery, poverty and criminality. (He was also the author of last Sunday’s ‘For all the saints’.)

The hymn tune, ‘Munich’, by an unknown composer, was remembered in a 1693 German hymnal and later harmonized by Felix Mendelssohn, who used it in his oratorio Elijah.

‘Jerusalem, my happy home’ sounds like a contradiction in terms, given the age-old and never-ending struggle for control over the earthly city of that name. Its author (or authors; the provenance of this sixteenth-century poem is unclear, and it has been published in many different versions) was thinking of the new Jerusalem which belongs to those who have set life’s burdens behind, where
Thy saints are crowned with glory great;
they see God face to face;
they triumph still, they still rejoice
in that most happy place.
‘Eternal Ruler of the ceaseless round’ is also a reminder that whatever troubles come our way, God is in charge. The closing two lines encourage us to trust God’s judgement whatever our burden or blessing:
Give or withhold, let pain or pleasure be;
Enough to know that we are serving thee.
The author, John Chadwick (1840–1904), a graduate of Harvard Divinity School who became a Unitarian minister, wrote some hymns and many secular poems, most of which celebrated the rule of God in the midst of life’s uncertainties.

‘All my hope on God is founded’ sums up the theme for this day. Written by Robert Bridges (1844–1930), a physician who became poet laureate of England, the hymn is one of many poems that Bridges translated from Greek, Latin, and German into masterful English. This one is a translation of a poem by Joachim Neumann (1650–1680) – Graecicized by his grandfather as ‘Neander’, a custom of the time. Neander, who wrote a number of important hymns and tunes, including ‘Praise to the Lord, the Almighty’, became a Reformed preacher who liked to preach in a valley around Heidelberg, Germany. In his honor, the valley came to be called Neandertal (Neander’s valley) and in 1856, his name was given international fame when the bones of a prehistoric man were found in this valley. That man was named Neanderthal.

The tune, ‘Michael’, was written by the great twentieth-century composer of English church music Herbert Howells, and named in honor of his son, who had died very young.

David Zersen, with contributions by Eric Mellenbruch

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