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    Sunday next before Advent (November 24, 2019)

    The Epistle reading for this last Sunday in the Church year is not from an epistle but from the prophet Jeremiah. Even though we’re not officially in Advent, the reading anticipates the anticipation present in Advent. (Christian experience includes many layers of anticipation). The first verse of that reading announces: “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.” That righteous Branch is referenced in our Processional hymn, “How bright appears the Morning Star.” The text to this hymn is credited to Philipp Nicolai (1556-1608), but — as…

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    Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity (November 17, 2019)

    Our Processional hymn today — “The God of Abraham praise” — is based on a traditional Jewish hymn which in turn is based on a medieval Jewish creed. You may read more about it (and hear the Jewish hymn sung in Hebrew) here. The Sermon hymn is “Master of eager youth.” It is a paraphrase by F. Bland Tucker (1895-1984) of one of the earliest known Christian hymns, appended to a treatise called “The Tutor” by St. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215). The hymn was called “Hymn of the Saviour Christ,” and it was a succession of metaphors addressed to Christ, some of them biblical, some of…

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    Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity (November 10, 2019)

    The Epistle reading for today is from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. In it, we are exhorted to “be strong in the Lord” and to “put on the whole armor of God.” Our processional hymn describes the source of our confidence in the midst of spiritual combat, the foundation of our hope. The author of “How firm a foundation” was identified simply as “K” when the hymn was first published in 1787, and his (or her) identity remains a mystery. The text’s remarkable popularity may account for the large number of tunes associated with it. In every previous edition of our Hymnal, a different tune was used. Back in…

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    Twentieth Sunday after Trinity (November 3, 2019)

    Our Processional hymn this Sunday honors the celebration on Friday of All Saints’s Day. “For all the saints” may be the definitive All Saints’ Day hymn. The text was written by William Walsham How (1823-1897) while he was serving as rector at Whittington in Shropshire, a post he held for 28 years before becoming suffragan bishop of East London. The author of over 50 hymns (including eight in our Hymnal), he once answered the question “What constitutes a good hymn?” by answering: “A good hymn is something like a good prayer — simple, real, earnest, and reverent.” A good hymn also includes well-crafted music, and few hymn tunes equal SINE NOMINE,…

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    All Saints’ Day (November 1, 2019)

    As a choral prelude for our All Saints’ Day service, the choir sings two stanzas of “If thou but suffer God to guide thee,” a hymn by a pious seventeenth-century German poet. The Bach Cantatas website explains the hymn’s origins: Georg Neumark (1621-1681), who later in life was crowned as poet and held the position of court poet in Weimar, had composed the words and music to this famous chorale after having been attacked and robbed of everything that he possessed while traveling to the University of Königsberg (Kalinengrad) and, in the aftermath of this event, experiencing a difficult winter of deprivation until he finally found a position as a private tutor…

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    Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity (October 27, 2019)

    Our Processional hymn is “O Splendor of God’s glory bright,” which is often attributed to St. Ambrose, but probably wasn’t his work. (Read more about this hymn here.) Our Sermon hymn is “O Love that wilt not let me go.” It was written by George Matheson on the evening of June 6, 1882. A preacher in the Church of Scotland, Matheson (1842-1906) suffered from severely impaired eyesight from the time of his childhood. He nonetheless excelled in his studies at Glasgow University and later received doctoral degrees from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Aberdeen. Matheson wrote of this hymn’s origins: “It was composed with extreme rapidity; it…

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    Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity (October 20, 2019)

    Our Processional hymn — “When morning gilds the skies” — is a translation of an anonymous German hymn dating from the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. It is one of many hymns describing the inescapability of song in the life of the believer. Worship, especially through music, is the fitting response to Jesus Christ not only by believers but — as the hymn’s final stanza declares — by all of Creation. In 1899, the poet laureate of Great Britain, Robert Bridges (1844-1930), translated this hymn for use in English-language hymnals. Other translations by Bridges in our Hymnal include “Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended” (#71) and “O sacred head, sore…

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    Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity (October 13, 2019)

    Psalm 100 has traditionally held a place of privilege in the Church’s worship. It is commonly known (after the first word in the Latin) as the Jubilate: “O be joyful.” The Jubilate is one of the canticles appointed for use in the daily office of Morning Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer. There the opening verse begins: “O be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands.” This wording is from one of many English translations, some the work of noted poets, many by prominent Hebrew scholars. Catherine Parr, the sixth of Henry VIII’s six wives, tried her hand at a translation of Psalm 100 (apparently from a Latin Psalter,…

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    Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity (October 6, 2019)

    Our service opens with “Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven,” a hymn by Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847), a devout Anglican priest and a sensitive and accomplished poet. The hymn’s affirmation of God’s character of being “slow to chide, and swift to bless” echoes the Introit for today’s service, a text taken from Psalm 86, which acknowledges that the Lord is “good and gracious, and of great mercy unto all them that call upon [Him].” Our Hymnal contains dozens of hymns which credit John Mason Neale (1818-1866) as translator, usually of Medieval hymns originally in Latin or Greek. Neale’s work of eloquent translation had an unrivaled influence in recovering for…

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    St. Michael and All Angels (September 29, 2019)

    In addition to celebrating on this feast day the victory of heavenly hosts over the power of evil, our bishop will be confirming a number of our brothers and sisters. Today’s hymnody thus reflects a dual focus. Before examining the hymns, you may be interested in a new page which explores one of the cantatas that J. S. Bach’s wrote for this feast day. On this page, each movement of the work is examined in turn, with the text presented in English, and an embedded video of a complete performance is featured at the bottom of the page. I think it would make rewarding reading and listening this Sunday afternoon…