This is the last Sunday before the pre-Lenten season, hence the last Sunday until Easter in which “Alleluias” will be heard in our liturgy. Our opening hymn — “Praise the Lord through every nation” — punctuates its praise in both verses with an enthusiastic Alleluia. It also boasts a wonderfully ecumenical genealogy. The tune to this hymn is best known as WACHET AUF, though for some reason is designated in English in our Hymnal as SLEEPERS, WAKE. We more typically sing this during Advent with the text “Wake, awake for night is flying.” It was written by Lutheran pastor Philip Nicolai (1556-1608). The text to the present hymn was written by Rhijnvis Feith (1753-1824), a member of the Dutch Reformed Church and a prolific author of poems, ballads, drama, novels, religious treatises, and about 40 hymns. His poem was paraphrased for use in English by James Montgomery (1771-1854), the son of a Moravian minister and the author of 13 hymns in our Hymnal, including Go to dark Gethsemene and Hail to the Lord’s Anointed.
Our sermon hymn is “God moves in a mysterious way,” a poem by William Cowper (1731-1800). Cowper’s hymns are typically plaintive and poignant, reflecting his struggle with melancholy and depression. In his book, The Fullness of Knowing, Daniel Ritchie has suggested that “The popularity of [Cowper’s] hymns testifies that many of their singers affirm the combination of faith and anxiety they find in them.”
The Offertory anthem is a setting of the Offertory proper from Psalm 118: “The right hand of the Lord hath the pre-eminence, the right hand of the Lord bringeth mighty things to pass: I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.” Our setting is by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c.1525-1594), as is the Communion motet, Ego sum panis vivus. The text for this work is based on John 6:57-58: “I am the living bread. Your fathers ate manna in the desert, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven: if any man eat of it, he will not die.”
Our first Communion hymn, “Come with us, O blessed Jesus,” was written by John Henry Hopkins, Jr. (1820-1891). Hopkins, a church musician, stained-glass window designer, and Episcopal priest, was one of the great leaders in the development of hymnody in the Episcopal church during the mid-nineteenth century. I imagine few people know him by name, but millions are familiar with his Epiphany hymn, “We three Kings of Orient are,” for which he also wrote the tune.
Our service closes with “O where are kings and empires now,” which celebrates the permanence of the Church in contrast with earthly nations. The tune by Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) is called TALLIS’ ORDINAL because Tallis wrote it originally for us with an ordination hymn.