Service music

Third Sunday in Lent (March 24, 2019)

Our opening hymn —“We sing the praise of him who died” — is frequently sung during Passiontide, but its confidence in the mercy effected by the cross is anticipates the plea for mercy from Psalm 25 which is uttered in today’s Introit: “Turn thee unto me, and have mercy upon me: for I am desolate and in misery.”

Another theme that recurs throughout the service is the desire for God’s protection. In the Introit, trust in that protection is affirmed: “he shall pluck my feet out of the net.” In today’s Collect, we pray that God will “stretch forth the right hand of thy Majesty, to be our defense against all our enemies.” And the Gradual declares: “While mine enemies are driven back, they shall fall and perish at thy presence.”

The Epistle reading for today (Ephesians 5:1-14) describes our shunning of sin and our pursuit of holiness in terms of darkness and light. The Sermon hymn — “O Splendor of God’s glory bright” — is full of imagery of light. One of the four stanzas of this ancient hymn that is not included in our Hymnal (there are four of them, as you can read here) has special Lenten relevance:

Our mind be in his keeping placed
our body true to him and chaste,
where only faith her fire shall feed,
to burn the tares of Satan’s seed.

The Offertory proper today is from Psalm 19: “The statues of the Lord are right, and rejoice the heart, sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb: moreover thy servant keepeth them.” The Offertory anthem is a paraphrase of that verse and a number of others from that psalm. The music is by Claude Goudimel (1510-1572), a prominent musical force in the Reformed churches in Switzerland whose harmonizations for many metrical psalms exerted a significant influence in hymnody for centuries.

Our paraphrase is by William Helder. Here are the stanzas the choir will sing:

The spacious heav’ns declare God’s glory everywhere; the skies proclaim His might.
The knowledge they display day echoes forth to day and night makes known to night.
They use no speech or word, yet everywhere is heard the voice of all creation.
The truth that it expounds throughout the world resounds and reaches every nation.

God’s law is sound and whole; it will revive the soul, for it new strength supplies.
His testimony sure, trustworthy evermore, will make the simple wise.
His precepts plainly show how right they are, and so the heart they cheer and brighten.
The LORD’S commandments pure shine forth with radiance clear and so the eyes enlighten.

O LORD, from willful ways preserve me all my days: the rule of sin prevent.
Then I shall blameless be, from grave offenses free, and wholly innocent.
O hear me as I pray: let what my tongue may say and what my heart may ponder
Be pleasing in Your sight, O LORD so great in might, my rock and my defender.

The Communion motet is a setting of the hymn, “Thou, who at thy first Eucharist didst pray” with music by Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625). The Communion hymns are “My God, thy table now is spread” and “Come, ye disconsolate.”

Today’s closing hymn is “God himself is with us,” which again reconnects the themes of light and faithfulness, especially in the second stanza:

Thou pervadest all things;
let thy radiant beauty
light mine eyes to see my duty.
As the tender flowers
eagerly unfold them,
to the sunlight calmly hold them;
so let me quietly
in thy rays imbue me;
let thy light shine through me.