On every Sunday between Easter and Ascension Day, the Psalm texts chosen for use in the Introit (and often on other propers) refer to singing God’s praises. Last week the Introit enjoined us: “Sing we merrily unto God our helper!” Next week: “Sing praises unto the honor of his name!” The following week: “O sing unto the Lord a new song!” On the fifth Sunday after Easter: “With a voice of singing declare ye this and let it be heard . . .” And on Ascension Day: “O sing unto God with the voice of melody.”
Today’s Introit is not quite as explicit as those others, but we are enjoined to “Rejoice in the Lord,” and singing is often involved in such activity. And our opening hymn, “Songs of praise the angels sang,” affirms the musical joy that accompanies the Easter season (along with many more “Alleluias” than we typically feature in our liturgy).
The first two stanzas of James Montgomery’s hymn make reference to singing by angels at Creation (see Job 38:7), to the angels singing at Christ’s birth, and to their joyous song at the time of the Ascension (the description of Christ leading captivity captive is from Ephesians 4:8).
Stanza 3 anticipates angelic singing at the coming of a new Heavens and a new Earth. I don’t know of explicit biblical warrant for this, but we do know that a trumpet will sound. Perhaps angelic voices will also. The final three stanzas urge human worshipers to join the angelic choirs and get in the habit of singing God’s praises, since we’ll be doing that for eternity. Good advice!
Our Sermon Hymn — “O thou who camest from above” — is one of Charles Wesley’s many texts, set to a tune by his grandson Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876). The image of a celestial fire in the heart of the believer is taken from instructions given in Leviticus 6:13 to Aaron concerning the burnt offering on the altar: “The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out.”
The Offertory Anthem and the Communion Motet are both by Thomas Tallis (1505-1585). At the Offertory, the choir sings George Herbert’s paraphrase of Psalm 23, set to a tune Tallis wrote for use with Psalm 2. The text from Psalm 23 echoes the Gospel reading from John 10, in which Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd. During Communion, we sing Tallis’s setting of St. Thomas Aquinas”s eucharistic poem, O sacrum convivium.
The hymns during Communion include another paraphrase of Psalm 23, “The King of love my shepherd is,” by Henry Williams Baker (1821-1877). We will also sing “Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness,” about which you may read here.
Our service closes with “Hosanna to the living Lord,” a rousing response to the Introit’s invitation to rejoice in the Lord. As does our opening hymn, this text also anticipates a musical accompaniment to the arrival of a new Heavens and a new Earth.