Service music

Fourth Sunday after Easter (May 19, 2019)

The Propers and Gospel for this Sunday situate us between Easter and the Ascension/Pentecost events that we will celebrate soon. The Introit — with its phrases from Psalm 98 — celebrates the salvation-victory of God, a victory made certain by the Resurrection:

O sing unto the Lord a new song, alleluia: for the Lord hath done marvelous things, alleluia: in the sight of the nation hath he shewed his righteous judgments, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. With his own right hand and with his holy arm: hath he gotten himself the victory.

Derek Kidner points out that the term translated “marvelous things” stresses the supernatural aspect of God’s victory; the term is “more than a superlative, a standard term for the miraculous interventions of God, such as those at the Exodus (cf. Ps. 106:7), to save His people. . . . The New Testament will show with sharper definition both the Saviour and the saving, and both the initial victory (Heb. 10:14) and its consummation (Rev. 19:11ff.)”

Our response to this mighty victory is to sing God’s praises, and our Processional hymn today is one of the most grandly expressive hymns of praise: “Praise, my soul, the King of heaven.”

At the Epistle, we are reminded that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights.” The Alleluia that follows reiterates the victory of God with a text from Psalm 118, followed by an explicit affirmation of the Resurrection from Romans 6:

The right hand of the Lord hath the pre-eminence: the right hand of the Lord bringeth mighty things to pass. Alleluia. Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more: death hath no more dominion over him. Alleluia

The Sermon hymn — “Sing, my soul, His wondrous love” was first published in Baltimore in 1800, and is from an anonymous poet. As in our opening hymn, we’re reminded of the kingly office of Christ, in this case by mention of his scepter and throne. Creation, redemption, Spirit-led guidance for life, and eternal glory are all concisely referenced.

The Offertory anthem is a setting of verses from Psalm 66, by Peter Griesbacher (1863-1933). Griesbacher’s career was centered in Regensburg, a focal point of a late-19th and early-20th-century church music reform effort called the Cecilian Movement. That movement — launched in the 1860s — was active in many countries and was eager to undo the untoward effects of Enlightenment-inspired musical influences on liturgical music in the Roman Catholic Church.

Although not formally affiliated with the Cecilian Movement, the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) was composing while the movement was at its height. The Latin motets that Saint-Saëns, composed — including our Communion motet, Ave verum corpus, display (in the words of one scholar) “stylistic features that were endorsed by the Cecilian movement.”

Our Communion hymns this Sunday are “Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest” and “Love divine, all loves excelling.” The tune to this last hymn is the familiar HYFRYDOL, the Welsh word meaning “tuneful” or “pleasant” (read more here).

Our final hymn is “Now thank we all our God.” This familiar hymn was written by poet and pastor Martin Rinckart (1586-1649). Based on Ecclesiasticus 50:22-24, the hymn was written sometime during Rinckart’s experience of the Thirty Years’ War, during which his village was sacked on three separate occasions. As Greg Scheer elaborates, “In 1637 at the height of their misery, Rinkart was the only clergyman left in the city who could perform the 40 or 50 necessary burial services daily — one of which was for his wife.” Rinckart is said to have buried 4,000 people.

The tune NUN DANKET was composer by Johann Crüger (1598-1662), for whose many memorable and solid hymn tunes we should be always grateful. Bach was, as this young Frenchman understands: