Service music

Seventh Sunday after Trinity (August 4, 2019)

The Collect for today begins with an affirmation of God’s power and might:

Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things: graft in our hearts the love of thy Name, increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness, and of thy great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.

God’s power and might are much in view in the text of our opening hymn, “Give praise and glory unto God” (#287). Throughout the hymn, divine power is portrayed as merciful and protective: God’s might is not a display of sheer unlimited will, but the agency of righteousness and justice.

The hymn’s Lutheran author, Johann Jacob Schütz (1640-1690), practiced law in Frankfurt and is noted for his friendship with Philipp Jakob Spener (1635-1705), a central figure in the Pietist movement which transformed Lutheranism and later influenced John Wesley.

The tune ELBING is named for the birthplace of its composer Peter Sohren (d. c. 1693), a Lutheran cantor and music teacher.

Our sermon hymn today is “Dear Lord and Father of mankind,” by the American Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892), whose work is present in seven of our Hymnal’s selections. Where our Processional hymn celebrated God’s power and might, this hymn reflects on coolness and balm, quietness and calm. The text reminds us that the peace that God gives (not as the world gives) is an instance of beauty, and that the living of beautiful lives which echo the beauty of God involve some kind of order, rather than frantic (if sincere) improvisation.

We sing this hymn to the tune HERMANN, the work of Nikolaus Hermann (c. 1490-1561), another Lutheran cantor and teacher.

Having been aided in our worship by pious Lutherans and Quakers, our first Communion hymn brings us back to Anglican hymnody, though not via the work of a priest or church musician. “Thou, who at thy first Eucharist didst pray” was written in early 1881 by William Harry Turton (1856-1938). Born in India and the son of an English army officer, Turton became a decorated soldier and amateur historian. His hymn emphasizes the Eucharist as a sacrament of the Church’s unity, rather than merely a memorial of personal devotion. The tune SACRAMENTUM UNITATIS was composed in 1885 by Charles Hanford Lloyd (1849-1919), a prominent Church musician, conductor, and music instructor.

The first two stanzas of “Shepherd of souls, refresh and bless” are from an 1832 Moravian hymnal. The last two stanzas are by James Montgomery (1771-1854), a Moravian journalist and political activist. Thirteen of his hymns are in our Hymnal, including “Angels, from the realms of glory,” “Go to dark Gethsemane,” and “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed.”

The tune ST. AGNES was composed by John Bacchus Dykes (1823-1876), a prominent Anglican Church musician and composer. His compositions provide our Hymnal with its largest single source of hymn tunes (22 tunes). For the composition of ST. AGNES, Dykes had in mind the text of hymn #462, “Jesus, the very thought of thee” (ST. AGNES is mentioned in small print as a third alternative to the two other options).

Our service closes with “O spirit of the living God,” another of James Montgomery’s texts. Originally written in 1823 for use at a public meeting of a Yorkshire missionary society, Montgomery’s hymn included two stanzas that are omitted from our Hymnal:

O Spirit of the Lord! prepare
all the round earth her God to meet;
breathe Thou abroad like morning air,
till hearts of stone begin to beat.

God from eternity hath will’d
all flesh shall His salvation see:
so be the Father’s love fulfill’d,
the Saviour’s suff’rings crown’d through thee.

A Sunday afternoon suggestion

Our choir is still in the midst of its Summer break, but plans are underway for a rich musical season when we return later this month. Meanwhile, since the choir is not singing in this Sunday’s service, let me encourage you to sustain your appetite for sacred choral music by listening to one of the cantatas composed for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity by J. S. Bach.

The Gospel reading for this Sunday is an account of a miraculous feeding of a great multitude by Jesus. As we know from reading the Psalms, the feeding of all creatures on the earth is one of the principal signs of God’s power and might, expressed as love and providence.

In Cantata BWV 187, Es wartet alles auf dich (“Everything depends on you”), Bach wove together a number of texts that reflect on God’s provision of food. The opening chorus of this cantata takes its text from Psalm 104: “Everything waits for You, so that You give them food at the proper time. When You give it to them, they gather it; when You open Your hand, then are they satisfied with goodness.”

The text of the closing chorale of this cantata is taken from an early Lutheran hymn by one Hans Vogel, about whom we know next to nothing. Bach used the 4th and 6th stanza from this hymn (the texts in italics below), but as the entire hymn is so delightful, I’ve copied all six stanzas below:

Let us sing from the depths of our hearts,
let us praise God with our mouths.
Just as he has shown his goodness to us,
so he has also fed us.
Just as he has given food to beasts and birds,
so he has also bestowed on us
what we have now consumed.

Let us praise him as his servants
since we are rightly obliged
to recognise how he has loved us,
from his mercy he grants to man
that from bone, flesh and skin
he is cunningly constructed
so that he sees the light of day.

As soon as man has his life
his food is ready for him,
in his mother’s body
he is treated well.
Although he is a small child
he lacks nothing
as soon as he comes to the world.

God has set up the earth in such a way,
that he will not allow food to be lacking;
mountain and valley he makes moist
so that grass may also grow for the cattle.
From the earth wine and bread
God creates and gives us enough
so that people may have their life.

Water has to produce fish
that God causes to be brought to the table,
eggs are laid by birds
from which their young are produced
to be food for men.
Deer, sheep, cattle and pig
are created and given by no one but God.

We give great thanks and pray to him
that he may give us the capability of mind
so that we may understand this rightly,
always walk in his commandments,
make great his name
without ceasing in Christ:

then justly we sing “Gratias!”

Below is a performance of Cantata BWV 187 performed by La Petite Bande, conducted by Sigiswald Kuijken. The soloists are Midori Suzuki, soprano; Magdalena Kozena, mezzo-soprano; Knut Schoch, tenor; and Jan Van der Crabben, baritone. You may follow the German text with an English translation here.