Our Sermon hymn is “O Love that wilt not let me go.” It was written by George Matheson on the evening of June 6, 1882. A preacher in the Church of Scotland, Matheson (1842-1906) suffered from severely impaired eyesight from the time of his childhood. He nonetheless excelled in his studies at Glasgow University and later received doctoral degrees from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Aberdeen.
Matheson wrote of this hymn’s origins: “It was composed with extreme rapidity; it seemed to me that its construction occupied only a few minutes, and I felt myself rather in the position of one who was being dictated to than of an original artist. I was suffering from extreme mental stress and the hymn was the fruit of pain.”
There are two tunes associated with this hymn. The one we sing, CONSECRATION, was composed by organist and teacher Anna J. Morse especially for this text in 1941.
Below is Andrew Remillard’s rendition of this hymn on piano.
At the Offertory, the choir will sing a poem by John Donne (1573-1631) set to a chorale harmonization by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Donne’s poem is entitled “A Hymn to God the Father,” on which you may read a commentary here.
Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallow’d in, a score?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.
I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
And, having done that, thou hast done;
I fear no more.
The Bach chorale to which the choir sings Donne’s prayer is based on the tune So gibst du nun, mein Jesu, gute Nacht! (“Now must Thou then, my Saviour, say farewell?”). The original text that Bach set with this music was from a 24-stanza poem by August Pfeiffer (1640-1698), a German Lutheran theologian.
Here is the chorale with its original text (four of the 24 stanzas), sung by the Bach-Collegium Stuttgart, conducted by Helmuth Rilling.
During Communion the choir will sing words by another preacher/poet, again set to a Bach chorale. This time, the poem is by Charles Wesley (1707-1788), one of his many hymns reflecting on the Eucharist. Below are the five stanzas of this hymn; the choir will be singing the first, second, and fifth.
1. Victim Divine, thy grace we claim
while thus thy precious death we show:
once offered up, a spotless Lamb,
in thy great temple here below,
thou didst for all our kind atone,
and standest now before the throne.
2. Thou standest in the holiest place,
as now for guilty sinners slain;
thy blood of sprinkling speaks, and prays,
all prevalent for helpless ones;
thy blood is still our ransom found,
and speaks salvation all around.
3. The smoke of thy atonement here
darkened the sun and rent the veil,
made the new way to heaven appear,
and showed the great Invisible;
well pleased in thee our God looked down,
and called his rebels to a crown.
4. He still respects thy sacrifice,
its savor sweet doth always please;
the offering smokes through earth and skies,
diffusing life, and joy, and peace;
to these thy lower courts it comes,
and fills them with divine perfumes.
5. We need not now go up to heaven,
to bring the long-sought Savior down;
thou art to all already given,
thou dost e’en now thy banquet crown:
To every faithful soul appear,
and show thy real presence here!
The chorale to which we sing these compelling words is from one of J. S. Bach’s Christmas cantatas, Das neugeborne Kindlein (“The new-born little child,” BWV 122). That’s also the name of the sixteenth-century German tune which shows up in four of the six movements of the cantata. The concluding chorale movement in the cantata provided the harmonization that the choir sings with Wesley’s words, which we sing slowly enough to allow for meditation on the mystery.
The words in the original chorale were, by contrast, a call to joyous celebration:
The true year of celebration comes,
why then should we continue to mourn?
Come on! Now is the time for singing!
The little Jesus turns away all suffering.
The “Come on!” in that third line was in the original German “Frisch auf!” Here’s what that brisk celebration sounds like in the cantata (sung here by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir, conducted by Ton Koopman).
Our Communion hymns are “My God, Thy table now is spread” and “Let all mortal flesh keep silence.” This latter hymn presents a text from the Eastern Orthodox liturgy (more precisely from the Liturgy of St. James of Jerusalem) and has been used in Orthodox churches since (probably) the fifth century. The text combines a eucharistic theme with reference to the Nativity (“born of Mary”) and with images from Isaiah 6, portraying the glory of Christ as lauded by angels. The tune to which we sing this ancient text is PICARDY, adapted from a French folk song and first published in 1860. It was adapted to fit this text in the English Hymnal (1906), a seminal source of rich hymnody.
This hymn is a regular feature in our liturgical life at All Saints, so there is no reason to feature a piano rendition to introduce the melody, as I often do. Instead, here is the Choir of Somerville College, Oxford, singing an arrangement of this hymn by Stephen Cleobury, long-time Director of Music for the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge.
The Introit which we heard at the beginning of today’s service begins: “I am the salvation of my people, saith the Lord: in whatsoever tribulation they shall call upon me, I will hear them: and I will be their Lord for ever.” While not taken specifically from one of the Psalms, this promise describes the faithfulness of God as affirmed throughout the Psalter. For example, in Psalm 145, we sing: “The LORD is nigh unto all them that call upon him; yea, all such as call upon him faithfully.”
Psalm 145 is the basis for our closing hymn, “God, my King, thy might confessing.” The six stanzas that we sing are taken from a fourteen-stanza hymn by Richard Mant, an Anglican deacon, priest, and bishop. You can read the additional stanzas here.