Why go to church? 'Eucharist' means 'Thanksgiving'. We go to give public expression to our gratitude. In the vast mega-cities of the world, entirely constructed environments, congregations assemble to give witness to our generous God. In the bustling urban jungle, they offer places of praise and, more rarely, silence. Of course I can give praise in the privacy of my home – 'seven times a day I thank you' (Psalm 119.164) – but in justice to God and my neighbour I must make visible my gratitude. And we shall recognize the same impulse of gratitude in people of other faiths. In the Hasidic rabbis of the eighteenth century, such as the Baal Shem Tov, or the Sufi mystics like Rumi, one recognizes their gratitude as one's own. Belief in God the Creator overthrows religious division. We recognize a fellow thanker, even if their Eucharists take other forms.
Radcliffe, Timothy. Why Go To Church? London: Bloomsbury, 2008. Page 77
This is exactly why a predominantly Christian America should not be afraid of other religious voices in the public square. And in a world where too many are unjustifiably afraid of other religious expressions, the recent reticence shown by Duke University is reprehensible.
Please pair the above quote with "Unwavering Pluralism and the Beloved Community in the Face of Duke's Decision" by Omid Safi.
Religious folk must lead the way. If we truly believe in God, this should, as Radcliffe says, overcome religious division.
Please note that if you sing the hymn "Watchman, tell us of the night" at Epiphany, or at any other time of the year, that there is a very serious author/composer synergy available to you.
In the previous edition of the Episcopal Hymnal, the Hymnal 1940, the tune WATCHMAN is one of the two tunes paired with this text. This tune is fondly remembered by at least one parishioner in the parish where I presently serve.
The words are by John Bowring. The music is by Lowell Mason.
Bowring was born in 1792. Mason was also born in 1792.
Bowring died in 1872. Mason also died in 1872.
Clearly the similitude of lifespans is a strong argument for this text-tune pairing.
And this might be notable on its own, but that's not all.
If you sing the hymn "Where is this stupendous stranger?" to the hymn tune ST. THOMAS – as Ana Hernández suggests you do – you'll notice some more hymnodic synergy. (The text and tune are both included separately in the Hymnal 1982).
The tune ST. THOMAS is by John Francis Wade (1711-1786) and harmonized by Vincent Francis Novello (1781-1861). They have the same middle names, and they shared six years on earth.
Epiphany is January 6.
Coincidence? You decide.
There's some marvelous hymnody by a man named Godfrey Thring (1823-1903).
He is the author hymn 454 in the Episcopal Hymnal 1982 "Jesus came, adored by angels". The original first line of this hymn is "Jesus came—the heavens adoring".
But this time of year I want to draw attention to his marvelous hymn for an Epiphany procession, "From the eastern mountains". The hymn is included in the English Hymnal of 1906. It contains numerous alliterative turns of phrase in the first part of the hymn.
With this much wordsmithing early on, the familiar "Jew and Gentile" and "heavenly home" really lose their punch. But the double whammy "nor sin nor sorrow" gives a final zing.
It's fun writing, I've never been to a service where it has been sung, and it matches marvelously to the Vaughan Williams tune KING'S WESTON.
From the eastern mountains, pressing on, they come, wise men in their wisdom, to his humble home; stirred by deep devotion, hasting from afar, ever journeying onward, guided by a star. There their Lord and Savior meek and lowly lay, wondrous Light that led them onward on their way, ever now to lighten nations from afar, as they journey homeward by that guiding star. Thou who in a manger once hast lowly lain, who dost now in glory o'er all kingdoms reign, gather in the heathen who in lands afar ne'er have seen the brightness of thy guiding star. Onward through the darkness of the lonely night, shining still before them with thy kindly light. Guide them, Jew and Gentile, homeward from afar, young and old together, by thy guiding Star. Until every nation, whether bond or free, 'neath thy starlit banner, Jesus, follows thee. O'er the distant mountains to that heavenly home, where nor sin nor sorrow evermore shall come.
Last year this blog undertook a review of all of the Christmas hymns in the Episcopal Hymnal 1982. We particularly wanted to examine those Christmas hymns that are less commonly sung. It's good reading, if we do say so ourselves.
If you have a favorite Christmas hymn you should look it up in the index to Christmas hymns by first line.
We just have this little addition from the wonderful hymn expert Erik Routley. In his book The English Carol Routley notes that the tune ST. LOUIS is older than the two English tunes used for these words. He then prints the tune ST. LOUIS in full.
Immediately after the last note of the tune, he briefly concludes his discussion on page 163: "Apart from its historic priority, there is not much to be said for that."
I'm a bit worried that I won't be able to open this book properly in the future given that this page is so dripping with contempt.
"...that the very Jesus whom Christians laud and magnify is the same Jesus being eviscerated on the streets of the United States of America. This reality, therefore, makes it incumbent upon the people who proclaim Jesus in prose, poetry, liturgy and music to live in solidarity with the very bodies of suffering he so readily inhabits."
"A Christianity that can embrace Christ’s vulnerability is a Christianity that is not panicking about its own decline or increasing irrelevance."
Read it all. Greer, Broderick. "Unsettling Signs". Huffington Post. 31 December 2014.
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