Easter 2024

29 April 2017
Evensong - asparagus

The bizarre Sunday evensong service was defended by the cathedral's Precentor, who said the vegetable was "a sign of the abundant provision and generosity of God".

Rudgard, Olivia. "Worcester Cathedral blessing for asparagus crop criticised as 'absurd' by Anglicans". The Telegraph 25 April 2017.

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25 April 2017
Harrison, Lou - "Cherish, conserve, consider, create"

“Cherish, conserve, consider, create”: you could do worse than to live your life according to the principles propounded by the composer Lou Harrison, who would have been a hundred in May.

Alex Ross on Lou Harrison: "New York Celebrates a Composer Who Left Town" in The New Yorker 24 April 2017


22 April 2017
creation - for the fruit of all

On this Earth Day, we invite you to listen to a reflection about the hymn "For the fruit of all creation".

This reflection comes from Martha Burford and is part of Songs in the Desert which is available as a podcast.

This project began as a Lenten devotion, but the consensus seems to be that it should continue! Stay tuned for future episodes, or learn how to submit your own at

Saturday in Easter Week

We thank thee, heavenly Father, for that thous hast delivered 
us from the dominion of sin and death and hast brought us 
into the kingdom of thy Son; and we pray that, as by his 
death he hath recalled us to life, so by his love he may raise us 
to joys eternal; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the 
unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
For Joy in God's Creation

O heavenly Father, who hast filled the world with beauty:
Open our eyes to behold thy gracious hand in all thy works;
that, rejoicing in thy whole creation, we may learn to serve
thee with gladness; for the sake of him through whom all
things were made, thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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20 April 2017
Incarnation, Dallas - BBC Evensong from

This week's broadcast of Choral Evensong from the BBC is a service recorded at Church of the Incarnation in Dallas, Texas.

The canticles are, fittingly, Herbert Howells Dallas Service.

Don't delay! As with these BBC webcasts only four weeks to listen before it disappears.

Introit: King of glory, King of peace (Harold Friedell)
Responses: Bruce Neswick
Psalm 105 (Ritchie, Dettra, Fenstermaker)
First Lesson: Song of Solomon 3
Office Hymn: Lift your voice rejoicing, Mary (Fisk of Gloucester)
Canticles: Dallas Service (Howells)
Second Lesson: Matthew 28 vv.16-20
Anthems: I was glad (Leo Sowerby)
Light's Glittering Morn (Horatio Parker)
Organ Voluntary: Toccata (Vincent Persichetti)

Scott Dettra, Director of Music
L. Graham Schultz, Assistant Organist.

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19 April 2017
Sowerby, Leo - And they drew nigh

The lectionary gives us a beautiful resurrection story on Easter, but it's not the story of Easter morning. It's the story of Easter evening found in Luke 24:13-53.

In fact, this story is so dearly beloved by the Church that we hear it three times this year.

Note that the Revised Common Lectionary is a three-year cycle, so this year we hear the road to Emmaus story on the Third Sunday of Easter, but even in years B and C the story appears twice.

I love this story, which appears immediately after the story of Jesus' resurrection in Luke's gospel. It is the first resurrection appearance.

The meal at which the two disciples (one of whom is named Cleopas; the other's name is lost to history) recognize Jesus involves the breaking of bread. And in the same moment that they finally recognize him, Jesus vanishes into thin air.

It's a mysterious story.

Leo Sowerby set a good bit of this story to music (using the words of the King James Version). And it is splendid. Sowerby unspools the threads of this story in his inimitable style. The revelation of Jesus identity is powerful. But just as powerful is the turn that Sowerby takes in the music to accompany Jesus' disappearance. It is a mystery in music. We are left with these very "James Bond" sounding chords at the end of this anthem that let us know that this isn't the last time we're going to encounter the resurrected Christ. He'll be back.

A year ago, I found that this anthem was ideal for an Eastertide Evensong

At the root of the Greek word for beauty (kalon) is a connection to a sense of call. If you have felt your heart stirred by the beauty of the Easter Gospel (whether it was for the first time or the most recent of many times) you are invited to encounter the risen Christ again on the road to Emmaus at Choral Evensong. In this and every service of Evensong, we seek to worship God through word, song, and sight.

Before our first Evensong this season I wrote about Evensong having a sense of “surrender,” but when the presence of God reaches us, even when it is unexpected, we also feel a quickening of our hearts – an awakening. We worship God who is the source of all beauty and calls to us through the same. And it is “in the experience of beauty we awaken and surrender in the same act” (John O’Donahue).

"An Awakening to the Resurrection at Choral Evensong"

This year I find that this marvelous anthem is just right for the Third Sunday of Easter. And I wonder how it's "flavor" will change. I think that the disappearance of Jesus will be just as mysterious at the end, but I wonder how much more revelatory the breaking of bread will be when this anthem is sung in the context of a service Holy Communion in the Easter season.

28 And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further.
29 But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them.
30 And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them.
31 And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight.
O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Lessons for Wednesday in Easter Week

See also: 5 Sowerby Anthems That Every Church Musician Should Know

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18 April 2017
imbalance - Easter

We work so hard at getting the agony right and then the ecstasy stands waiting in our exhaustion like a puppy with a new bone in a house full of hungover liturgists. Why do we spend so much time and energy on a week of suffering and then collapse into exhausted silence for the second week of Holy joy? Jesus pulls us from sleep to dance, but we go right back to the routine as if cooking a four-course meal only to collapse into bed from the effort, leaving the meal to sit on a table with no guests. Where did everybody go? How could we so imbalance this story?

The Rev. Charles LaFond writes about our natural tendency to do Holy Week to the fullest and then nearly forget about Easter. "It is time to recalibrate so that our human fetish for shame and guilt may be balanced with some surprise of joy," he writes at his blog, The Daily Sip, "A new Easter Week Triduum"

But is three days in Easter week really enough? The tradition of the Church includes a full week of celebration: Easter Week as an answer to Holy Week.

I'm eager to collect some more thoughts on this topic after writing about this imbalance yesterday: "Did we overdo Holy Week and Easter Day?"

Collect for Easter Tuesday

O God, who by the glorious resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light: Grant that we, who have been raised with him, may abide in his presence and rejoice in the hope of eternal glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be dominion and praise for ever and ever. Amen.

Lessons for Tuesday in Easter Week


17 April 2017
Kings - Easter from, 2017

Mindful that Episcopalians generally don't seem to do enough to celebrate Easter, we once again share the made-for-TV liturgy from King's College, Cambridge called "Easter from Kings" (subtitled "Holy Week to Easter Day").

As we seek to find "creative new ways" to celebrate the Easter season the Oxford and Cambridge colleges potentially provide a source of inspiration. Since these universities are not in session during Holy Week and Easter, many of their collegiate chapels have devised their own creative liturgies to celebrate these times within the college community.

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Did we overdo Holy Week and Easter Day?

Something has been gnawing at me through Lent, and now that we're finally on the other side of Easter it's time to speak it aloud:

Did we overdo it?

I think 99% of Episcopal churches are entirely closed today, the day after Easter. And this is probably as it should be.

We had a full Holy Week with all the proper services: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Great Vigil of Easter. And we even did a few extra ones (Tenebrae! Stations of the Cross! Holy Communion with Autoharp, or whatever instrument we happened to think would work best!).

But more than that, many places that do not otherwise have them will implement daily Eucharists in Holy Week.

And this seems really good until today. The problem, you see, is this: the Collect for Monday in Easter Week.

Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that we who celebrate 
with reverence the Paschal feast may be found worthy to 
attain to everlasting joys; through Jesus Christ our Lord, 
who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one 
God, now and for ever. Amen.

And it's not just this one. There's a collect for every day in Easter Week. That's because Easter Week is a Big Deal.

Easter is not just one day; it's a season. And the Church, in her wisdom, seems to want it to begin with a great big week of celebration.

So why do parish churches that go out of their way to offer daily Eucharists in Holy Week fail to do so in Easter Week? Am I missing something? (And yes, I know there are places that admirably celebrate Holy Communion every day.)

Where are our big festivals this week? Concerts? Evensongs? Special services? Puppet shows? Anything?!

“Easter Week finally rolls around and what do our churches do? Well, the first day we close, and then for the rest of the week? Not much.”

We say that we are an "Easter People" and yet Easter Week finally rolls around and what do our churches do? Well, the first day we close, and then for the rest of the week? Not much.

It's pretty quiet around the church the week after Easter Day. Choirs have the week off and typically just show up to sing some less demanding music the following Sunday. The clergy take a holiday if they can, and parishioners generally know better than to ask a lot of a church staff that has given 110% and left it all out on the field.

So, while I applaud our collective obsession with Holy Week, I have to ask again: was it too much? If we truly have nothing left for Easter Week and the Easter season then I have to posit that it was.

A few years ago I quoted N. T. Wright when I shared the 2014 "Easter from Kings" made-for-TV liturgy.

"We should be taking steps to celebrate Easter in creative new ways: in art, literature, children’s games, poetry, music, dance, festivals, bells, special concerts, anything that comes to mind. This is our greatest festival. Take Christmas away, and in biblical terms you lose two chapters at the front of Matthew and Luke, nothing else. Take Easter away, and you don’t have a New Testament; you don’t have a Christianity… This is our greatest day. We should put the flags out."

And this is what has been gnawing at me. What are we doing to celebrate Eastertide? I mean really celebrate it? Note that Lent is only 40 days. Easter is longer, and it's longer for a reason.

It is the week of weeks. It is roughly one-seventh of the year. It is the Church's sabbath festival.

This and the above quotation by N. T. Wright come from his Surprised by Hope

But my biggest problem starts on Easter Monday. I regard it as absurd and unjustifiable that we should spend forty days keeping Lent, pondering what it means, preaching about self-denial, being at least a little gloomy, and then bringing it all to a peak with Holy Week, which in turn climaxes in Maundy Thursday and Good Friday…and then, after a rather odd Holy Saturday, we have a single day of celebration.

…Easter week itself ought not to be the time when all the clergy sigh with relief and go on holiday. It ought to be an eight-day festival, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom?

"N. T. Wright on Easter". The Rabbit Room.

So did we really overdo it? Or does the Church just need to work harder to reclaim an "Eastertide imagination"?

Update from 18 April: more thoughts along these lines from the Rev. Canon Charles LaFond: imbalance - Easter

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15 April 2017
fulfilled - today

“By the reader's desk the Paschal candle is burning; its light falls upon the pages of the Old Testament. Christ casts his light into the darkness of the past, and shows everywhere the saving design of his agapé, which held man from the beginning in its hands, held him fast, and is today fulfilled.”

A. Löhr, The Great Week, p. 162. Quoted in Kirby, Mark Daniel. "The Proper Chants of the Paschal Triduum in the Gradual Romanum: A Study in Liturgical Theology"

“The Paschal night is in a very special sense the Church's bridal feast. All the bridal and marriage images which have accompanied us full of promise since Epiphany find their completion today. .. . It is night; the bridegroom is here. He comes to the house of his betrothed, and he finds her watching. She has not slept all the while he was out in the tomb. Now he has come back, alive. His locks stream the dew of the night. . . . Until now she has only seen him through the window and blinds of the prophets' dark sayings and images. Now he has walked in from the night's dark pass, and overpowered every image and every prophecy with the glory of his resurrection.”

Ibid. 178-179.

“And here now when everything we have seen and felt receives its last measure of reality in the sacrifice, here is time and place for the true Paschal hymn. All the chant of the past days, all the overpowering force of the Night Offices dissolve into the one first note of joy which nothing and no one can imitate; it must be heard and where possible sung with one's own voice if one is to know fully what resurrection is: the alleluia of Easter night, the first after long weeks of fasting and still communion, after the days of mystical suffering and death with the Lord. Yet we are not to look for a loud shout of joy here; that is not the spirit of Christian Easter. This alleluia rises with a slow movement; it rises above the grave of Adam, and it has the blood of Christ on its wings. It is the marriage song of the Paschal night, which will grow slowly bright when it meets the day of resurrection. But these are only words. The first alleluia of the Paschal night is a mystery, unutterable like all mysteries.”

Ibid. 189.

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13 April 2017
Cairns, Scott - The More Earnest Prayer of Christ

The More Earnest Prayer of Christ
Scott Cairns

And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly...
—Luke 22:44

His last prayer in the garden began, as most
as his prayers began—in earnest, certainly, 
but not without distraction, an habitual...what?

Distance? Well, yes, a sort of distance, or a mute
remove from the genuine distress he witnessed
in the endlessly grasping hands of multitudes

and, often enough, in his own embarrassing
circle of intimates. Even now, he could see 
these where they slept, sprawled upon their robes or wrapped

among the arching olive trees. Still, something new, 
unlikely, uncanny was commencing as he spoke.
As the divine in him contracted to an ache,

a throbbing in the throat, his vision blurred, his voice
grew thick and unfamiliar; his prayer — just before
it fell to silence — became uniquely earnest.

And in that moment — perhaps because it was so
new — he saw something, had his first taste of what
he would become, first pure taste of the body, and the blood.


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tradition - day of the

Today the Church . . . celebrates “the day of the tradition,” the consecrated day on which our Lord was handed over, and on which he handed on the mystery rite of his body and blood. The words tradere and traditio glide back and forth between the light and darkness of their two meanings when the liturgy is being celebrated.

In either case the word refers to one “giving.” Trado means I give something away wholly, and hand it out of my possession to another. . . .

Such a thing was entrusted to the disciples, given by God himself: Jesus the God-man and in him God bodily present, the good news of the Father's agapé, and through Jesus—this is the burden of today's traditio which is also given to us through the apostles, the first fruits of the Church—the mysterium of the eucharistic bread and wine, Christ's flesh and blood, the sacrifice which reconciles and gives us life, the food which makes us immortal.

A. Löhr, The Great Week, p. 89-90. Quoted in Kirby, Mark Daniel. "The Proper Chants of the Paschal Triduum in the Gradual Romanum: A Study in Liturgical Theology"

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12 April 2017
home - coming, in Holy Week

I've been enjoying a new podcast from the Diocese of Missouri called "Jesus Hacked: storytelling faith". The most recent episode is an interview with the Bishop of the Diocese, the Rt. Rev. Wayne Smith by Shug Goodlow, the head verger at Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis.

The introduction to this episode made reference to the bishop's interest in fountain pens, shape note singing, and Holy Week – all interests I share!

So I was listening rather eagerly as I heard this:

Wayne Smith: ...This is something I hear people who come to the Episcopal
Church from other traditions ... I hear them say it all the time, "I
worshiped there one time, and thought this is home. This is where I have
belonged all my life, and I just didn't know it. Just didn't know it existed."

Shug Goodlow: You came home without realizing that you weren't home before.

Wayne Smith: That's just it.

I was raised in the Presbyterian Church, and I think it was my freshman year in college when I decided that I really should go to church on Easter (not having started working in one at that point, and doing the typical college student thing of just being a little too lazy to really attend church). And so I did.

I went to Christ Church in Oberlin, Ohio because my friend Tim played the organ there, and I knew the music would be good.

I should back up to say that I had attended an Episcopal Church once or twice before, and I had even played at one (St. Andrew's, Pearland, Tex., if you must know). But the day that I played my first Episcopal service I was too apprehensive about hitting all my cues right to really notice anything about the liturgy. There was also something too "new" about my previous visits to Episcopal Churches, but at least I had been, and I think this must have paved the way for what happened on Easter.

And what happened that Easter at Christ Church, Oberlin? I came home.

I felt, just as the Bishop describes, like the Episcopal Church was where I belonged all my life. I just didn't really know that it existed.

I remember a lot about that first Episcopal Easter liturgy. I remember singing the Robert Powell Gloria. I remember how lovely and tuneful it was, and how it felt so good to sing surrounded by sound from the rest of the congregation.

I remember how many books there were to juggle (there were a lot).

But the thing I remember most is coming forward to receive Holy Communion. There was something that clicked then. It was emotional, or spiritual, or whatever you want to call it. Meeting the Risen Christ in that Sacrament within that Liturgy within that Parish – that was an Easter that I will always remember.

It was Christ who welcomed me home.

Since then, of course, I've had the incredible good fortune to pursue a career as a church musician, working mostly in the Episcopal Church. And one of the best parts of this liturgical Christian tradition, as far as I'm concerned, is the Easter Vigil (called "The Great Vigil of Easter," by the Book of Common Prayer).

Wayne Smith: People who know me, and this is part of my, shall we say, 
eccentricity, the Great Vigil of Easter is my favorite service of the whole year. 
Simply to sit in darkness and hear the reading of the Old Testament scriptures 
that seem like they're never going to end, to let the Scriptures overwhelm my
awareness even to the point of boredom. 

I love the Easter Vigil.

There is something incredibly moving about being present for the very beginning of something: in this case, the very beginning of Easter. The very beginning of the new fire, newly kindled (from flint!). The brand new Paschal Candle (this year's will be marked 2017, of course). The Exsultet. Singing in the dark. I could go on...

The Easter Vigil was part of my inculcation into the Episcopal Church beginning in 2003. And I participated as a musician in the Easter Vigil every year until 2015. Last year I had the great fortune simply to attend one, and I intend to do so again this year.

My understanding is that the Vigil I will attend this year will include all of the readings from the Hebrew Scriptures (there are nine). This will be the first time that I have ever been present for a "full" Vigil where nothing is omitted.

Wayne Smith: Shape Note music is, for those who have not heard it or 
encountered it or sung it themselves, really it's a participatory sport. No one 
wants to watch this thing, or listen to it, without joining it. They're great, 
big, open chords. The music is unadorned. It's almost shameful to sing with
vibrato, for example. It's loud. It's very forgiving, as is the community.
And, it's gorgeous. My experience of Sacred Harp is like crawling into the
sound box of a cello. Not just hearing the music, but feeling the music all
around and know that I am part of that music, also.

Good congregational singing must feel a bit like singing Shape Note music – an experience I confess I've never had.

Earlier this year I went down the rabbit hole on YouTube exploring the Shape Note repertory to research a few seconds of music I was going to direct for a recording.

It really is marvelous, and I know that participating in it first hand must be even better.

The videos that really interested me were from the Missouri State Sacred Harp Convention, all of which seems to be on YouTube.

You see the assembly sitting in their sections, all facing in. A number is called out. Someone steps forward to lead. And the song erupts. It's impressive.

I came across all this in looking for a smidgen of appropriate choral music to sing on this recording before Zachary Wadsworth's splendid Variations on an Old American Tune.

Episcopalians know this hymn tune from Hymn 304, "I come with joy to meet my Lord". Most everybody else knows it from Ken Burns's documentary The National Parks: America's Best Idea.

This tune comes from the Shape Note tradition. What we know as LAND OF REST takes its name from the words of an older Shape Note hymn: "O Land of Rest, for thee I sigh!"

Shape Notes, the Easter Vigil, and finding a home in Episcopal liturgy. These all struck me as significant things to think about this Holy Week.

Getting lost in the sound, the singing, the story.

Finding a place to dwell and realizing that you were always meant to be there.

And I have to tell you that the first version of that Shape Note tune I found has a wonderful name:

Longing for Home.

I come with joy to meet my Lord,
forgiven, loved, and free,
in awe and wonder to recall
his life laid down for me.

Hymn 304 (Hymnal 1982): "I come with joy to meet my Lord" LAND OF REST

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10 April 2017
A Passion for the Passion

I have an unpopular opinion: the "community theatre" style reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday and Good Friday is an idea whose time is past.

Hey, remember the last time I had an unpopular opinion? Old 100th is really new again

And let's get something out of the way right now: the phony idea that reading the Passion narrative on Palm Sunday is a new innovation that came with the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. It's not. The Passion according to Matthew (xxvii. 1.) was printed for the "Sunday next before Easter" since the 1786 proposed Book of Common Prayer.

Only the name "Palm Sunday" is new, appearing in the 1928 book.

Reading the Passion on the Sunday before Easter follows the pattern set forth in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Follow the publication history further back and you find that in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer the previous chapter of Matthew was also read, which is very like the "full" lection of Matt. 26:14-27:66 given in the modern Revised Common Lectionary.

So when I hear complaint about reading the Passion on Palm Sunday, or see places that shift or eliminate it, I just have to shake my head. For Anglicans the Scripture and Tradition we have on this day should account for something. Shift the Passion out of the traditional location for the Gospel reading and you have placed undue focus on the triumphal entry; eliminate it and you have a very wobbly stool indeed.

The Passion is part and parcel of what Palm Sunday is about, and it is the day that we incorporate this rich narrative into our weekly cycle of Sunday celebrations.

Some clergy have told me that they remember the Passion being read on the Fifth Sunday in Lent and that Palm Sunday was reserved exclusively for the Palm Gospel.

I don't believe it.

If this was done anywhere there was certainly no provision for it in the Prayer Book, and furthermore, either this actual violation or the fabricated memory of it seems to come from a misunderstanding of "Passion Sunday" which is, let's face it, a problematic term.

It was the '70s, man. This custom was probably more influenced by Godspell than the Gospel.

Historically, it seems to have been used for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, which was the start of Passiontide. But Passiontide didn't really signify anything other than the time to veil the crosses (they were not veiled for the whole season of Lent as they are in many places today).

Nowadays, most places have never even heard of Passiontide (the only relic of it in the 1979 Prayer Book may be that second proper preface for Lent). Use the term "Passion Sunday" today and it will be assumed that you are referring to the official 1979 Prayer Book title for Palm Sunday: "The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday".

So if the custom of reading the Passion Gospel on Palm Sunday is not new, why did the 1979 Prayer Book provide the rather strange permission for it to be read by various and sundry persons?

It was the '70s, man. This custom was probably more influenced by Godspell than the Gospel.

But, I have to ask the question: is it really worth doing something with this Gospel that we do with no other Gospel?

The rubric, which appears both for Palm Sunday and Good Friday reads: "The Passion Gospel may be read or chanted by different persons. Specific roles may be assigned to different persons, the congregation taking the part of the crowd."

Are we really comfortable with the words of the Gospel being read liturgically by lay people on Palm Sunday? On Good Friday? On any day? Why? I'm not trying to make a slippery slope argument here, and neither is the Prayer Book. But why these days? Why any day?

From personal experience I can say I've never really been satisfied with a single rendition of the Passion that I've heard read in a dramatic fashion with a large cast. I'm referring to what I think is typically done in most places: separate parts for the narrator, Jesus, Pilate, various others, and the congregation taking the part of the crowd.

I know that many people find it meaningful to shout "Crucify him!" at the appropriate points. I suppose I did too when I was younger (we did this in my Presbyterian Church growing up). But now I just find it kind of … I don't know … gimmicky.

With a large cast (who, let's be honest, usually haven't rehearsed it all together and are just going through it for the first time in the service) there are the various hesitations, miscues, mispronunciations, questionable inflections, amplification problems, etc. The process of hearing the Gospel this way, at least from my perspective, diminishes the prominence of the words.

I'm not trying to single anyone out. This has been the practice in most of the Episcopal liturgies I have experienced. And, each time, for me, the result has fallen flat.

When we want the words to be heard, we shouldn't distract the focus of the congregation by getting them to wonder about who is reading them. As the Rev. Christopher Arnold put it on Twitter, "We're remembering, not reenacting. It's a fine line, but even [on] Palm Sunday we're celebrating the resurrection."

I cannot conclude this meandering essay without mentioning that for the five years I served at St. Paul's, Richmond the Gospel was sung in choral settings on Palm Sunday. This was a deeply embedded and dearly held custom at this parish, and it was one that the Choir took with great seriousness. The hymn before the Passion always took on extra significance as the Choir would form up for procession to the Chancel steps from which the Gospel would be proclaimed.

And while I don't want to advocate for choral settings of the Passion in every place, I do want to point out that the custom of singing the Gospel is an ancient one. Before any choral settings were composed there was the tradition of the Gospel being chanted by three deacons: one taking the role of the Chronista (narrator), Christus (Jesus), and Synongaga (everyone else). So, yes, even in the ancient church there was a special dispensation made for the proclamation this story -- but please note, the chanters were ordained ministers of the Gospel.

And I would suggest that this glimpse backward might provides a way forward. In churches with multiple clergy, perhaps the three traditional roles can be assumed by deacons and/or priests. If the clergy are insufficient in number for this, why not employ laypeople to assist? But under this scheme maybe the Narrator should be a clergyperson. I don't know. I'm just thinking out loud.

Out of curiosity I tuned in to Trinity, Wall Street yesterday to see what their Palm Sunday service was like. Trinity is no stranger to creative approaches to liturgy. In recent years the Trinity Choir had devised an interesting approach to improvising chants for the Passion narrative. I also seem to recall another year with the reading of the Gospel being divided with stanzas of the hymn "Ah, holy Jesus," which I found an effective approach to the "problem" of length.

But this year, to my surprise, the Gospel was read from the midst of the church by a priest.

Just like it was the week before – just like it will be on Easter.

Tune in next time when we talk about how fun it is to say the Acts reading for Pentecost in different languages simultaneously!

I got dibs on Klingon!

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liturgy - written and unwritten

Read "Church Musician" for "Cantor" and I think you get a sense of what liturgical church musicians are engaged in this week:

Words die of routine. The Cantor's task is to bring them to life. A Cantor is a person who knows the secret of the resurrection of the words. The art of giving life to the words of our liturgy requires not only the personal involvement of the Cantor but also the power contained in the piety of the ages. Our liturgy contains incomparably more than what our hearts are ready to feel. . . . There is a written and an unwritten liturgy. There is the liturgy but there is also an inner approach and response to it, a way of giving life to the words, a style in which the words become a personal and unique utterance.

Herschel, Abraham Johsua. The Insecurity of Freedom: Essays on Human Existence, p. 251

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09 April 2017
Songs in the Desert, Ep 9 - Hymn 424: "For the fruit of all creation"

This is an episode of Songs in the Desert, a collaborative audio project designed to explore the words and music of Christian hymnody and our responses to them.


Ep 9 - Hymn 424: "For the fruit of all creation" (mp3)

Subscribe to the Songs in the Desert podcast.

Today's episode comes from Martha Burford of St. John's, Richmond, Va. and St. Catherine's School, Richmond.

Martha recorded herself by using the voice memo app on her smartphone. (Hint: you can do this too!)

Music includes "Reflections," by Lee Rosevere, distributed under a Creative Commons license.

Songs in the Desert began during the season of Lent 2017. You can read more about the project and learn how to submit your own reflection about any hymn you want at the Songs in the Desert homepage. Submissions are still being accepted!

Hymn numbers refer to the Episcopal Hymnal 1982.

Thank you for listening.

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08 April 2017
Paschal Candle - use at Tenebrae (ur doin it wrong)

This is sort of the quintessential church nerd post. Most of the words in the title don't make any sense to anyone except the most churched.

Usually I would offer a sentence or two of explanation in regards to Tenebrae and the Paschal Candle, but this certainly qualifies as "esoteric liturgics" so I'm just going to dive right in:

It recently has come to my attention that many churches of various stripes incorporate the Paschal Candle into a make-shift Tenebrae Hearse -- this term I will define: the Tenebrae Hearse is a triangular candelabra which holds fifteen candles, seven on each side, and one at the apex.

Now, I don't know many Episcopal parishes that happen to own a Tenebrae Hearse of any quality. Nor do I think there is anything magical about the number fifteen.

In this film of Tenebrae from St. Thomas, New York from April 2014, you can clearly see the use of a large seven-branch Hearse, really just a giant candelabra. This makes sense for the liturgy done at St. Thomas, which makes use of seven antiphons and corresponding psalms/canticles.

The Book of Occasional Services suggests two routes for the number of candles: seven or fifteen. But even if the full fifteen-prong Hearse is desired, I still think the use of the Paschal Candle at this service is a mistake.

One can understand how the practical need arises: most churches have two seven-prong candelabras, and you just need a big, tall candle to go between them! But this seems a lazy solution.

The Paschal Candle should only be lit during services in Eastertide (through the Day of Pentecost, per the rubric from the Great Vigil of Easter), Baptism, or the Burial of the Dead.

It's use in Holy Week prior to the Easter Vigil is especially troublesome because the appearance of the (new) Paschal Candle should be dramatic at the kindling of the new fire. It is an unceremonious and unfortunate use of the old year's Paschal Candle to see it at Tenebrae. It confuses the symbolism of the Noise and return of the light at Tenebrae. It is surely not the Resurrection, though it does anticipate and foreshadow it.

The solution for those who have their hearts set on fifteen but have not the necessary hearse seems to me to get by with fourteen. Surely cleverer minds than mine can devise a scheme to make this work.

But for the love of Pete, leave the Paschal Candle out of Tenebrae.

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04 April 2017
Bach, J. S. - harmonization of "All glory, laud, and honor"

For the last several years I've always sat up a little straighter when I hear the opening hymn at the annual Meditation on the Passion of Christ from St. John's, Cambridge. (link to 2016 service webcast).

The organ is blaring, the voices are full, the sound is thrilling. And no small part of it is the harmonization from the English Hymnal which is by J. S. Bach.

The hymn is "All glory, laud, and honor", which we all know well. Probably too well, even though we only get around to it once a year. Probably part of my reaction to this sound from St. John's is that the character is somewhat different from the Teschner/Monk harmonization in the Hymnal 1982.

The harmony is, well... it's more Bach, of course. There's more drama in the bass line; there are more leading tones. It's more visceral. There's more soul. Or something.

So, this year we're trying the English Hymnal harmony. I finally buckled down to edit the Hymnal 1982 words and melody (note that it is slightly different than the way the tune appears in the English Hymnal) to utilize utilise the English Hymnal harmonies.

And, as a small offering to the Church, it's available to you just in time for Wednesday or Thursday night choir rehearsal to try it out. Enjoy.

Hymn 154: "All glory, laud, and honor" with English Hymnal harmony (PDF)

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maladjustment - Martin Luther King, Jr. on

Today the Episcopal Church celebrates the Feast of Martin Luther King, Jr., Civil Rights Leader, 1968.

[T]here are some things within our social order to which I am proud to be maladjusted, and to which I call all [those] of good will to be maladjusted until the good society is realized. I must confess that I will never adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I will never become adjusted to religious bigotry. I will never adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many and give luxuries to the few. I will never become adjusted to the madness? of militarism: the self-defeating effects of physical violence. … There is a need for men and women to be as maladjusted as the prophet Amos. In his day, in the midst of injustices, his proud words echo across the centuries, "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream." There is a need for men and women today to be as maladjusted? as Abraham Lincoln, who had the vision to see that this nation could not exist half-slave and half-free, … to be as maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth, who could stand amid the men and women of his day, amid the intricacies of the formidable military machinery of the Roman Empire, to say, "He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword," and cry out, "Love your enemies; bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you." Through such maladjustment, we will be able to emerge from the darkened midnight of man’s inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.

Martin Luther King Jr., May 13, 1963, St. Paul’s, Cleveland Heights, Oh. (source)

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03 April 2017
Carols and the Passion: Drawing on Many Traditions for a Modern Meditation

I am delighted to invite you to a new offering at St. Peter’s, St. Louis this year. As part of our Evensong series on the second Sunday of every month, the St. Peter’s Singers will lead A Meditation on the Passion of Christ on Palm Sunday, April 9 at 5:30 p.m.

What is this service? It is a compelling synthesis of ancient and modern. And, like Evensong, I hope that it can be a space for real contemplation and prayer, especially at the start of the holiest week of the liturgical year.

A couple weeks ago St. Louisans had the good fortune to be able to hear a performance of The Gospel According to the Other Mary by American composer John Adams, which is a rare modern setting of the Passion. In the program notes Paul Schiavo notes “because its inherent pain was at odds with Western culture’s increasingly determined pursuit of happiness, the Passion story lost popular standing among Christian chronicles to the more comforting Nativity tale during the 19th century and beyond.”

One of the benefits of this cultural affinity toward the Christmas story has been renewed attention to the musical form of the carol, largely music with a focus on the Nativity, but not exclusively. The popularity of carols was so great that it prompted the editors of the 1928 Oxford Book of Carols to call upon churches to hold “carol services” not only at Christmas time, but also Advent, Epiphany, Eastertide, and – why not? – Lent too! Indeed, within the Oxford Book of Carols a number of pieces of music marked for Lent and Holy Week can be found.

This impulse to use the carol to draw Christians deeper into their faith arose at an academic community where there was no liturgical observance of Holy Week. This place is St. John’s College, Cambridge (which also served as the source of the liturgy for our Advent Carol Service). The students of Cambridge University are not present during Holy Week, so a service was designed for the St. John’s College community to reflect on the mysteries of this key part of the Christian story beforehand. The service was designed in 1985 by the Dean of Chapel, the Rev. Andrew Macintosh, and the Organist, George Guest.

The original name of this service was “A Meditation on the Passion of Christ, with Carols,” though it should be noted that at St. John’s, and many other places where this service is offered, the designation “with Carols” has been dropped, and now many different types of music are used.

Read more on the on the St. Peter's, St. Louis website: Carols and the Passion: Drawing on Many Traditions for a Modern Meditation

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