All things come of thee, O Lord

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Sunday, October 26, is Celebration Sunday, the day when we bring our gifts and give back to God in response to how we have been blessed. In today’s liturgies, we will place our estimate of giving cards in boxes as we approach the altar to receive Communion. God is never more present to us than in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, and the word “Eucharist” itself means “Thanksgiving.” It is, indeed, most appropriate that we offer our gifts to God at this most sacred moment, and we encourage those with families to lay their cards before God together.

For these fall weeks in late Pentecost season, we have been singing the words, “All things come of thee, O Lord,” as our hymn at the Offertory presentation. This new setting by Jeffrey Smith uses the exact text from the old chant that many will remember from The Hymnal 1940. This chant is actually from Smith’s Mass in E, which contains other service music that we will learn in the coming months. Smith took one musical idea and developed it into the various parts of liturgical music (Gloria, Sanctus, et. al.), which makes the mass setting wonderfully easy to sing. The choir sings the text, “Present yourselves as a living sacrifice,” between the sung congregational refrains; be sure to read the full text that they sing, which is also printed in the service leaflet.

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O still, small voice of calm

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Our gospel story for today from Matthew is Jesus’ famous “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” scene in which the Pharisees attempt to ask Jesus a “trick question.” Jesus’ responses are quick, brief and classic, and the Pharisees “were amazed.”

The text of our Communion hymn Sunday, October 19, is five stanzas of John Greenleaf Whittier’s original 17-stanza poem “The Brewing of Soma” (1872). This first stanza references “our foolish ways” (or perhaps the Pharisees’ foolish ways, actually), asking of the Lord to “reclothe us in our rightful minds” and “in purer lives thy service find,” ever listening for God’s “still, small voice of calm.” The hymntune Repton is originally from Sir Charles Hubert H. Parry’s oratorio Judith, which he adapted into a hymn, probably around 1917 just before his death.

Many may remember this poignant text being sung in pain, grief and hope during the 1988 community memorial service for the victims of the PanAm Flight 103 terrorist bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, in which 243 passengers, 16 crew, and 11 people on the ground were killed. With the small stone church full to capacity, the crowds stood outside in front of huge screens and speakers, singing this deeply moving text and praying “take from our souls the strain and stress, and let our ordered lives confess the beauty of thy peace.” (st. 4) Indeed, the Lockerbie community was praying to hear God’s “still, small voice of calm,” as we all should.

Caption for photo above: LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM – DECEMBER 21: Chris Evans places a memorial candle for the victims of the Lockerbie bombing during a service of remembrance to mark the 25th anniversary of the Lockerbie air disaster at Westminster Abbey on December 21, 2013 in London, England. Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie on December 21, 1988, killing all those on board and a further eleven on the ground. (Photo by Luke MacGregor – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Anthem of the Bells

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Westminster Abbey.

Henry Purcell’s (1659-1695) setting of Philippians 4:4-7, “Rejoice in the Lord always,” is the choir’s anthem this Sunday morning (October 12). Dating from between 1682-1685, this anthem acquired is nickname “The Bell Anthem” from its opening prelude, which emulates the pealing of bells, even when accompanied by strings, as it was originally. This anthem is a “verse anthem” (alternating between solo voices and full choir) as opposed to a “full anthem” (for full choir throughout, also known as a motet). Verse anthems were a product of the English Reformation when the vernacular came to be used; composers perhaps felt that texts could be better understood in the vernacular when sung by solo voices. 17th and 18th century English composers such as Byrd, Gibbons, Weelkes, Tomkins and Purcell were all champions of the verse anthem. Purcell was organist of Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal simultaneously and is buried beside the organ case in the Abbey.

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“Henry Purcell by John Closterman” by John Closterman (died 1711) – National Portrait Gallery, London

Haydn and the Heavens

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For the anthem at the Offertory this Sunday morning, October 5, the Parish Choir sings the well-known choral staple, “The heavens are telling” from The Creation, by Franz Josef Haydn (1732-1809). During his visits to England in the late 1700s, Haydn heard the large choral works (oratorios) of Handel and was inspired to write his own.

The Creation was written in three sections: Part I celebrates earth, heavens, light, water, weather, plants, and trees; Part II celebrates the creation of fish, birds, animals, and man and woman; Part III takes place in the Garden of Eden and celebrates Adam and Eve before the fall.

“The heavens are telling” from Part I is a setting of Psalm 19:1-3, the appointed Psalm for today, and begins with alternation between the chorus and three angels (Gabriel, Uriel, Raphael). The piece ends with a grand choral fugue with the text, “the wonder of his work displays the firmament.”

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Franz Joseph Haydn