I will make you fishers of men

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During the Epiphany season in most lectionary years, we hear Gospel accounts of Jesus calling the disciples to “follow me.” Today (Jan. 25) we hear Mark’s account of Jesus calling Simon (Peter) and Andrew, and then James and John.

One of our Communion hymns today is a beautiful hymn written by Cesareo Gabarain (1936-1991), a Spanish priest and composer of liturgical music. The melody of this tune Pescador de hombres (“Fisher of men”) gently rocks back and forth, as a boat would rock upon the sea. Though Monsenor Gabarain’s life was cut short by cancer, he composed some 500 hymns, many of which are well-known to Spanish-speaking worshipers today. Six major denominational hymnal supplements, including the Episcopal Church’s Wonder, Love, and Praise, contain this beautiful hymn.

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Bach, Mendelssohn and the Light of the World

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The Collect for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany (Jan. 18) proclaims that “Jesus Christ is the light of the world” by also using words such as “illumined,” “shine” and “radiance.” To highlight this prayer, there is perhaps no better entrance hymn than Phillip Nicolai’s (1556-1608) great chorale Wie schon leuchtet der Morgenstern, as harmonized by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), who included so many chorales in his own compositions.

Then considered to be “the old style,” Baroque music fell out of favor in the late 18th century, and composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) was instrumental in reviving the Baroque. He conducted a performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in 1829, the first performance since Bach’s death. Mendelssohn also modeled his oratorios on the works of Bach and Handel. It is no surprise that this morning’s anthem “There shall a star from Jacob come forth” ends also with Phillip Nicolai’s chorale Wie schon leuchtet, Mendelssohn’s validation of “the old style.” This chorus is from his unfinished oratorio Christus, which was published posthumously.

Jesus’ Life, All in One Hymn

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Following the festal celebrations of the Nativity and the Epiphany, we now move into the Epiphany season in which we celebrate and give witness to Jesus’ life and work in the world. After John the Baptist baptizes Jesus, we hear on these successive Epiphany Sundays the Gospel accounts of Jesus calling the disciples, teaching in the synagogue, healing the sick, and proclaiming the Good News.

The closing hymn today, “O love, how deep, how broad, how high,” is a favorite in this parish, perhaps because its text traces Jesus’ entire life from birth to baptism, fasting and temptation, works and miracles, crucifixion and death, and triumphant resurrection. This 15th-century Latin hymn was translated by English priest Benjamin Webb (1819-1895) and included in The Hymnary (1872), an important late 19th-century English hymnal for which he served as co-editor. Common in most early Greek and Latin hymns, this great text ends with a “doxological” stanza in which the Holy Trinity is outlined and praised.

1 O love, how deep, how broad, how high,
beyond all thought and fantasy,
that God, the Son of God, should take
our mortal form for mortals’ sake.

2 For us baptized, for us he bore
his holy fast and hungered sore;
for us temptations sharp he knew,
for us, the tempter overthrew.

3 For us by wickedness betrayed,
for us, in crown of thorns arrayed,
he bore the shameful cross and death;
for us gave up his dying breath.

4 For us he rose from death again;
for us he went on high to reign;
for us he sent the Spirit here
to guide, to strengthen, and to cheer.

5 All glory to our Lord and God,
for love so deep, so high, so broad:
the Trinity whom we adore
forever and forevermore.

Source: Hymnary.org

Following the Star

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In the lectionary readings for Jan. 4, the psalmist proclaims, “Behold our defender, O God, and look upon the face of your Anointed.” This is precisely what the Magi did when they followed the star first to Jerusalem, after which King Herod sent them on to Bethlehem to find the child “born King of the Jews.” Today’s gospel foreshadows the sequence of events that we will celebrate this Tuesday, Jan. 6, on the Feast of the Epiphany and with the Burning of the Greens. The text of this morning’s departing procession hymn, “What star is this,” vividly captures these images of the star and the “Eastern Sages.” Author Charles Coffin (1676-1749) wrote this original French text in 1737 when he was Rector of the University of Paris.

One of today’s Communion hymns is the Hispanic folk song/carol/lullaby “A la ru” as arranged by John Donald Robb (1892-1989). Educated at Yale and Harvard universities, Robb was music department head of the University of New Mexico and was also a prolific composer and collector of Hispanic folk music. This folk song hold the distinction of being the very first hymn ever included in any Episcopal hymnal that is completely in a language other than English. “A la ru” is most often sung in the folk play Los Pastores (The Shepherds) in many villages in New Mexico during the Christmas season; Los Pastores came to New Mexico from Mexico in the 19th century and was handed down in this country by oral tradition. Robb first transcribed this lovely lullaby into English in 1954.

Image credit: “Giotto – Scrovegni – -18- – Adoration of the Magi”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons