Wednesday, February 27, 2013


There in the garden, with his followers, Jesus was sorrowful and troubled. And he said to them, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me." (Matthew 26:38)

Maneto! Remain here.


Can I sit still, in this place actively abide with Jesus? Lent helps us learn to do this. The season is designed to help us remain, and hear his voice: "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:4-5)

"Jesus, I Am Resting" 
arr. Edwin T. Childs
so pleased to find this online; you'll hear more from Dr. Childs this season!

Here might I stay and sing
Of Him my soul adores;
Never was love, dear King,
Never was grief like yours!
This is my friend, in whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.
Samuel Crossman, 17th century

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
My soul waits for the Lord
  more than watchmen for the morning,
  more than watchmen for the morning.
(Psalm 130:5-6)

Saturday, February 23, 2013


"Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." (Matthew 10:38-39)

Difficult words. Which we don't understand if we don't take time to listen and remember. One man bore the cross and followed Jesus, though not exactly by choice:
As they went out, they found a man Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry [Lat., vehere] Jesus's cross . . . (Matthew 27:32) Compulsory, but apparently without regret. Saint Mark names Simon, and his sons; probable evidence that this family was known in the young church. Simon was a cross-bearer found worthy of his Lord.

"Vehito!" Lent reminds us we are called to be cross-carriers.

Take up your cross
Broooklyn Tabernacle Choir

Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice! . . .  But my eyes are toward you, O God, my Lord; in you I seek refuge; leave me not defenseless! (Psalm 141, 2, 8. See the full psalm here.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013



Many of these days of Lenten preparation for Easter find us (here in the Midwest) slowed down by late winter surprises. This year, where I live the surprises are cold, not snow. We hunker down, stay in, and find ways to manage a less active life.

It's a good time to slow down and listen. "Audite!"

The Gospels are a good place to start listening. Jesus is speaking:
"Come  to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

Listen again:

"Come Unto Me" composed by Larry Nickel
sung by the West Coast Mennonite Chamber Choir
Tony Funk, conductor

The psalmist speaks, for us:  
Answer me quickly, O Lord! My spirit fails! Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit. Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. (Psalm 143:7-8)

Friday, February 15, 2013



If Lent is about remembering it is also about looking. So in keeping with the Latin imperatives: Videte!

"And I will pour out . . . a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn." (Zechariah 12:10 - St. John the Evangelist points us to the prophecy, with Jesus on the cross, John 19:37)

"When I Survey the Wondrous Cross"
Isaac Watts

  1. When I survey the wondrous cross
    On which the Prince of glory died,
    My richest gain I count but loss,
    And pour contempt on all my pride.
  2. Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
    Save in the death of Christ my God!
    All the vain things that charm me most,
    I sacrifice them to His blood.
  3. See from His head, His hands, His feet,
    Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
    Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
    Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
  4. Were the whole realm of nature mine,
    That were a present far too small;
    Love so amazing, so divine,
    Demands my soul, my life, my all.
(I've posted an English choir, in part because the tune here, ROCKINGHAM, is not what we normally sing in the U.S. - not in my experience, at least - and so I think you may hear this familiar hymn with fresh ears.)

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you;
My flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.
(Psalm 63:1-4

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. I have written about Lent many times over the years. You can read one iteration starting here. For today - and for the six weeks ahead - I simply want to remind us that the season of Lent is a time of preparation for a full and joyous celebration of Easter. It is 40 days (not counting Sundays), and it is all about Jesus. (That is to say, Lent is not about me, not about my discipline, not a self-improvement-start-good-habits endeavor.)

For years I have, not so covertly, observed Lent among musicians at two evangelical (non-Lent-observing) churches. If you wonder why Good Friday and Easter services were led so effectively by those musicians, that's the secret: they have been prepared by a crypto-liturgist leading stealth Lenten observations. Sue me.

Today I began the season with the Walter Wangerin devotional, Reliving the Passion. Over this season, as often as I can manage, I will drop in here with some scripture and music: my own take on Lenten services.

The symbol of ashes, the sign of the cross on the forehead, is accompanied by the words of Scripture: "You are dust, and to dust you shall return."  (Genesis 3) The ancient liturgy added the word, "Memento" - Remember: you are dust and to dust you shall return. Lent reminds us that we are not immortal. And it reminds us that one who is immortal died for us. During these days, we remember.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations . . . from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You return man to dust and say, "Return, O children of man!" For a thousand ages in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night . . . So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom . . . Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!" (Psalm 90, ESV; read it all here - and you can change to any translation/version at that site. Myself, I'd go with the King James.)

"Abide with Me" is commonly used as an Evening hymn. It really is a perfect Lenten hymn.

I shan't always quote Wangerin, but I'll always be glad I did. This is from today's reading:
[W]hen we genuinely remember the death we deserve to die, we will be moved to remember the death the Lord in fact did die - because his took the place of ours. Ah, children, we will yearn to hear the Gospel story again and again, ever seeing therein our death in his, and rejoicing that we will therefore know a rising like his as well. 
     Remember now that thou are dust. Death now - yes, even in the midst of a bustling life. My death and Jesus' death, by grace conjoined. Memento! - because this death, remembered now, yields life hereafter. And that is life forever.
Walter Wangerin, Reliving the Passion, 22-23

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Phos hilaron

The lecture title was provocative: "Phos hilaron From early church to Christian rock: A cultural history of the oldest hymn in Christendom." That's a mouthful, and clearly describes the excellent lecture by Mark Thorne, Assistant Professor of Classical Languages at Wheaton College. One thing I am really digging in this stage is the freedom to take advantage of a vibrant offering of public campus lectures.

Dr. Thorne's was vibrant, interesting, and fun. He delivered what the title promised, and along the way I learned a lot about a hymn I thought I knew. It's place in the Anglican Evening Prayer is responsible for the version I know as an evening hymn, "O gracious light." I mentioned this prayer in an earlier post. What I didn't know comprised most of the lecture, which was full of visual and audio illustrations. Just the way to finish a week of classes, late on a winter afternoon.

But the lecture did press some of my buttons, stirred some of my hornets' nests. The lecturer became curious about Phos hilaron when he heard it on the 2009 David Crowder Band Album, "Church Music." That set off his inquiry, and so that was also the final musical example of the lecture. The questions that follow do not in any way reflect Dr. Thorne's content or purpose for the lecture. They are simply the way my mind worked as he concluded. Here goes:

* Not all Christian music is church music. This is an issue confused by - oh, let's say the David Crowder Band album title, "Church Music." By "church music" most people probably think "the music I will be expected to sing in church." And others - fewer perhaps - will mean "the music that I will listen to others perform in church." I might be able to make the argument that the DCB album is filled with music that could be performed in church; on the same principles that I could justify a choral anthem. Fair enough. But as for singing . . .

* Related to the above, who (that is, what congregations) actually sing along to the tunes on the DCB "Church Music"? I am not asking who enjoys this music (many do, and with good enough reason) but who actually sings along. I hear this in settings where it is reasonable to expect the audience/congregation to get it and get with it. But I have yet to hear this sort of thing thoroughly engaged vocally even my a significant minority. Listen along? Sure. Mumble along? Well, OK.. All I'm saying here is: assign some music a proper role of performance, if it should be used but can't really be sung by the untrained or those unfamiliar with a particular CD or radio station.

* One of the points made in the course of the lecture is that Phos hilaron took on musical characteristics of the various eras in which it was introduced. [Notably exceptional of course is in the Greek church, where this hymn has been sung daily for something like 1700 years, and where relatively few chant variants continue to do good service for it.] Which raises a question: Should "music of the era" serve as a justification for "any music?" Yes, "Hail gladdening light" (another translation of Phos hilaron) technically can be rapped or set to Euro techno electronica tribal Celtic funk, but should it?

* Which raises the last question I walked away with: Should a liturgical hymn be used outside the liturgy? This is a tough one for me, as a worship planner and song chooser. Do I really have the right to borrow someone else's liturgy for my free church worship? (Much less for a concert designed primarily for entertainment?) There are few hymns that would conclude the Lord's Day in an evening service better than one of the settings of Phos hilaron. But . . . should it? Or should we be writing our own?

Dr. George Kalantzis, head of the Early Christian Studies program at Wheaton College, made this concluding comment at Thursday's lecture: "We look back, not with nostalgia but so that we may know who we are." And then he dismissed us into the early evening with Phos hilaron:
O gracious Light, pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven;
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!
Now as we come to the setting of the sun, and our eyes behold the vesper light,
we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 
You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices, 
O Son of God, O giver of life, and to be glorified through all the worlds.

And I drove home singing:
O gracious Light, Lord Jesus Christ, 
in you the Father's glory shone.
Immortal, holy, blest is he, 
and blest are you, his holy Son.
   Now sunset comes, but light shines forth,
   the lamps are lit to pierce the night.
   Praise Father, Son, and Spirit, God
   who dwells in the eternal light.
Worthy are you of endless praise,
O Son of God, life-giving Lord;
wherefore you are through all the earth
and in the highest heaven adored. 
Phos hilaron, trans. 20th century, F. Bland Tucker
Long Meter tune: try the Tallis Canon!