It’s hard to believe, but a whole month has gone by since my last post. Four Sundays of the Easter season – four Compline services. And so much wonderful music – I’ll write about some of the highlights – but you can hear three of these Sundays broadcast on the Compline Choir’s podcast site.
Easter Sunday was magnificent as always – it is always thrilling to sing the Peter Hallock “Easter Canticle” processional as we walk the length of the cathedral, singing and playing handbells – listen to the opening of the Easter podcast ; if you want to see the words, I previously posted them on my blog “Easter Joy” last year. Next on the podcast (at about 4:55) was the psalm appropriate for Easter, Psalm 114, which in the chant repertoire is given unique significance by being sung on two different pitches, or “psalm tones”. Because it goes back and forth between the two, it became called the wandering (“peregrine”) tone, or Tonus Peregrinus. Because Psalm 114 tells of the wonder of God in delivering the people of Israel through the Red Sea, I think of the Israelites, like the psalm, wandering in the desert for forty years.
This year for Easter we did not sing the chant “Christians, to the Paschal Victim” but instead sang a lovely hymn to the words of John of Damascus (d. 749) and music from Renaissance Germany (see the same podcast, about 8:55). The first verse also compares Jesus’ resurrection to the miracle of the Red Sea:
Come, ye faithful, raise the strain of triumphant gladness;
God hath brought His Israel into joy from sadness;
loosed from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke Jacob’s sons and daughters,
led them with unmoistened foot through the Red Sea waters.
On the Sunday after Easter, we sang the magnificent hymn about Jesus’s appearance to the doubting disciple Thomas, to a old 17th-century French Noel tune (see the podcast at about 8:34). This year soloists took the parts in quotes:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
O sons and daughters, let us sing! The King of heaven, the glorious King, O’er death and hell rose triumphing. Alleluia!
That night the apostles met in fear; Amidst them came their Lord most dear, And said, “My peace be on all here.” Alleluia!
When Thomas first the tidings heard, How they had seen the risen Lord, He doubted the disciples’ word. Alleluia!
“My pierced side, O Thomas, see; My hands, my feet, I show to thee; Not faithless, but believing be.” Alleluia!
No longer Thomas then denied, He saw the feet, the hands, the side; “Thou art my Lord and God,” he cried. Alleluia!
How blest are they who have not seen, And yet whose faith has constant been, For they eternal life shall win. Alleluia!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
The Fourth Sunday of Easter is named “Good Shepherd Sunday” in the Episcopal Church and other denominations, after the reading from the Gospel of John, verse 10:11: “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep”. The psalm is always the 23rd (“The Lord is my shepherd”), and we sang as the Orison the beautiful Irish hymn St. Columba (listen to it at the beginning of the podcast for April 29). The words are a paraphrase of Psalm 23 by Henry W. Baker, first published in 1868. It has long been our tradition to have the “death’s dark vale” verse sung by a soloist:
The King of love my Shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never,
I nothing lack if I am His
And He is mine forever.
Where streams of living water flow
My ransomed soul He leadeth,
And where the verdant pastures grow,
With food celestial feedeth.
Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
But yet in love He sought me,
And on His shoulder gently laid,
And home, rejoicing, brought me.
In death’s dark vale I fear no ill
With Thee, dear Lord, beside me;
Thy rod and staff my comfort still,
Thy cross before to guide me.
Thou spread’st a table in my sight;
Thy unction grace bestoweth;
And O what transport of delight
From Thy pure chalice floweth!
And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise
Within Thy house forever.
In my next post I will return to writing a sidebar about one of the more than fifty groups praying Compline throughout North America. Until then, Happy Easter!