The Advent Wreath is ready for tomorrow, when we will light one candle to mark the first of four Sundays of Advent, a time of waiting before Christmas – but it will also mark the beginning of a new Christian liturgical year, with changes of color, ceremony, and music.
The month of November always contains the last days of the old church year, along with other signs of seasonal change, which in the Northern Hemisphere include shorter days, bare trees, and icy weather. It is no wonder that the readings for the daily Mass and Office focus on end times and the hereafter. The first two days of November, the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, set the tone. At the Compline Service in Seattle closest to the feast of All Saints, we read the list of all those departed who have sung with our choir since it was formed in 1956.
I loved the anthems we sang at Compline during November (remember that all of the services of Compline at St. Mark’s are available as podcasts on both complinepodcast.org and king.org). But I chose one of these to share with you because, in my recollection, it is the first time we have sung an anthem with piano accompaniment: “Blow Ye the Trumpet,” by the American composer Kirke Mechem (born 1925). Mechem wrote new music to an old hymn text.
One of the aspects of Compline is praying for a “quiet night and a perfect end” – for the acceptance of our own death. And as I wrote in Prayer as Night Falls:
Mysteriously, the more we seek our eternal selves, our true selves, the less we fear death. As we empty ourselves, shed the “tent of clay” that is our bodies, our egos, our senses, our thoughts, we fill ourselves with the presence that creates and sustains all.” (p. 56)
As we are filled with eternal life, “Why should we start, and fear to die?”
Blow ye the trumpet, blow,
Sweet is Thy work, my God, my King.
I’ll praise my Maker with all my breath.
O happy is the man who hears.
Why should we start, and fear to die,
With songs and honors sounding loud.
Ah, lovely appearance of death.