By: Stephen Schall
This week we mark the end of the season after the Epiphany with the celebration of the Transfiguration. Thus, we end the season as it began by pondering Christ as the manifestation of light. We sing of this event is in Sunday’s congregational hymns. In keeping with the theme of light, the choir sings a rousing setting by T. Frederick H. Candlyn of the John Wesley text, Christ, whose glory fills the skies, the words of which are found in the Presbyterian Hymnal.
At the Offertory the choir sings a beautiful motet by American composer, Daniel Gawthrop, Sing Me to Heaven. This poem, written by Gawthrop’s wife, Jane Griner, is not exactly liturgical but certainly has a spiritual quality to it. The words reflect upon the power of music to speak to our hearts and souls when words alone cannot.
In my heart’s sequestered chambers lie truths stripped of poets’ gloss.
Words alone are vain and vacant, and my heart is mute.
In response to aching silence, memory summons half-heard voices,
and my soul finds primal eloquence and wraps me in song.
If you would comfort me, sing me a lullaby.
If you would win my heart, sing me a love song.
If you would mourn me and bring me to God, sing me a requiem.
Sing me to heaven.
Touch in me all love and passion, pain and pleasure.
Touch in me grief and comfort.
Sing me a lullaby, a love song, a requiem.
Bring me to God.
Sing me a love song.
Sing me to heaven.
Finally, on Wednesday we begin the season of Lent. Traditionally, the church does not sing or say the word “alleluia” during the liturgy within this season. Some churches hold rituals in which the alleluia is “buried” on Shrove Tuesday and is then “resurrected” with Christ at Easter. We will say goodbye to the word “alleluia” in our service on Sunday by singing the text, Alleluia, song of gladness as our introit. Here are the words:
Alleluia, song of gladness,
Voice of joy that cannot die;
Alleluia is the anthem
Ever raised by choirs on high;
In the house of God abiding
Thus they sing eternally.
Alleluia, thou resoundest,
True Jerusalem and free;
Alleluia, joyful mother,
All thy children sing with thee,
But by Babylon’s sad waters
Mourning exiles now are we.
Alleluia, though we cherish
And would chant forevermore,
Alleluia, in our singing
Let us for awhile give o’er,
As our Savior, in his fasting,
Pleasures of the world forebore.
Therefore in our hymns we pray Thee,
Grant us, blessed Trinity,
At the last to keep Thine Easter
With Thy faithful saints on high;
There to Thee for ever singing
This text is full of imagery, some of which may need explaining. There is a clear juxtaposition of heaven, “true Jerusalem,” where the choirs sing alleluia without end, and earth, “Babylon,” where we are “exiled” — like our spiritual forebears, the ancient Hebrews. We are exhorted to forego pleasures of the world during Lent like Jesus did during the 40 days in the wilderness. Since one of our liturgical pleasures is singing “alleluia,” we forgo it during Lent as a means of making it more special when it returns at Easter. The hymn ends with a prayer that we be granted the grace to sing alleluia joyfully at the eternal Easter in heaven with all the saints. This is certainly my prayer for myself and you during this Lent. Wishing you a holy and joyful Lent!