“Heaven and earth are full of your glory”

Last week at my church, Burlington Baptist Church, in Ipswich, I led opening worship with our small worship band, using the 19th century hymn “Holy, holy, holy” by Reginald Heber, leading straight into Nathan Fellingham’s setting of the same words, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God almighty…Lift up his name with the sound of singing. We have done this often and it works really well. I talked about the worship of heaven, using words from Revelation 4 (how else was anyone supposed to understand all that stuff about the ‘glassy sea’!?).  I also talked about the communion of saints, something we sing about in the Hillsong song This I believe (“I believe in the saints communion”) although I can’t help imagining the saints sitting in pews with halos,  while St Peter and rest of heavenly deacons bring the tray of individual communion glasses around with little bits of bread on silver trays sat on top.

Yes, I do often talk too much in opening worship.

This week someone mentioned on twitter the wonderful recording by Paul McCreesh of Michael Praetorius’ Mass for Christmas Morning 1620, which I discovered last year – and so I listened to it again.  I know it’s too early, but it’s almost Advent and I can get away with it at home as long as the tunes are not too obviously Christmassy.

Of course to the worshippers in 1620 they were very obviously Christmassy, and McCreesh has assembled a congregation to sing the Lutheran Christmas hymns (Vom Himmel Hoch and the like) with gusto and enthusiasm. Wonderful congregational worship – you have to admire Luther’s ability to get his congregation singing with marvellous words grounded in scripture aimed at catechising his congregation, set to really singable tunes.  Contemporary song writers could learn a thing or two here!

Trying to find out more, I discovered a set of slides explaining more about the CD [3]  In my listening I had got to the Sanctus motet in the Christmas morning mass setting, setting words of Martin Luther, Jesaja, dem Propheten das geschah, the German Sanctus, and as I read the words, and listened to the music I was overwhelmed.

First some history and context.

This paraphrase of Isaiah 6:1-4, in rhymed couplets for ease of congregational singing, was first published in Luther’s Deutsche Messe of 1526 entitled “The German Sanctus.” [1].  In Luther’s German Mass, it was set of a modified version of a Sanctus plainchant, and although intended for congregational singing, it seems that choral performance even of the German version was still favoured by many churches [2].

Here is the full text with a translation/poetic rendering by George MacDonald

Jessia, dem Propheten, das geschah,
Unto the seer, Isaiah, it was given
Daß er im Geist den Herren sitzen sah
That, in the spirit, he saw the Lord of heaven
Auf einem hohen Thron in hellem Glanz,
Up on a lofty throne, in radiance bright;
Seines Kleides Saum den Chor füllet’ ganz.
The skirt of his garment filled the temple quite;
Es stunden zween Seraph bei ihm daran,
Two seraphs at his side were standing there;
Sechs Flügel sah er einen jeden han:
Six wings, he saw, each one of them did wear:
Mit zween verbargen sie ihr Antlitz klar,
Two over their bright visages did meet,
Mit zween bedeckten sie die Füße gar,
With two of them they covered up their feet,
Und mit den andern zween sie flogen frei.
And with the other twain abroad did fly.
Genander riefen sie mit großem G’schrei:
Each to the other called with a great cry,
Heilig ist Gott, der Herre Zebaoth! 
Holy is God, the Lord of Zebaoth!
Heilig ist Gott, der Herre Zebaoth! 
Heilig ist Gott, der Herre Zebaoth!
Sein’ Ehr’ die ganze Welt erfüllet hat.
His glory great the whole world filled hath.
Von dem G’schrei zittert’ Schwell’ und Balken gar,
At the loud cry the beams and threshold shook,
Das Haus auch ganz voll Rauchs und Nebel war.
And the whole house was full of cloud and smoke

Praetorius’ version is based on Luther’s plainsong adaptation and starts simply enough. But soon rises to some magnificent word painting, as Dave Kriewall explains in his excellent presentation on the whole Christmas Mass [3]:

“hohen Thron” (lofty throne) – high note
“sie flogen frei” (they flew freely; aloft they soared) – soaring high notes
“gegenander ruften sie” (one to the other called) – echo effects
“mit großem Geschrei” (with a great cry)
“Heilig ist Gott der Herre Zebaoth” (Holy is God, the Lord of Hosts) – starts simply, increasing complexity of the angels’ song as more and more join; can be in 3/4 (indicating Trinity)
“Sein Ehr die ganze Welt erfüllet hat.” (His Glory has filled the whole world.) – always in 4/4 (indicating the earth); massive sound to fill the space.
“Von dem Geschrei zittert Schwell und Balken gar” (Threshold and rafters shake with the cry) – massive sound to fill and seemingly shake the church. Similar to treatment of “mit großem Geschrei”
The tongue-twister:
“Das Haus auch ganz voll Rauchs und Nebels war.” (The house also was full of smoke and fog [haze].)
First, a rapid-fire overlapping repetition of the phrase; effect: musical smoke and fog!
Then, an awesome picture of the grandeur of the vision and the glory of God in his temple

One is truly left with a sense of joining with the worship of heaven in the most immediate way.

We rarely talk about heaven and earth joining together in worship, or the communion of saints, or indeed of the music of heaven, and yet this seems to me to be a wonderful truth, worthy of greater exploration. I wondered if Lutheran theologians of Praetorius’ time had a view on this. Praetorius was known as a deeply religious man who regretted not taking holy orders. The introduction to part III of his Syntagma Musicum II: De Organographia begins as follows:

There are those who believe it proper and right that, next to theology, the highest place should be accorded to music, since it is a beautiful and splendid gift of God, and provides an image of music in heaven, where God’s holy angels together with the entire heavenly host praise their creator without ceasing in gentle harmony, and sing “Holy, holy, holy is God, the Lord of Hosts.” [4]

Having started with the music of heaven, he goes on to talk about the music of the Old Testament, especially the music of David and Solomon, and concludes:

Thus church music, as a service to God, ought properly to be held in great esteem today as well, and to be celebrated with all due reverence.  [4]

Praetorius then, in writing his music, was conscious of both the music of heaven, and following in the traditions of the great Biblical musicians, especially King David himself.

Almost a century later, the debate continued, with a famous conflict between Mattheson and Buttstett over heavenly harmony which started in 1713 [5].

But, as Ruth Tatlow says:

The conflict over Harmony went far deeper…At stake was whether the earthly efforts of the Christian composer…would survive eternally, and how they might do so. [6]

While there was debate as to what music might be played in heaven, some at least believed that there would be music in heaven, possibly even the very music being written by the composers of the day.  That being the case, Ruth Tatlow is surely right:

That perfectly constructed and harmonically proportioned vocal and instrumental compositions would survive the Rapture and be played in the new heaven and new earth would have been a powerful motivating belief for the Lutheran composer [6]

Believing this, there would be a strong motivation to write music fit for heaven, using all the musical language of the day to embody as fully as possible, and perhaps even participate in, the heavenly worship.  The music would need to reflect and magnify as perfectly as the composer was able the Word Incarnate, i.e. both Jesus Himself, and his Word in the language of the people, in this case German.  For the composer to truly write Soli Deo Gloria with integrity at the end of his work, every note would need to intentionally celebrate the Glory of God, and not simply the glory of music. [7]

Where a composer aspires to this, as I believe Praetorius is doing here in this motet, using all the skill at his disposal, creating something for eternity itself, it is little wonder we feel something of the worship of heaven?

I wonder if our modern songwriters feel that they are creating music with eternal significance?


[1] Leaver, R. A. (2017). The whole church sings: congregational singing in Luther’s Wittenberg. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. p.158-9

[2] Herl, J. (2008). Worship wars in early Lutheranism: choir, congregation, and three centuries of conflicts. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p.61

[3] Kriewall, D (2011).  Lecture/demonstration on Michael Praetorius’ “Mass for Christmas Morning” https://prezi.com/klhj29w7dzom/praetorius-mass-for-christmas-morning-1620/ Retrieved 26 Nov 2017

[4] Praetorius, Michael and Faulkner, Quentin trans. & ed. (2014). Syntagma Musicum II: De Organographia, Parts III – V with Index. Zea E-Books. Book 24, p.82. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/zeabook/24

[5] Tatlow, R. (2016). Bach’s Numbers: Compositional Proportion and Significance. Cambridge University Press. p.78

[6] Ibid. p. 82-83

[7] See for example Bokemeyer in Johann Matheson, Critica Music, ‘Canonischen Anatomie’ (Hamburg: Matheson, 1722), cited in Tatlow, R. (2016). Bach’s Numbers: Compositional Proportion and Significance. Cambridge University Press. p.380, 1723-III

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Musical Advent Calendar – 11.Riu, Riu Chiu

Today’s carol is a Spanish villancico (effectively the Spanish equivalent of a carol) attributed to Mateo Flecha the Elder, who died in 1553, and which has been performed by musical groups as diverse as the choir of King’s College, Cambridge and the Monkees.

The chorus and translation is as follows:

Ríu, ríu, chíu, la guarda ribera,
Dios guardó el lobo de nuestra cordera.

Riu, riu, chiu, the guard [shepherd] by the river: God protected our Ewe from the wolf.

‘Riu, riu chiu’ was a traditional call of Spanish shepherds when guarding their flocks by a riverside fold – in fact the catchy chorus may derive from a shepherd-song.  The chorus refers to God protecting Mary (the ewe) from the bite of the wolf, the lobo rabioso [Satan] , infecting her with original sin – a theme elaborated in verse 1.

As a good Baptist I am not a fan of the doctrine of the immaculate conception (although it’s clear Mary was a young girl of great faith!), but apart from that the carol is a pretty good summary of the Christmas story, as in verse 2:

Aunque era infinito Finito se hiziera – he was who was infinite became finite.

This performance is from the American group Chanticleer.

A Musical Advent Calendar – 3. My Lord Has Come

Day 3 brings one of my favourite carols of recent years, My Lord Has Come by Will Todd, who is probably best known for his work Mass in Blue, but manages to write convincingly in a whole range of musical styles

Will Todd has written about it as follows:

In summer 2010 Oxford University Press was searching for material for a new Carols for Choirs book to celebrate 50 years since ‘Carols for Choirs 1’ was first published (bringing enduring favourites to the choral world, including Sir David Willcocks’ memorable descant to O Come, All Ye Faithful and his beautiful arrangement of Away in a Manger). I was delighted that my carol My Lord Has Come was chosen by current editors Bob Chilcott and David Blackwell to be included in the new edition. Such an exciting moment, as I have wonderful memories of singing music from the earlier Carols for Choirs books in my formative years.

I love the marriage of music and words as we are led to see that as for common shepherds and princely sages there is only one place – the humble stable – where we can meet Jesus. In a reversal of roles if you like, we find there that it is Jesus himself who holds, cherishes and cradles us, if we will let him lead us there.

Shepherds, called by angels,
called by love and angels:
No place for them but a stable.
My Lord has come.

Sages, searching for stars,
searching for love in heaven;
No place for them but a stable.
My Lord has come.

His love will hold me,
his love will cherish me,
love will cradle me.

Lead me, lead me to see him,
sages and shepherds and angels;
No place for me but a stable.
My Lord has come.

This performance is from Northwestern University in Chicago, where my friend Alisa Kasmir sang when an undergraduate. They are obviously still carrying on the great choral tradition.

While my recommended recording is from Tenebrae, for something different, Gareth Malone has only yesterday released his album A Great British Christmas which has a recording of this song with Yolanda Brown adding an improvised Saxophone track.  You can find it online, including on Spotify here:

 

Solomon’s Manifesto

With just 46 days to the 2015 UK parliamentary election, politics and political manifestos and priorities are foremost in many people’s minds.

So I was interested to read Psalm 72, which is described as being “of Solomon”

On the prophetic level this is recognised as a Messianic Psalm, prophesying the reign of Jesus, which forms the basis for the great Advent hymn: Hail to the Lord’s Anointed.

But as this forms the end of Book 2 of the Book of Psalms of David, is it too fanciful to see this as one of the last prayers of David which Solomon adopted as the political manifesto for his reign. The ESV Study Bible seems to think it might.

The title, “of Solomon,” can mean that Solomon was the author (just as “of David” normally means that David wrote the psalm). On the other hand, it could mean that someone (perhaps David) spoke these words of (i.e., about) Solomon, setting out the goal for his reign (and for the reigns of his heirs).

In course of 19 verses we cover the justice system:

Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to the royal son!
May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice!

May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
like showers that water the earth!
In his days may the righteous flourish,
and peace abound, till the moon be no more!

a brief outline of benefits system and social policy

May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the children of the needy,
and crush the oppressor!

For he delivers the needy when he calls,
the poor and him who has no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life,
and precious is their blood in his sight.

Optimistic economic forecasts:

Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness!

May there be abundance of grain in the land;
on the tops of the mountains may it wave;
may its fruit be like Lebanon;
and may people blossom in the cities
like the grass of the field!

Expansionist foreign policy:

May he have dominion from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth!
May desert tribes bow down before him,
and his enemies lick the dust!
May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands
render him tribute;
may the kings of Sheba and Seba
bring gifts!
May all kings fall down before him,
all nations serve him!

Long may he live;
may gold of Sheba be given to him!
May prayer be made for him continually,
and blessings invoked for him all the day!

May his name endure forever,
his fame continue as long as the sun!
May people be blessed in him,
all nations call him blessed!

Would that ALL political parties would adopt the commitment to justice and fairness outlined here.

There is one section, though, that’s pretty likely to be absent from any of the party manifestos. The section on the spiritual ambitions of the nation:

May they fear you while the sun endures,
and as long as the moon, throughout all generations!

Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be his glorious name forever;
may the whole earth be filled with his glory!
Amen and Amen!

That’s the only sound basis for any of the other commitments promises and claims, and one that we will look for in vain in the next seven or eight weeks.

may the whole earth be filled with his glory!
Amen and Amen!

The Bitter made Sweet

Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of a Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” And he cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. Exodus 15:22-25

In my Bach Sabbatical studies have been reading a bit recently about Luther’s Hermeneutics of Bible Study.

According to Eric Chafe, Luther believed in the unity of the Old and New Testaments, Christ being the subject of the entire scriptures. He extended this through use of the “analogy of faith” to see in allegory and metaphor for example “comparing the destruction and rebuilding of Jerusalem the roles of Law and Gospel in the individual” [1]

Luther’s approach differed little from the Puritans in this regard, and I was reminded of this in the passage from Exodus I read today.

Daniel Whedon, in his commentary on the Bible quotes Luther as follows:

Moses causes man to murmur by the terrors of the law, and thus pains him with bitterness, so that he longs for help; and then, when the Holy Spirit comes, at once it [the law] is made sweet. Now this tree of life is the Gospel, the word of the grace, the mercy, and goodness of God. When the Gospel is plunged into the law, and into the knowledge of sin which the law produces, and when it touches a heart in which the law has caused sadness, anxiety, terror, and confusion, it is at once delightful to the taste. [2]

As a side note, I don’t know whether this precise comment was contained in Bach’s copy of the Calov Bible, which consisted largely of Luther’s comments on scripture, but it seems likely it was and Bach certainly read the biblical passage as he annotated in the margin both before and after. [3]

English authors, among them Matthew Henry, Spurgeon have drawn attention to the allegory of the cross in this passage. Matthew Henry, as always, is worth quoting:

Some make this tree typical of the cross of Christ, which sweetens the bitter waters of affliction to all the faithful, and enables them to rejoice in tribulation. The Jews’ tradition is that the wood of this tree was itself bitter, yet it sweetened the waters of Marah; the bitterness of Christ’s sufferings and death alters the property of ours. [4]

For myself I thought more when I read this of applying God’s Word and promises, and later of the Gospel as Luther does.

Whether the cross, or the gospel or the Word of God, it’s good to see how the Old Testament experiences of the people of Israel can still speak to our situation today.


[1] Chafe, Eric T. (1991). Tonal allegory in the vocal music of J.S. Bach. Berkeley: University of California Press. p.13

[2] Whedon, Daniel. “Commentary on Exodus 15:1”. “Whedon’s Commentary on the Bible”. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/view.cgi?bk=1&ch=15. 1874-1909

[3] Leaver, R. A. (1985). J.S. Bach and scripture: Glosses from the Calov Bible commentary. St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House. p. 71-73

[4] http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/exodus/15.html, accessed 18/3/2015

About Time

time-piece-puzzler-ftrAppropriately enough for a Sabbatical I have been reading a couple of books about time.

The first by Jeremy Begbie, Music, Theology and Time, [1] seeks to look at how time relates to music and what that might teach us about God. In other words “What would it mean to theologise not simply about music but through music?” (Begbie, p.4)

The second is The Sabbath [2] by one of the leading Jewish theologians of the twentieth century, Abraham Joshua Heschel.

There are a couple of immediate insights I want to share here.

The first is that time is good. This is not obvious to the modern or indeed postmodern mind. In a chapter looking at the music of John Tavener, Begbie talks about a pathology of time where we experience awareness of the loss of what is good, are haunted by the sadness of the past we would love to forget but can’t, and either hold a fear of the future or pour into that future all kinds of hopes and expectations which may ultimately disappoint us.

But, there are number of Biblical reasons for stating that time is a gift, neither not “neutral nor inherently threatening.” (Begbie, p.97)

To start with, time is not a result of the Fall as we might suppose, but precedes it. With all the emphasis on interpretations of Genesis 1, as to whether God created the world in seven actual days and so forth and without wanting to resurrect that debate here, I wonder if we have at least partly missed the point. Which is that God created the world in time. The Hebrew word is יוֹם, yom meaning day or time.  And He did not create it in one day, but over six days, the creation of each day building on the next with the climax the creation of man on day Six. We will have more to say about that later.

Then, we see that God acts within time. Heschel has much to say about that “the Bible is more concerned with time than with space…it is more concerned with history than with geography.”

…the God of Israel was the God of events: the Redeemer from slavery, the Revealer of the Torah, manifesting himself in events of history rather than in things or places…The main themes of faith lie in the realms of time. We remember the day of the exodus from Egypt, the day when Israel stood at Sinai; and our Messianic hope is the expectation of a day, of the end of days. (Heschel, p.8)

Of course for the Christian, the day has both already come and lies still in the future. But we see that “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb 1:1) and that the whole of history, of creation, turns on 33 years of Jesus’ life, 3 years of Jesus’ ministry and 3 days between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. That the God of eternity fulfilled his eternal purposes ordained before the creation of the world at a point in time, when Jesus said “It is finished.”

Karl Barth has written:

The many philosophical theories of time which deny its reality and regard it as a mere form or abstraction or figment of the imagination can only be finally abandoned when we consider that God himself once took time and treated it as something real [3]

Begbie argues from that we can use music to build on the fact that time is inherently good, and a gift. He says, “To share in music is to find a temporality in which – at least to some extent – past, present and future have been made to interweave fruitfully.” (Begbie, p.150)

Second, the Bible points us to a further insight, that time is holy. Heschel’s little book on The Sabbath has many insights, but none more rewarding I think than this:

One of the most distinguished words in the Bible is the word קָדוֹשׁ qadosh, holy… Now what was the first holy object in the history of the world? Was it a mountain? Was it an altar? It is, indeed, a unique occasion at which the distinguished word qadosh is used for the first time: in the Book of Genesis at the end of the story of creation. How extremely significant is the fact that it is applied to time: “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy” (Gen 2:3)…It seems as if to the Bible it is holiness in time, the Sabbath, which comes first.  (Heschel, p.9)

There is much more to be said, but for now let’s conclude with this. If time is good and time is holy then I must stop longing for the past or regretting the past; or longing for the future and loading it with expectation or dreading the future. I should recognise now as a gift and seek to enjoy it and savour it as good and holy; as a gift.

[1] Begbie, J. (2000). Theology, music, and time. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[2] Heschel, A. J. (1951). The Sabbath, its meaning for modern man. New York: Farrar, Straus and Young.

[3] Barth, K. (1957). Church Dogmatics; Volume 2, the Doctrine of God, Part 1, Edited by G.W / Bromiley and T.F. Torrance. S.l.: T. & t. Clark. p.620