Songs of Hope, Glory, and Joy
The three songs chosen for this column all come from England and are found in a new hymnal, Sing Glory, produced by Jubilate Hymns, Ltd., the publishing arm of a group of about sixty British clergy, authors, and musicians that have been active in preparing new songs for the church since the 1960s (see box on p. 31 and a review of Sing Glory on p. 47). The first song predates the formation of the Jubilate Group; the other two are by active members of the group.
Tell Out, My Soul
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Mary’s response to the angel’s news was a song sung later in the presence of her relative Elizabeth (“My soul magnifies the Lord,” Luke 1:46-55), a song that Christians have been singing ever since, often named the Magnificat after the first word of the song in Latin. In fact, it may be the portion of Scripture most frequently set to music (one publisher lists 876 different items for this text). It is sung every day to numerous settings at evensong in English cathedrals and frequently elsewhere around the world. Grand settings like Bach’s or Vivaldi’s Magnificat appear as concert pieces.
Mary’s song is reminiscent of Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10, also a response to the birth of a child. In both cases the songs of these women were also responses to the Word of God—Eli’s assurances to Hannah (1 Sam. 1:17) and the angel’s announcement to Mary. These songs are juxtaposed to God’s good words (see box this page).
Use Dudley-Smith’s setting of Mary’s song as a response to the good news announced in the Old Testament lesson for the first Sunday in Advent (Isa. 2:1-5, Revised Common Lectionary), which says, in part:
[The Lord] shall judge between the nations and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares . . . (v. 4a).
To which the people respond in song, “Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord! Unnumbered blessings give my spirit voice. . . .”
Isaiah is rich with images and ways of anticipating the coming of Messiah. In this passage, he reaches back to the assembly of God’s people at Mount Sinai. There the newly redeemed people of Israel gathered in God’s presence to learn his words so that they might walk in his paths. In Isaiah’s prediction, the place is changed from Sinai to Jerusalem, reflecting the placement of the temple on Zion, the new mountain meeting place with God. Isaiah is also anticipating, in a shadowy way, the coming of Messiah, to judge the nations into peace.
As we approach the Christmas celebration by way of Advent, this text casts our anticipation in Isaiah’s images. It will be a time of beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, a time of peace on earth—words we are longing to hear in the twenty-first century.
Just as Mary, in the Lucan account, bursts into song as she thinks of the promises given to her about the child she carries, we also sing in hope for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s promise, “tender to me the promise of his word; in God my Savior shall my heart rejoice. . . . His mercy sure, from age to age the same. . . .” Indeed, “Tell out, my soul, the glories of his word!”
Author Timothy Dudley-Smith (b. 1926) is the retired Bishop of Thetford in the Church of England. He has been writing hymn texts, now numbering well over 200, for more than forty years; they are published in more than 250 hymnals and collected in A House of Praise (Carol Stream, IL: Hope, 2003; see review on p. 46). Composer Walter Greatorex (1877-1949) was a chorister at King’s College, Cambridge, before teaching music in two English public schools. When Dudley-Smith’s version of Mary’s song is wed to Greatorex’s tune woodlands, the result is an exuberant hymn of hope and anticipation fit for the Advent season.
Jesus Christ the Lord Is Born
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The lectionary readings for the Sunday after Christmas show rejoicing at God’s favor and mercy in saving his people by his own presence (Isa. 63:7-9). Reciting Psalm 148 picks up this note of joy, calling us twelve times to praise the Lord. The mention of God’s presence leads us to the house where the Magi came. But all was not celebration. King Herod was “about to search for the child to destroy him” (Matt. 2:13-23). Hebrews 2:10-18 tells us that Jesus suffered “to help those who are being tested” and died “to destroy the one who has the power of death.” The long shadow of Herod led to the cross, anticipating the crucifixion.
If you sing this hymn between the readings from Isaiah and Matthew, the opening lines “Jesus Christ the Lord is born/all the bells are ringing” reflect the joy of Isaiah’s promise. But use it more as preparation for the Matthew reading, anticipating the Magi’s visit with, “Soon shall come the wise men three,/rousing Herod’s anger;/mothers’ hearts shall broken be/and Mary’s son in danger.”
The final stanza brings the congregation back to glory, reflecting the reading from Hebrews: “Death from life and life from death/our salvation’s story:/let all living things give breath/to Christmas songs of glory!” David Iliff’s arrangement of the sixteenth-century tune piae cantiones carries the message joyfully at times; fearfully at others. Sing stanza 4 in a subdued way, tiptoeing around Herod’s anger. Then burst into glory with the descant on stanza 5.
Author Michael Perry (1942-1996) was a curate and priest in Lancashire, Hampshire, and Kent. He was involved in editing most of the books issued by Jubilate Hymns. Composer David Iliff is director of music at Holy Trinity, Brussels. He is music editor of Carols for Today (1986) and Psalms for Today (1990). He has been involved in composing and arranging music for many of the worship books produced by the Jubilate team, including Sing Glory.
Come, Rejoice Before Your Maker
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On the third and fourth Sundays in Epiphany season, the lectionary suggests readings from 1 Corinthians. Corinth was one place where Epiphany’s emphasis on making Christ known to the nations came to fruition. On the neck of an isthmus, Corinth was a busy seaport. Many nations walked the streets and doubtless made up the church to which Paul wrote. They were so diverse that they easily divided into factions (1:10-18) and had difficulty eating a meal together (11:17-22).
How fitting, then, is the call of this hymn, “Come, rejoice before your maker/all you peoples of the earth. . . . We are his, for he has made us;/we are sheep within his fold.” It reminds today’s diverse congregations that the one God made us to worship and serve him together. Use it as the opening hymn, a call to all God’s people everywhere to worship him. If the congregation is multiethnic, this hymn will fit immediately. If not, it should expand the congregation’s horizons to realize that “saints from every tribe and language and people and nation” are worshiping with them around the globe, many using the same lectionary. Tredinnick’s tune uses the brightness of D major and the vigor of his harmonies to bring us joyfully into praise. Baughen’s fresh version of the well-known psalm will awaken singers who thought they already knew “Old Hundredth.”
Author Michael Baughen (b. 1930) served as priest in Nottingham, Surrey, and Manchester, and as candidates secretary for Church Pastoral Aid Society before succeeding John Stott at All Souls’ Church, London. Since 1972, composer Noel Tredinnick (b. 1949) has been the organist and musical director of All Souls’ Church. He is also professor of conducting, orchestration, and keyboard at the Guildhall School in London, and conducts for BBC television and for other British and American orchestras.
In his book Holy Ground (Fortress, 2003), author Gordon Lathrop comments, “The liturgy uses juxtaposition—one thing put next to another, ‘one part against another across a silence’—as its most basic tool of meaning.”
Juxtaposition also takes us into the details of the liturgy showing us how the various pieces fit together and interact. The Revised Common Lectionary lists three readings for each Sunday, along with a Psalm portion. One text, set next to another, across a pause, produces meaning. When a psalm is recited or sung between the passages it gives even more meaning. How do these readings and psalms fit together, enrich each other? The sermon is the extended pause for reflection, drawing out the meaning even further.
Understanding these interactions is helpful to me as I plan the details of a worship service. I begin by consulting the lectionary or otherwise choosing Old and New Testament passages for the readings. With those established I look at the service outline to find possibilities for juxtaposition as I choose hymns to use. Where is there a possibility for interaction that will reinforce and open up meaning? Then I look for hymns that can prepare for the readings, respond to one or both of them, and respond to the sermon or prepare for the Lord’s Supper.
The Jubilate Group
The Jubilate group was founded by Michael Baughen (pronounced “bawn”), who was “drawn into church through the choir. I was in secondary schooling during the war of 1939-1945—in bomb alley!” In the early 1970s he joined the staff of All Souls’ Church in London, became John Stott’s successor in 1975, and later was Bishop of Chester until his retirement.
Baughen and Jubilate Hymns Ltd. (a nonprofit company linked to a charitable trust) are part of the vigorous evangelical movement in the Church of England spearheaded by leaders like J. I. Packer and Stott. The hymns are characterized by faithfulness to biblical Christianity, the use of traditional worship texts like the Psalms, and a graceful, contemporary style. Jubilate’s music is marked by singable melodies that are lean and spare, almost folk-like; free, flexible rhythm; and strong, uncomplicated harmonies. The publications of the Jubilate Group include the following:
• Youth Praise 1 (1966) and 2 (1969), which together sold over a million copies.
• Psalm Praise (1973), developed to enable people to sing, not merely to say, the Psalms. Most texts and tunes included were newly written for this book. (Examples can also be found in the Psalter Hymnal for Psalms 15, 16, 20, 30.)
• Hymns for Today’s Church (Hodder and Stoughton, 1982) and Sing Glory (Kevin Mayhew, 1999). Two major hymnals; for a review of the latter, see page 47.
Jubilate’s texts and tunes are represented by Hope Publishing Company in North America (www.hopepublishing.com).