A Love Stronger Than Death

Celebrating Easter with Anthems and Texts from the Song of Songs

Celebrating Easter with the Song of Songs may seem to be an unlikely pairing at first. But since we proclaim Christ as the consummate lover of the collective church and the individual soul, what could be more natural?

In this service there were two reading voices. The minister led the prayers and read the New Testament Scripture passages from the table, using the New Revised Standard Version. A communication professor read the Song of Songs text from a separate lectern, using the King James Version, with some slight modifications (we let the “turtledove” sing, rather than the “turtle”).

The “Alleluia/Hallelujah” acclamations were sung before and after each New Testament reading. People stood for this singing/reading.

The Song of Songs passages were, in effect, used as poetic interpretations of the Easter readings. This was not to diminish the fact that the Song of Songs texts are also “the Word of the Lord,” but it helped clue the congregation in to the fact that the Old Testament readings were reflective of the Easter readings.

The singing of the alleluia acclamations should “crescendo” throughout the service. (We sang the Honduras “Alleluia” in a sort of subdued way. We danced with the Zimbabwe “Hallelujah.”)

For each of the choral anthems below, an alternative congregational song is listed.


Choral Introit: “The Call” [sung from the aisles by the choir] (text: George Herbert; tune: Alexander Brent Smith)

Alt: “I Love You, Lord” CH 78, SNC 16, WR 85

Opening Sentences (from the Exultet, an ancient Easter hymn of praise)

Rejoice, heavenly powers!

Sing, choirs of angels!

Exult, all creation around God’s throne!

Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!

Sound the trumpet of salvation!

Rejoice, heavenly powers!

Sing, choirs of angels!

Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!

Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor,

radiant in the brightness of your King!

Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!

Darkness vanishes forever!

Rejoice, heavenly powers!

Sing, choirs of angels!

Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!

Rejoice, O mother church! Exult in glory!

The risen Savior shines upon you!

Let this place resound with joy,

echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!

Rejoice, heavenly powers!

Sing, choirs of angels!

Jesus Christ, our King, is risen! Amen.

Processional Hymn: “Alleluia! Alleluia! Hearts to Heaven and Voices Raise” CH 365, PsH 387, WR 289

Prayer (concluding with the Lord’s Prayer)

The Women Go to Anoint Jesus’ Body with Spices

Easter Alleluia: Taizé Alleluia 8

Alt: “Alleluia” PsH 639

Reading: Mark 16:1-4

I Come with Spices

Reading: Song of Songs 5:5-6

There Is But One, and That One Ever

Anthem: “I Got Me Flowers” (text: George Herbert; tune: Ralph Vaughan-Williams)

Alt: “O Sons and Daughters” PsH 393, SNT 107 (st. 1-3)

Mary Magdalene Discovers the Empty Tomb

Easter Alleluia: “Aleluya/Alleluia” from Honduras SNC 149

Reading: John 20:1-10

I Am My Beloved’s and My Beloved Is Mine

Reading: Song of Songs 6:1-3

Mary Recalls the Anointing of Jesus

Anthem: “The Anointing” (text: Charles Wesley; tune: Alice Parker)

Alt: “Break Open the Jar,” Rae E. Whitney

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

Easter Alleluia: “Celtic Alleluia” SNC 148

Reading: John 20:11-17

I Will Seek Him Whom My Soul Loves

Reading: Song of Songs 3:1-4a (end reading after “I held him and would not let him go.”)

After Disclosing Himself to Mary, Jesus Bids Her to Go

Anthem: “In the Garden,” Lloyd Larson

Alt: “Morning Sun” SNT 108, TH 287

Song: “Cristo Vive/Christ Is Risen” PH 109

The Surpassing Worth of Knowing Christ and the Power of His Suffering and Resurrection

Easter Alleluia: “Muscogee Alleluia” PH 595

Reading: Philippians 3:7-11

A Love Stronger than Death, Fierce, Unquenchable, a Treasure Beyond Our Means

Reading: Song of Songs 8:6-7

Love So Amazing Demands My Soul, My Life, My All

Anthem: “When I Survey” (text: Isaac Watts; tune: Gilbert Martin)

All Are Made Alive in Christ

Easter Alleluia: “Gospel Acclamation: Hallelujah” from Zimbabwe ELW 173 (see p. 35 this issue)

Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:20-22

The Winds Herald the Arrival of Spring

Reading: Song of Songs 4:16

To Walk Among the Springing Green

Anthem: “Christ Hath a Garden” (text: Isaac Watts, adapt. Robert Bridges; tune: Eleanor Daley)

Alt: “Christ Is Risen” SNC 147

The Night Is Over, Winter Is Past, the Land Springs with New Life

Reading: Song of Songs 2:3-4, 8-13

The Rising Sun Drives Away Gloom

Anthem: “O Day Full of Grace,” F. Melius Christiansen

Alt: “Because You Live, O Christ” PH 105, WR 292

Jesus Appears to the Disciples and Commissions Them

Easter Alleluia (sung by choir): “Toki Gong” (text and tune by Christian Isaac Tamaela)

Alt: “Halle, Halle, Hallelujah” (refrain only) RN 139, SNC 44, WR 5

Reading: Matthew 28:16-20

Prayers of the People

Eden Is Restored

Reading: Revelation 22:1-5

Hymn: “There in God’s Garden” SNC 138 (st. 1, all in unison; st. 2, women; st. 3, men; st. 4, all in harmony; st. 5 & 6, all in unison)

Responsive Reading

I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride;

I have gathered my myrrh with my spice.

I have eaten my honeycomb and my honey;

I have drunk my wine and my milk.

Eat, friends, and drink; drink your fill of love.

I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.

I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine. (Song of Songs 5:1, 3:2)

Behold, I am coming soon!

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,

the Beginning and the End.

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”

And let those who hear say, “Come!”

Let those who are thirsty come;

and let all who wish take the free gift of the water of life.

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. (Rev. 22:12-13, 17, 20)

Choral Response: “E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come,” Paul Manz

Alt: “Soon and Very Soon” CH 757, SFL 194, SNC 106, SWM 149, WR 523

Alt: “View the Present Through the Promise” SNC 90


The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people.


Passing of the Peace


Sample Bulletin Introduction

“St. Bernard, in eighty-six sermons [on the Song of Songs] composed over a period of eighteen years, had reached only the beginning of the third chapter. And that is understandable. When the spiritual man [sic] has told what he feels, what he thinks of the love of God—and he may be able to do so in a few verses—he has the right to lay down his pen.”

—Jean LeClercq, trans. Catharine Misrahi, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture (Fordham University Press, 1982) p. 85

As this legacy of St. Bernard attests, in the medieval cloister and university there was no book more contemplated or commented upon than the Old Testament book Song of Songs (also known as the Song of Solomon). We inherit from monastics and scholastics alike a disposition to read Christ as the consummate lover of the collective church and the individual soul.

Today we explore this tradition by pairing New Testament Easter texts with anthems and verses from the Song of Songs. By doing so, we confess that the love of God is “strong as death, its ardor as fierce as the grave!” (Song of Songs 8:6)

Martin Tel (martin.tel@ptsem.edu) is the C. F. Seabrook Director of Music at Princeton Theological Seminary, where he directs the seminary choirs, facilitates the music ministry for daily worship, and offers courses in the area of church music.

Reformed Worship 94 © December 2009, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.