Hymnody helps make the season(s)

AnastasiI’ve joked this week with a couple of friends that if their church didn’t sing either ‘Christ the Lord Is Risen Today‘ or ‘Jesus Christ Is Risen Today‘, they didn’t ‘have Easter’. This, of course, isn’t really fair, but it’s interesting how deeply hymns can affect one’s experience of the feasts of the church year. For me, a great lover of Easter, no amount of confetti (actually used at an Edinburgh church), no size of chocolate egg (giant egg actually present at another Edinbugh church) can really make the festival feel complete without the ‘right’ hymns (plus the ancient, universal Easter acclamation — Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!). A sermon on the Resurrection is always good (that [Anglican] church in Toronto that once preached on the Good Samaritan one Easter Sunday missed the ball there), as are Easter lilies.

But for me, Easter without the ‘right’ hymns is like … Christmas with no presents. Or something.

Easter is not alone.

Good Friday requires ‘O Sacred Head‘, does it not?

Palm Sunday would seem off without ‘All Glory, Laud, and Honour‘ and ‘Ride On, Ride on in Majesty‘.

And what of Ash Wednesday without ‘Forty Days and Forty Nights‘?

Christmas carols and Advent hymns obviously make the season, so I’ll skip them.

In Toronto, we went to Little Trinity Anglican Church, and what makes Trinity Sunday there is the singing of ‘St Patrick’s Breasplate‘.

Long after the chocolate has been eaten, the lilies have withered, the sermon has been mostly forgotten, the hymns — the beautiful, triumphant Easter hymns — stay with us, dancing through our minds and hearts, drawing us to our risen Saviour.

They are a blessing and to be highly esteemed.

Advertisements

Traditional and Modern Meet in Steve Bell’s CD “Devotion”

AMC Casiday, in Tradition and Theology in St. John Cassian, writes something along the lines of being traditional as creative interaction with one’s origins.*  This is, essentially, what Steve Bell‘s CD Devotion does.

The songs Steve chose for Devotion, save two, are by Gord Johnson, a songwriter from his (Anglican) church in Winnipeg, St. Benedict’s Table.  They would sing these songs in church, and, it seems, Steve really liked them and wanted to share them with the world; these riches were not to be hoarded.  So, with Johnson’s blessing, Steve Bell recorded the album Devotion, a worship album of relatively simple yet deep songs of worship and prayer, praise and supplication.

The lyrics of “Almighty God”, the very first song on the CD will be familiar to all who have been to an Anglican Eucharist:

Almighty God
To you all hearts are open
All desires known
No secrets are hidden
Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
By the inspiration of your Holy Spirit
That we may perfectly love you
Worthily magnify your holy name
Through Christ our Lord

Two other songs draw upon older texts: Gayle Salmond’s “The Lorica”, a modern reworking of “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.”  I love the original hymn, but enjoy singing this new telling of it.  The other is “Benediction.”  For those of us who pray Compline, this is Johnson’s adaptation of the ancient office hymn “Before the Ending of Day” (“Te Lucis Ante Terminum”).

While few other songs are modern retunings and rewordings of old prayers and hymns, still, I believe, the spirit of these songs is the spirit of the Great Tradition.  One of my favourites is “Praise the Father, Praise the Son,” whose chorus is thus:

Praise the Father, praise the Son
Praise the Spirit, three in one
Who was and is and is to come
All praise and honour and glory and power
O praise his name forever

Also great is “Embrace the Mystery,” a very short Eucharistic song (“Behold what you are / Become what you receive / Take up this bread and wine / Embrace the mystery”).  The other songs are also great and notably singable and full of grace, beauty, and truth, the same truths and ideas found in the traditional hymns.

Worship is not about how you feel.  It is not about your ability to connect with God.  It is about rendering praise to God and telling Him how much He is worth (worth + ship = worship).  It is extolling his Name.  We are, however, to worship Him in spirit and in truth.  Songs such as these help us focus our spirit so that we are singing more than mere words, as our minds focus their attention on the words — empty diction, empty syntax, empty grammar — and infuse them with meaning.

Whether you feel good, bad, or indifferent, singing a Gord Johnson song will help you focus your mind on God.  This is worship.

*I’m in Ottawa; my notes are in Toronto.  I’ll let you know later what the proper quotation is.