In some churches, it is customary to “bury the alleluias” during Lent, and so the last Sunday after Epiphany had special texts replete with alleluias in an attempt to sing and say as many as possible before Ash Wednesday. Our recessional hymn, Ye watchers and ye holy ones, serves this purpose for us with its chorus of five-fold alleluias after each verse. Our sequence hymn, There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, reminds us, in the face of Lent, that God is indeed merciful and that, “there’s a welcome for the sinner and more graces for the good.” The choir will offer an anthem by Lloyd Larson (b. 1954), O Praise the Lord, that sings praises of God’s goodness and mercy coupled with a flamboyant melody intended to uplift the hearts of listeners. The processional hymn, Songs of thankfulness and praise, reminds us of the many manifestations of Christ in the Epiphany readings. We hear of Christ at Cana, as miracle-worker and healer, as one reborn in baptism, and as the resplendent Messiah on Mount Tabor, the mountain of the Transfiguration.
Our readings focus on Christ’s Transfiguration and its prefiguring in Hebrew Scripture in the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. To highlight this, the organ prelude will be These are the holy ten commands (Dies sind die heil’gen zehn gebot’) by J. S. Bach (1685-1750). This prelude comes from a little book of organ pieces for the liturgical year, Das Orgelbüchlein. In this book, Bach writes organ pieces based on around 45 familiar hymns of his era. Although many may be unfamiliar with these tunes, the symbolism Bach uses in this piece shouldn’t be lost on the listener! You will hear many repeated notes in the pedal line, and it is thought that Bach uses this to symbolize the commandments themselves. It is lamentable that we lose the “instant recognition” Bach’s congregations would have had for these tunes. Interestingly, Bach composed these pieces while imprisoned in Weimar for seeking release from his employment there. That such devout music came from such circumstances is understandable but still amazing.
The translation of the hymn on which Sunday’s prelude is based is as follows:
These are the holy ten commands,
Which came to us from God’s own hands
By Moses, who obeyed His will,
Standing upon Sini’s [sic] hill.
Have mercy, Lord!
- trans. George MacDonald (1824-1905)