Before all of this, however, we have three very festive, very important feast days coming up on the liturgical calendar. I've included a "quick-study guide" for these events below.
Sunday after the Ascension, May 29th
Although the feast of the Ascension of the Lord is assigned to Thursday, May 25th, most churches celebrate it on the Seventh Sunday of Easter. This special day recalls the ascension of Christ into heaven to be seated at the throne of God. The introit and processional hymn both announce this day with unbridled joy as we sing, "Crown him with many crowns" at the beginning of the service. The first reading speaks of the ascension itself, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." The psalm refrain calls us to sing praises to God, and the text of Psalm 68 itself is powerful as it proclaims, "Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee before him." The second reading, from the first letter of Peter, encourages us to persevere in faith even in the face of suffering, and the Gospel contains the beautiful prayer of Christ before ascending to the throne of God. The choir anthem is a joyous setting of "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day,"an old English carol that compares the life of Christ to a dance in which we are invited to join.
The Day of Pentecost: Whitsunday, June 4th
This day is known as the birthday of the church. It commemorates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples, a gift which manifested itself as a rushing wind and tongues of fire. These vivid images are notoriously inspirational for musicians, and our music will reflect the joy and power of such a special day. The introit will be a setting of the ancient Latin hymn, "Veni Sancte Spiritus (Come, Holy Spirit)." Following this invocation, we will process into the church singing, "Come down, O love divine," and our Gloria will be replaced by a wonderful hymn, "Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest." The psalm asks God to, "renew the face of the earth," and the sequence hymn sings of the vitality and creative power of the Holy Spirit. Finally, we process out to, "Put forth, O God, thy Spirit's might." Notice that nearly all of the music implores the Spirit of God to come and be present with us now. So, while this service commemorates the beginning of the church, it is also very much for us who are here in this time and place.
Trinity Sunday, June 11th
Trinity Sunday is all about the nature of God as we understand it - in three persons. The first reading speaks of the act of creation, the Spirit of God moving across the water. The psalm refers to God as our governor, the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians speaks of, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit [. . .]" being with us, and the Gospel reading features a commission given by Christ to the apostles - they are sent out to baptize in the name of the Trinity. These last two readings are both a sort of farewell, and it seems fitting that after them, we go into the vast expanse of ordinary time - into a time of peace and rest. This will be the last Sunday of the 2016-2017 Music Season, and there will be plenty of great music to help us celebrate. The introit includes words on the Trinity by Julian of Norwich (1342-1416), the hymns focus on the Trinity as well, but I especially want to call attention to the first communion hymn on this day, "I bind unto myself today,"also known as "St. Patrick's Breastplate." It is rare to sing this piece, as it is quite long, but there is perhaps no better piece of music or prose for Trinity Sunday. It is sung at many ordinations.
"I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three."
Words: attributed to St. Patrick (372-466)
trans. Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895)