The music this week reflects themes of Advent while still holding on to our great green “Sundays after Pentecost” progression which builds to the celebration of Christ the King Sunday on November 23rd. Our processional hymn reflects the Gospel perfectly. It begins, “Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates; behold the King of glory waits! The King of kings is drawing near; the Savior of the world is here.” These words announce the coming of the bridegroom, the Christ, for whom we wait. The sequence hymn comes directly from the Gospel and the Advent section of the hymnal. “Rejoice! rejoice, believers, and let your lights appear! The evening is advancing, and darker night is near. The Bridegroom is arising, and soon he will draw nigh; up, watch in expectation! At midnight comes the cry.” What powerful words! Other hymns continue to reflect the dual messages of this time of year. Finally, we process out into the world to, Guide me, O thou great Jehovah, a hymn imploring God’s guidance to help us navigate the sometimes confusing passages of life.
During communion, Charles W. York will sing, Zion hört die Wächter singen, from cantata 140 by J. S. Bach (1685-1750). The piece will be sung in the original German, but an English translation is provided below.
”Zion hears the watchmen singing
The maidens’ hearts with joy are springing
They wake and quickly to Him go.
Their Friend comes in Heav’nly splendor
With graceful strength, with mercy tender
Their light is bright, their star doth glow.
Now come, thou worthy One;
Lord Jesus, God’s own Son
We follow all To that glad hall
To our Lord’s table we are called.”
You may recognize the tune from the hymn, Sleepers, wake! Bach composed over 220 cantatas, and most of them were performed at his last post at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. The Lutheran church cantata has a long history, but in simple terms, it is a sermon in sound. Bearing similarity to the Propers of the Mass in Catholic traditions, a cantata was a musical work composed to be performed on a particular Sunday of the year. The big difference is that a cantata contained words of scripture as well as prosaic texts more like a libretto compared to the strict nature of the Propers. The church cantata shaped Lutheran church music for over a century. During the years of almost feverish and frenzied activity when Bach composed most of his cantatas, he normally only had one week to write the entire piece! This is astonishing when we consider that his cantatas are all about 30 minutes in length or longer. We will also hear the choir sing a famous movement from another of Bach’s cantatas, Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, during the offertory.
Finally, I would like to draw your attention to the organ prelude and postlude, both by Flor Peeters (1903-1986). Peeters was a renowned pedagogue, organist, and composer in Belgium. In the prelude, you will hear a quiet and beautiful musical meditation featuring the oboe stop on the organ. The postlude, however, stands in marked contrast with a much more muscular sound that hearkens back to earlier compositional techniques. This is a type of music that is not widespread, and it is exciting to hear this modern descendant of the great German tradition.
As we experience this uniquely German influenced service on Sunday, I invite you to allow yourself to be pulled in the direction of Advent while still lingering “after Pentecost”. As we push forward and fall back, we embrace this time of transition. We are in store for a thrilling ride.
Christopher W. Powell
Organist and Choir Master