This Sunday, we begin with a hymn that truly has the meaning of Epiphany as a season at heart, Songs of thankfulness and praise. The old German hymn tune, brilliantly harmonized by J. S. Bach (1685-1750), is paired with a text by Christopher Wordsworth (1807-1885), and a fourth verse by F. Bland Tucker (1895-1984). Each verse ends with the phrase, “God in man made manifest.” From there, our service moves toward the Gospel reading of Jesus’ baptism, and we sing On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry as the Sequence hymn. Our Communion hymns focus on the Holy Spirit, certainly an important part of manifestation and baptism, and finally, the Recessional hymn, Hail to the Lord’s anointed, sums everything up by returning to a celebration of Christ’s identity. This last hymn is, interestingly, a German folk song adapted and harmonized by none other than H. Walford Davies (1869-1941), one of the most influential English organist/choirmasters and teachers of his generation. The text is a paraphrase of Psalm 72.
Sunday’s musical centerpiece is the Offertory anthem, Jesus is my joy forever (Jesus bleibet meine freude), by J. S. Bach. It is actually part of a larger work, Cantata BWV 147. The cantata has the Visitation of St. Mary to Elizabeth as its liturgical theme, and while that story takes place during Advent, if that isn’t a manifestation of Christ, I don’t know what is! Innumerable volumes have been written about Bach’s use of symbolism in his compositions, and his cantatas are as dramatic as any opera of his day. One very special aspect of the Lutheran cantata of the Baroque period is its vacillation between proclamation of scripture and a response on behalf of the listener. Jesus is my joy forever is one of those responses.
Finally, please attend our first Epiphany concert this Sunday at 4:00 P. M. in the church. The program, Paris, 1690, features a combination of organ music and Gregorian chant presented in approximately the way it was heard in Paris in the year of its composition, 1690. This concert will also feature meditations by our Cathedral Dean. Come and bring friends!