Ye are the salt of the earth. Ye are the light of the world.
When I learned these scripture verses as a child, probably in VBS (Vacation Bible School, remember that?), I remember understanding the part about being a light to the world: Being Jesus’ hands and feet in the world, spreading his light, giving light to all in the house - not hiding it beneath a bushel basket - letting our light shine to others so that all may see our good works and that we may glorify our Father in heaven. As they say, I got all that.
But the salt part was a touch more difficult. In later years, I learned that in arid climates where the people in biblical times lived, salt was a necessity for life. It was the preservative for food, which made it life-sustaining. When salt has lost its effectiveness, it could not be mixed with the soil, which would cause plants to rot and die. The salt was disposed of in the street, “thrown out and trampled under foot.”
I also learned about salt in the film Gandhi. Different story, same principle.
Jesus’ teachings about salt and light are found in the Gospel reading for this Sunday (Feb. 5). The Parish Choir will sing an interesting text with a somewhat avant-garde musical setting by Erik Routley (1917-1982), an English Congregational minister, composer and musicologist. A graduate of Mansfield and Magdalene colleges at Oxford, he was professor of music at Westminster Choir College, Princeton, N.J.
Routley’s anthem features brief moments of rhythmic speech using the words “salt, light, city,” which grab the listener’s attention with their unusualness. The piece is completely reconciled with a key change and a sublime, hymn-like choral texture in the closing section, beginning with the words, “Judge me, Lord…”
Author of the words, I-To Loh, is perhaps more significant than even Routley’s music, and I wish I knew the full connection between the two. Routley inscribed this anthem to the choir of Princeton Theological Seminary (Presbyterian), also located in Princeton along with Princeton University and Westminster Choir College. Therefore, “Presbyterian” is the common thread here.
The Reverend Dr. I-To Loh (b. 1936) was born in Taiwan and graduated from the Tainan Theological College and Seminary (Presbyterian), where he also served as president. He also holds degrees from the Union Theological Seminary School of Music in New York (master’s in composition) and the University of California at Los Angeles (Ph.D. in ethnomusicology).
Dr. Loh has composed more than 100 original hymns and edited 20 hymnals. His text was originally in Chinese and is obviously based upon Matthew 5:13-16.
In this Sunday’s morning leaflet, read this poignant anthem text and the accompanying printed Gospel text as the choir sings the anthem at the Offertory.