Keeping the realms straight

“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Yes, this Sunday is our annual Celebration Sunday (AKA Stewardship Sunday). And no, we did not plan this to coincide with this Sunday’s Gospel reading … I promise, cross my heart.

However, I believe this line from the Sunday Gospel has much to say about everything in our lives. Though Jesus was talking specifically about taxes and coin money and such, this lesson is applicable to life in general.

In a way, perhaps Jesus was saying, “Get things in proper order, and don’t sweat the small stuff.”

Only four lines above Jesus’ words, the Pharisees, those pesky, literal traditionalists who seemed to always challenge him, appear  to have had a moment of clarity and commended him: “Teacher, we know that you are sincere and teach the way of God in accordance with truth … for you do not regard people with partiality.”

Searching for truth and not regarding people with partiality — a good lesson for us all.

This Sunday morning’s 10:30 anthem at the Offertory, which will be sung by both the Parish Choir and the CHC Choristers, has much to say about purging our land of bitter things, pining for release, crying aloud for sin’s cessation, pleading in silence for peace and cleansing the body of this nation. Yes, Lord.

The writer also asks for God to crown his own endeavor, cleave the world’s darkness with the sword, and feed the faint and hungry with the word. Some will question the sword as militaristic, but I see that sword perhaps slashing the curtains through which God’s light will shine forth.

The best line of this text is, “Cleanse the body of this nation through the glory of the Lord.” Wow. And just wait to hear what this anthem setting does on the last page with that line: high A-flats for the sopranos and a bombastic romp of the organ all the way to the last chord!

The Reverend Canon Henry Scott Holland (1847-1918) was professor of divinity at the University of Oxford and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. He was a strong supporter of the Christian Social Union, and this text first appeared in the July 1902 issue of its magazine, of which Canon Holland was the editor. The text then appeared in The English Hymnal four years later.

(Though there are many stellar, world-famous choirs at Cambridge University, I have a special place in my heart for Oxford as I was lucky enough to spend two weeks on sabbatical there in 2009. In the Oxbridge rivalry, I have surprisingly landed on the Oxford side of the fence, something I would not have predicted twenty years ago.)

“Judge eternal” is found in many denominational hymnals in this country. It is also contained in our hymnal, The Hymnal 1982 (Hymn 596), where is it set to a German chorale tune. However, Gerre Hancock (1934-2012), longtime choirmaster of St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue in New York and one of my mentors, penned this glorious choral setting for the American Guild of Organists 1988 national convention in Houston. I happened to attend.

I knew that Dr. Hancock was conducting a combined choir for the opening service, but I did not know that he had been commissioned to write a festival anthem for the occasion. So there I sat at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, in a 1,750-seat sanctuary thinking, “I grew up Methodist, but this is the largest Methodist church I’ve ever seen.” Two years later, I found myself as senior associate musician on a 10-person music staff of this 8,400-member church with four Sunday morning services, one of which was televised live, and a parish staff of more than 50.

Dr. Hancock lifted his own theme/tune from his anthem, and it now appears in our hymnal supplement, Wonder, Love, and Praise, set to the incredible text, “God the sculptor of the mountains,” and named Sandria for Sandria Ward, a lovely lady who was dean of the AGO Houston Chapter when I moved there in 1990. She and Dr. Hancock were longtime buddies.

Life is funny with how all these connections seem to wire together or chase you, as it may be. I did not intend for this blog, or this Sunday’s anthem for that matter, to be about me. It is a worthy, grand setting of a worthy, grand text. The music is not easy, and I commend our young Choristers and the Parish Choir for tackling it on Celebration Sunday.

Judge eternal, throned in splendor, Lord of lords and King of kings,
with thy living fire of judgment purge this land of bitter things:

solace all its wide dominion with the healing of thy wings.

Still the weary folk are pining for the hour that brings release:

and the city’s crowded clangor cries aloud for sin to cease.

And the homesteads and the woodlands plead in silence for their peace.

Crown, O God, thine own endeavor; cleave our darkness with thy sword:

feed the faint and hungry faithful with the richness of thy word.

Cleans the body of this nation through the glory of the Lord.

                                                                              H. Scott Holland (1847-1918)

Click here to listen to the St. Thomas Choir sing Hancock’s “Judge Eternal” for the 2016 American Guild of Organists National Convention in Houston, in concert at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. (Scroll over to 1:05 in the video).

Posted by Dr. David Ouzts at 1:40 PM
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