Somewhere between Vacation Bible School and the Decalogue in the Book of Common Prayer, I know we have at some point in our lives memorized the Ten Commandments.
Well, this Sunday (March 4), the Ten Commandments appear and will be read officially as the First Lesson. Young and old alike will hear the beloved, famous Old Testament words, and I imagine many of us will remember when we first heard them.
To go along with the Ten Commandments early in the 10:30 liturgy, we are stepping out a bit, as it were, in hymnody. The Hymnal 1982 is a rich, vast wealth of resources, but in recent decades, the Episcopal Church has published a number of hymnal supplements with more specific emphases.
The supplement in our pews is Wonder, Love and Praise, which contains a little bit of everything: traditional texts to new tunes, traditional tunes with new words, hymns “borrowed” from other traditions, brand-new hymns all around, Taizé chants and new service music and canticles.
I confess that, for much of the time, we sing from Wonder, Love and Praise during Communion. A few times we have taken the top off the hymnological cookie jar and used it for the Sequence hymn, but I can think only of a couple of times when we have sung a procession hymn from the supplement.
When planning hymns, most often we want a tried-and-true parish favorite. Truth be told, we have sung this Sunday’s opening hymn during Communion for decades. My predecessor, colleague and best friend, Jim Brinson, taught “God the sculptor of the mountains” to this parish, and many people love it.
Sunday we are giving “God the sculptor” the place of honor as the opening hymn!
I believe the hymn speaks for itself. The Old Testament images are immediately apparent and a perfect accompaniment for Moses and the Ten Commandments:
God sculptor of the mountains
God the nuisance to the Pharaoh
God the cleaver of the sea
God the pillar of the darkness
This significant text goes on with New Testament images:
God the table turning prophet
God the resurrected Truth
The images in each stanza lead into a statement about divine nature:
You are womb of all creation: we are formless, shape us now.
You are gate of all deliverance: we are sightless, lead us now.
You are present every moment: we are searching, meet us now.
You are host at every table: we are hungry, feed us now.
The hymnal supplement committee felt so strongly about this text that it is set to two different tunes, the grand tune Sandria, which we will sing Sunday, and an ancient plainsong tune, Urbs beata.
As we are in the season of Lent, I will not be able to introduce this grand tune on the “Hosanna Horn” of the organ (by parish tradition, we traditionally silence our Festival Trompette until the Easter Vigil), but I look forward to bringing the text alive as we prepare our hearts to hear again the Ten Commandments and examine our own lives in this Lenten season.