Notes

Covidtide

After taking July off, our music blog is going to return here on a monthly basis, at least for a while.

As we know, during the liturgical season of Covidtide, everything changes about every 2-4 weeks. And this summer has been no different.

Truth be told, after the initial mid-March surprise of Covidtide, we scrambled a bit as a parish staff. Decisions had to be quickly made, which would then be affected by the next steps or guidelines released by the state, city, or diocese.

Holy Week and Easter came and went in mid-April, and by May we had a few weeks of experience under our belts. Our annual parish staff calendar planning day, the annual April retreat day where we plan out the program calendar for at least 18 months, was tabled because everything was still changing about every 2-4 weeks.

But by June 1, we had in-hand enough experience to draft a good parish plan for worship and programming, a professional grand reveal video of the new nave interior, and movement toward partial re-entry of physically distanced worshippers. This summer plan was charted for June 1 through Labor Day, and we have done quite well, I must say.

The September issue of The Communicator will be itself a grand reveal of Covidtide fall programming in every area of ministry, everything from soccer to small groups to Bible studies, all properly physically distanced, of course.

While we are not having a traditional Rally Day this year, this September issue will essentially be our Rally Day in print. It feels very good to have exciting plans and programs in place as we confidently move forward, even in the midst Covidtide.

Catching up this afternoon with archiving this blog (archiving is a new term in my world, like livestreaming or superspreading), I have laughed at myself by reading my own blog titles since March. In some way they document Covidtide history in this parish, though I can imagine that none of us want to relive any of the recent months.

Blog dates and titles, followed by their true translations or hidden meanings:

March 9, 2020: The Old Days

(“We have to figure out how to have Morning Prayer again because we are not allowed to celebrate the Holy Eucharist”)

March 24, 2020: Interesting times

(“We still cannot celebrate Communion, which means that we still have to have Morning Prayer”)

March 31, 2020: The organ is ready to be played, but the organist is not there

(“Worship is now being livestreamed from the Children’s Chapel, and the organist has to play the piano just as he has for the past year for worship in Cheney Parish Hall”)

April 22, 2020: Musical gems or musical chestnuts

(“During Covidtide, I believe our parishioners will appreciate hearing some familiar tunes”)

May 6, 2020: Virtual Bread of Heaven

(“We still cannot serve Communion”)

May 13, 2020: These virtual times

(“Everything has changed, and I mean everything” was the opening line. Enough said.)

May 27, 2020: Parish organists and pianists

(“The parish organist finally gets to play the organ for worship again”)

June 16, 2020: We’re back!

(“Livestream worship is moving back into the nave, and the organist no longer has to play the piano”)

Personally, I am very grateful for the musicians with whom I work, all of whom have answered “yes” first whenever asked to sing or play. We are still bound by very specific guidelines when using solo singers or instrumentalists, but we hope to begin carefully expanding our online Sunday morning musical offerings after Labor Day.

Our Saturday Morning online musical offerings will also expand this fall beyond only organ music to some guest instrumentalists. Our children’s choirs will piggy-back onto the Sunday Children’s Chapel online offerings, and the Parish Choir will continue to put together occasional virtual choir offerings.

So, as we say in showbiz, “stay tuned.” (also the exact final line of my May 13 blog)

Photo credit: 9:00 AM Sunday liturgy during the First Reading, physically distanced worshippers in pews, view from behind the organ console, July 2020. Photo by David Ouzts.

Posted by Dr. David Ouzts at Tuesday, August 18, 2020

We're back

Yes, we’re back in the nave, after almost exactly one calendar year.

In late June 2019, we had one final Sunday in the nave, “Folding Chairs Sunday,” which bookended nicely with the very first Sunday in the new nave in January 1950, also before the new pews had arrived.

This past winter and spring, the nave renovations were on schedule for a triumphant return on Palm Sunday.

But then the season of Covidtide hit, and everything changed.

Indeed, we have had a bit of a jumbled return to the nave. Some history:

In mid-March 2020, when we began socially distancing and everyone went to livestream worship, the nave, with its already-planned permanently installed livestreaming camera system, was not finished.

Our main chapel, Quilling Memorial Chapel, is a transept of the nave and was, therefore, inaccessible as well. Our only functioning liturgical space was the new Children’s Chapel in the Children’s Ministry Suite.

We quickly set up iPads and iPhones on tripods and began holding Sunday services there, where we held all Sunday liturgies until June 7, the date that we returned to the nave.

Speaking of iPads, all the new state-of-the-art systems in the nave are controlled by laptop computers (cameras) and iPads (audio). The electronic brains for everything are in a locked closet in the narthex.

And the electronic learning curves are steep, particularly for Episcopalians, bless our hearts.

Dr. Koziel and I now have a video monitor and an audio iPad on the organ console, and we presently know how to do only one particular thing on each device. The learning curve is real – exciting but real.

Our parishioners have been wonderfully patient but were understandably eager to see the new interior of the nave. When a Palm Sunday triumphant re-entry became impossible, the schedules for the final projects (nave, parish hall, parking lots, landscaping, signage) were revised and stepped-up. In many ways, Covidtide bought us a few weeks during which the final work could happen faster.

But, again, just like 1950, we found ourselves waiting on the pews.

(Why is it always the pews?)

The week preceding June 7 arrived, and the question then became, “With Covidtide and required physical distancing, how to we invite the parishioners in to see the finished nave?”

Do we have a liturgy every hour on the hour all day to get everyone in, donned in masks and grouped into 48 (our nave magic number) socially distanced family units?

Do we schedule some combination of socially distanced and livestreamed services?

Do we spread the invitations out over a couple of Sundays and, again, come up with a combination of in-person and livestreamed offerings?

A very wise Episcopal priest once said to me that Episcopalians have an innate desire to “tweak and revise,” which I have found to be very true. Add myself to this list.

Perhaps we have this desire because our liturgies, thanks to the richness of the Book of Common Prayer, are rooted and grounded in centuries of unchanged tradition. Because we love our worship traditions, we want to always offer our best, ever improving and making things better.

So, as human beings are irresistibly wont to do, we tweak and revise.

Wisely and in a moment of parish staff clarity, we decided to not meddle with what is working well, that is, our Sunday livestreamed services at 8:00 and 10:30 AM and 5:30 PM.

Moving these liturgies from the Children’s Chapel into the nave was fairly easy, only requiring one big liturgical rehearsal ably guided by the professionals from Memphis Audio.

For two successive Sunday afternoons, we designed afternoon Pilgrimages, brief liturgies of rededication adapted from the Dedication and Consecration of a Church in the Book of Common Prayer and consisting basically of opening sentences, scripture, homily, prayers of rededication, a blessing and dismissal, and two organ voluntaries.

Each service lasted about twenty minutes, leaving a full hour buffer for our sexton staff to clean and sanitize to keep everyone safe. Parishioners signed up to attend the service of their choice. There was even enough time for people to depart slowly and look around a bit, all physically distanced and wearing masks, of course.

On the Saturday prior, a professional video reveal of the nave was uploaded to our parish platforms. An unexpected blessing from Covidtide is that we now have this beautiful video, which may now be used for all-time.

For the foreseeable future, Sundays will consist of a variety of physically distanced in-person services and livestreamed services, requiring all of us to think and plan differently and creatively.

But, we’re back!

View the grand reveal nave video by clicking here.

Photo Credits: David Perry Ouzts.

Posted by Dr. David Ouzts at Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Parish organists and pianists

A moment of personal privilege here, please.

Next Sunday (June 7) is the day I return to the world as the parish organist. This Sunday (May 31) is my last Sunday as the parish pianist.

In June 2019, we vacated the nave for construction and refurbishment. The balcony was sealed off with huge sheets of thick plastic. Later a wooden frame with plastic was constructed directly in front of the organ façade, and the organ console was encased in thick plastic.

All Sunday worship moved to Cheney Parish Hall, on a wonderfully reverberant unfinished cement floor, where we had the use of a baby grand piano, portative organ, Kawai digital piano with weighted keys, and occasional instrumentalists.

From July 2019 to March 2020, this was the plan. We had big Christmas Eve services there, two of them even with a brass quintet. The weather outside for the 4:00 p.m. Christmas Eve service was so hot that we had the parish hall windows open.

We had the Parish Choir, cantors, and soloists, pretty much as usual. The choir fell into a nice routine in our assigned chairs behind the parish hall altar. Spread from one side of the room to the other, I thought they resembled the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

And the choir had some real choral “moments,” as we experimented with numerous a cappella anthems, different choral configurations (some of those necessary for sightlines), and various choral ensembles.

But then, at the beginning of Lent, the season of COVIDtide arrived. Everything changed.

Socially distanced liturgies quickly morphed into a priest, a pianist, and a videographer, all captured in the newly completed Children’s Chapel by an iPhone and a tripod.

And the rest is history, as they say.

Since then, we have carefully added cantors or instrumentalists, increasing our worship leadership to four per service.

However, in the midst of COVIDtide, we find the blessings if we look for them.

All along, the nave renovation plan included the installation of a state-of-the-art, permanently installed livestreaming system, which we will use for the first time on June 7.

When the construction workers left and we received the occupancy certificate, our organ technicians spent a week cleaning, reconnecting, and tuning the organ, which, with our new tile and marble floor, has never sounded better.

Even the organ console rear view mirror that was carefully focused on the altar (you could also see the pulpit and lectern if you leaned from side to side) has been replaced with a video monitor and a dedicated iPad for the new sound system.

For a couple of weeks now, I have been allowed after hours to sneak into the nave to practice and make a few organ videos, which are posted on the church Facebook page each Saturday morning. On the Church of the Holy Communion main Facebook page, click "Videos" in the left column, and scroll down to “Saturday Music.”

On Sunday, the Day of Pentecost, I will play our final Sunday morning services on the Children’s Chapel baby grand piano.

The prelude will be an ingenious combination of the plainsong chant Veni sancte spiritus and the Welsh hymn tune Aberystwyth, penned by our friend, parishioner, and widely-published composer Sondra K. Tucker.

The postlude will be my favorite Scarlatti sonata, which I learned in high school. Another point of personal privilege, I suppose. 

And then I return to the organ console as your humble parish organist. (Yay!)

Photo by David Ouzts.

Posted by Dr. David Ouzts at Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Jesus' full-circle moment

Ascension Day is on Thursday this week. As Easter Day is always a Sunday, Ascension Day is always a Thursday, 40 days later.

Pentecost is also always a Sunday, 50 days after Easter Day, hence the prefix pente.

All good biblical numbers.

The Seventh Sunday of Easter, which occurs between Ascension Day and the Day of Pentecost, is always subtitled the Sunday after Ascension Day. Indeed, the propers for this Sunday also reflect the Ascension images.

Episcopalians, yours truly in particular, like things that are always, you know.

Artwork of Jesus ascending into Heaven fascinated me as a child. We have all seen those paintings of Jesus rising up into the clouds, with the disciples remaining on the ground, arms stretched over their heads.

Though I have never visited there, this photo of a ceiling medallion at York Minster in England continually captures my adult attention in the cleverest way. The presumed bottoms of Jesus’ feet are depicted and surrounded by the faces of his mother Mary and the other disciples.

As York Minster is the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe, I can only imagine how many feet this ceiling medallion is from the floor below. (Pun intended.)

We know from scripture that Jesus ascended in his 33rd year on earth, after his vigorous three-year ministry.

From Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem to his return to the Father, Oprah might call the Ascension a full-circle moment.

Birth to death is a full-circle moment for each of us. We call these personal full-circle moments life.

Indeed, full-circle moments are symmetrical by definition.

Episcopalians, yours truly in particular, like things that are symmetrical, you know.

At 10:30 this Sunday, we will sing two grand Ascensiontide hymn texts, “Hail the day that sees him rise” and “See the Conqueror mounts in triumph.”

The oxymoron of Jesus as a conqueror is a marvelous attention-grabber in this text by English bishop and poet Christopher Wordsworth:

See the Conqueror mounts in triumph;
see the King in royal state,
riding on the clouds, his chariot,
to his heavenly palace gate!

Hark! the choirs of angel voices
joyful alleluias sing,
and the portals high are lifted
to receive their heavenly King.

He who on the cross did suffer,
he who from the grave arose,
he has vanquished sin and Satan;
he by death has spoiled his foes.

While he lifts his hands in blessing,
he is parted from his friends;
while their eager eyes behold him,
he upon the clouds ascends.

Thou hast raised our human nature
on the clouds to God’s right hand:
there we sit in heavenly places,
there with thee in glory stand.

Jesus reigns, adored by angels;
Man with God is on the throne;
mighty Lord, in thine ascension,
we by faith behold our own.

Christopher Wordsworth (1807-1885)

Photo Credit: Alamy stock photo, www.alamy.com. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Posted by Dr. David Ouzts at Wednesday, May 20, 2020

These virtual times

Everything has changed. And I mean everything.

Directing a socially distanced parish music program from home is not the easiest thing I have ever done.

While many do not, I still have a salary, food, and paper products on hand, I truly have nothing about which to complain. However, directing church music from home, with two laptop computers, a mobile phone, and an out-of-tune Yamaha piano, is something that I never envisioned.

In assigned shifts, the Holy Communion parish staff is beginning to return to the office little-by-little. Presently, my office time is Tuesday afternoons. Yesterday, with the three computer monitors and local printer on my desk, I finished a project in 45 minutes that at home has been requiring two hours. And I felt as if I had successfully landed a 747 jumbo jet.

When working at home, I talk on the phone, send individual and group texts, make lists and plans, send myself email reminders, participate in and host Zoom meetings, and learning new computer software, all the while creatively attempting to reinvent the wheel.

Now that the organ is back up and the nave is technically open, I am also returning to practice the organ. Going to the church looks as though I am going to camp: tote bags with music, organ shoes, a tripod, a ring light, Clorox wipes, hand sanitizer, a mask with filter, and sometimes a sandwich.

Who would have ever thought that the tripod would become a tool of ministry?

In addition to this blog, which I treat as a gift and as sacred space, I have been given a video page on our parish Facebook page. “Saturday Music with Dr. Ouzts” is the place where we will upload music videos each Saturday morning, as we attempt to share the organ and our new acoustics as well as solo and ensemble choral music virtually.

As the space there for sharing background explanations about the music videos is somewhat limited, I thought I would link this week’s blog to the videos page for some additional information.

The first video that you will find there is a recording of the Jacques Lemmens “Fanfare” for organ. I chose this piece basically to exhibit our new acoustics, which you will hear with the last two big chords of the piece. Listen carefully, and you will hear that I must stretch these chords out of tempo as I wait for the sound of the room to decay after each chord.

What a marvelous problem for the organist to now have! (he said, humbly…)

The second video that you will see and hear is our Parish Choir staff singers’ first virtual choir project, a recording of the Easter hymn, “Now the green blade riseth,” set in The Hymnal 1982 to the French carol tune Nöel nouvelet.

Indeed, we had a learning curve to overcome, but now that the first project is complete, the next ones will be easier. Virtual choir recordings are limited according to the software that is being used, but we hope to branch out and include as many of our Parish Choir’s members as possible on future videos.

This week I will post an organ piece that features the Festival Trumpet (AKA “Hosanna Horn”) stop. For decades, the David N. Johnson “Trumpet Tune in D Major” has been used as the opening theme music for National Public Radio’s weekly episodes of “With Heart and Voice.”

At Church of the Holy Communion, many brides and many graduates of St. Mary’s Episcopal School have been brought down the aisle with this piece.

The choir is beginning a new virtual choir project that will be posted in a couple of weeks.

When recording big organ pieces, for acoustical success, the tripod and camera must be located downstairs about half-way down the nave. However, I do plan to record some smaller, quieter pieces with the tripod located with me at the organ console in the balcony, where I can speak directly into the camera while seated on the organ bench.

In addition to the new tripod, we now have a camera monitor, sound system tablet controls, and a new music desk reading light on the organ console.

So, as we say in showbiz, “stay tuned.”

Photo Credits: Photos by David Perry Ouzts.

Saturday Music with Dr. Ouzts is found on the Church of the Holy Communion Facebook main page (click Videos link at left, then scroll down) or by clicking here

Posted by Dr. David Ouzts at Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Virtual Bread of Heaven

Trying to stay on a work schedule at home is quite difficult, and I have not yet found the groove. There are too many distractions: laundry, television, dishwasher, Facebook, commanding Alexa to play my favorite music.

Though we are using Facebook to a great advantage to stay in touch as a parish, I am always caught by the temptation to take the incessant quizzes found there.

And you know organists: we speak in our own language, which to the natural world can sound like speaking Klingon on Star Trek. The conversations often begin with “mixtures and reeds” and end with “changing manuals for the Adagio section.”

See what I mean?

One such recent quiz asked organists to name their favorite compositions, the most overrated or underrated organ pieces, the piece that made me fall in love with the organ, and so on.

Knowing myself, studying with various organ professors, and the instruments upon which I have been privileged to perform, I should not have been surprised that two of my ten quiz answers were compositions of César Franck (1822-1890).

PIECE THAT I CHERISH: Franck “Chorale in E Major”
PIECE I SHOULD HAVE LEARNED BY NOW: Franck “Piéce Heroique”

I then remembered that cantor Joel Chapman is going to sing the Franck Panis Angelicus for our 10:30 Sunday morning livestream this week. And I smiled, as this vocal solo is probably the definitive setting of this Eucharistic text.

We have not been able to receive Communion as a gathered congregation since March, and at this point, we do not know when we will be able to do so together again.

The Sacrament, however, is in no way diminished for us; it remains the memorial acclamation of Jesus’ death for our sins, followed by his triumphant resurrection. Thankfully, we have sacred texts such as this week’s solo to remind us of this sacrificial act of love.

Panis Angelicus is Latin for “bread of angels” or “angelic bread.” The text is an excerpt from a longer hymn Sacris Solemniis (“sacred rites”) written by St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) for the Feast of Corpus Christi.

Numerous composers in addition to Franck have set this sacred text to music throughout the years.

Franck’s setting is for tenor solo, harp, cello, and organ. He also incorporated this melody into his mass setting Messe á trois voix.

I hope this beautiful text will be comforting and encouraging to all this Sunday morning.

Panis angelicus fit panis hominum;
dat panis coelicus figuris terinum;

o res mirabilis!

Manducat Dominum pauper,

pauper servus et humilis.

Heavenly bread that becomes the bread for all humankind;
bread from the angelic host that is the end of all imaginings;
oh, miraculous thing!
This body of God will nourish even the poorest,
the most humble of servants.

Te trina Deitas unaque poscimas;
sic nos tua visita, sicut te colimas;

per tuas semitas duc nos quo tendimus,

ad lucem quam inhabitas.

We beseech you, Godhead, One in Three,
that you will visit us, as we worship you;
lead us through your ways,
we who wish to reach the light in which you dwell.

Photo Credit: www.freeimages.com

Posted by Dr. David Ouzts at Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Good Shepherd Sunday

I maintain that those of us who are spiritually fed by liturgical worship traditions – namely Roman Catholics, Episcopalians/Anglicans, and Lutherans – prefer worship when things do not change.

The magic words in church life are, “But we’ve always done it that way.”

Likewise, the Jewish and Eastern Orthodox traditions are also wonderfully constant in style of worship. I loved my years as a temple organist.

At the risk of repeating myself in this blog, each Sunday in our liturgical year has a proper name: The Second Sunday after Easter, The Third Sunday after Easter, and so on. Our reference to the “propers” of the day comes the proper names of each Sunday.

Some Sundays have a secondary part of their title, such as The First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of Christ; The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday; The Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Day; and others.

And some Sundays even have nicknames: “All Saints’ Sunday,” “Ascension Sunday,” “Thomas Sunday.”

Because of its Gospel reading each year, the Fourth Sunday after Easter is nicknamed “Good Shepherd Sunday.”

This Sunday, which is Year A in the Revised Common Lectionary, we will hear one of Jesus’ numerous references to the shepherd and the sheep; this instance includes the metaphor of the shepherd as gatekeeper. “The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice.” (John 10:3)

Year B’s Gospel reading is perhaps the most familiar: “Jesus said, ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’.” (John 10:11)

Year C’s Gospel reading repeats the theme of hearing the shepherd’s voice. “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)

Each lectionary year, Psalm 23 is the appointed psalm for the day. Not a surprise.

This Sunday’s solo, sung by mezzo-soprano Nicolette Hatchett, is one of the distinctive choral and solo setting of the 23rd Psalm. English composer Gordon Jacob (1894-1984) arranged “Brother James’ Air” with the text of Psalm 23 and published it in 1934.

The hymn tune was originally composed by Scottish composer and author James Leith Macbeth Bain (1860-1925). Raised in a devoutly Christian home, he later became a spiritualist minister and was known by his peers as Brother James.

While many contemporary hymnals still contain “Brother James’ Air” paired with its original Psalm 23 text, Hymn 517 in our hymnal, The Hymnal 1982, is set to a paraphrase of Psalm 84, “How lovely is thy dwelling place.”

Photo Credit: www.freeimages.com, Jeremy Doorten, photographer.

Posted by Dr. David Ouzts at Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Musical chestnuts or musical gems

I once wrote a blog entry about those tunes that we cannot get out of our heads, better known as “earworms.”

But what about those pieces that we regard as the most beloved of a specific musical genre, which my college organ professor called “gems of the literature?”

And then there are those compositions that we love to play, program, or listen to, perhaps to the point of overkill that they become “musical chestnuts.”

To support my claim, Merriam-Webster gives one definition of “chestnut” as “something, such as a musical piece or saying, that is repeated to the point of staleness.”

Music is a part of everyone’s world, or at least I believe it should be. Those of us who can enjoy performing our musical favorites. Others stream their favorites from Alexa, which I happen to be doing at home right now.

In the musical world, one’s gem might be a chestnut to another. A fine, intricate balance at best.

A couple of Sundays ago, violinist Libby Armour and I had the opportunity to work together again, which we have done on-and-off since we met in 2002. Just about every time, I wind up saying, “Oh, do we play Thais this time or not?”

The “Meditation from Thais” by Jules Massenet is one of those violin gems or chestnuts, depending upon whom you ask. A definite crowd-pleaser to some. Overdone to others.

People will sometime say, “Oh, please play that piece,” thinking about the “Meditation from Thais” in the same manner that people often consider “the Widor Toccata” for the organ.

This Sunday morning, soprano Kathleen Quinlen will sing one such movement from Handel’s Messiah for our 10:30 livestream. I am very proud that, even amid livestreaming, personal distancing, and all the rest, we can bring such a musical gem to our worship.

Without prejudice, I maintain that “I know that my Redeemer liveth” is a treasured gem and not a chestnut because of both its elegant music and strong, affirming text.

I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.

For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep.

-f
rom Job 19:25-26, 1 Corinthians 15:20

When planning music for this Sunday’s worship, I began listening to various sopranos’ interpretations of this aria, and there is a plethora from which to choose: a variety of styles, scholarship, ornamentation, editions.

Enjoy these sopranos singing this beloved favorite from Handel’s Messiah and then be sure to watch our livestream this Sunday morning at 10:30.

Listen to soprano Judith Nelson by clicking here.

Listen to soprano Sylvia McNair by clicking here.

Listen to soprano Dame Kiri te Kanawa by clicking here.

Photo Credit: www.freeimages.com

Posted by Dr. David Ouzts at Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Believe it when you see it

Perhaps one of the positives of physical distancing these days is the amount of quiet time in which we have available to think or reflect.

Or for extroverts like yours truly, perhaps not.

Either way, between working from home with two laptops and a mobile phone, and between trying to not do the laundry when only five articles of clothing are dirty, I am spending a lot of time reflecting.

If the reflecting does not morph into frantically long lists of things to do, I seem to be okay. Hashtag #boundaries.

When reading the weekly lectionary lessons for writing this blog, which is actually reflection upon lessons that I read months ago when planning music for our liturgies, I find myself remembering all of the Bible stories that I learned as a child.

Numerous times before, I have described in this blog how my grandmother used to read Bible stories to me every night when I visited her, which was fairly often over the weekends, at holidays, or for weeks at a time in the summers.

There were two thick children's Bible stories books that I remember, one for the in-town house, and one for the lake house. Both books, now over 50 years old each, are today on the shelf at my mother's house in South Carolina.

For some reason I seem to remember the Old Testament stories the most vividly: 

Miriam watching the infant Moses float down the Nile
Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt and into the wilderness

Aaron leading the Israelites into the Promised Land

Jacob and Esau deceiving their father

Noah, the ark, the flood, and the rainbow

Lot and his wife who looked back

Abraham trusting God with son Isaac

Daniel in the lion’s den

Samuel hearing the voice of God in the night

Boaz caring for Ruth and the elderly Naomi

Joseph sold into slavery and rising to serve the Pharaoh 

One of the New Testament stories that I remember is this Sunday's Gospel: "Doubting Thomas."

In the lectionary cycle every year, the Second Sunday of Easter is nicknamed "Thomas Sunday," as the Gospel is the account of Thomas' disbelieve that the Lord had risen.

"Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."  

We all know the story: a week later, Jesus appears to the disciples again and tells Thomas to put his finger into his hands and his hand into his side, at which point Thomas exclaims, "My Lord and my God!"

At this point in my childhood, my grandmother had to talk the literal me back from the ledge by explaining that Jesus was both flesh and spirit, which made everything alright again.

As an adult, I must admit that Doubting Thomas remains one of my favorites, mainly because of the hymn texts we sing to support the story.

This Sunday in the 10:30 liturgy, even livestreaming and singing from home, we will sing one of the strongest texts in the hymnal. (I frequently say this, I know, but this week it is very true!)

For some reason, I believe that hymn texts with internal quotations speak loudly and in volumes. The hymn for this Sunday, "We walk by faith and not by sight," has one such quote.

We walk by faith, and not by sight;
no gracious words we hear

from him who spoke as none e'er spoke;

but we believe him near.

We may not touch his hands and side,
nor follow where he trod;

but in his promise we rejoice;

and cry, "My Lord and God!"

Help then, O Lord, our unbelief;
and may our faith abound,

to call on you when you are near,

and seek where you are found:

that, when our life of faith is done,
in realms of clearer light

we may behold you as you are,

with full and endless sight.

Hymn 209, The Hymnal 1982, Henry Alford (1810-1871)

Photo Credit: Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (1613/1615), triptych altarpiece painting, Royal Museum for Fine Arts, Antwerp, Belgium. Public Domain.

Posted by Dr. David Ouzts at Thursday, April 16, 2020

The Great Three Days

Though I swore I would not write a COVID-19 blog entry, I did so last week, referencing the rebooting of the organ and the nave.

As I am occasionally sneaking to the church to practice, the new acoustics in the nave are fantastic, and I cannot wait to hear congregational singing in the space!

COVID-19 is teaching us (me) patience, if nothing.

In the midst of personal distancing, self-quarantining, Zoom meetings, Zoom choir “rehearsals,” grocery internet orders, toilet paper hoarding, and all the rest, Holy Week and Easter are here. And we are observing Holy Week and Easter in new and rich ways.

We marked the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm/Passion Sunday this past week. On Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, and Holy Wednesday, we are worshipping with Evening Prayer each night, all livestreamed, of course.

Maundy Thursday this week begins The Great Three Days, also known as the Triduum, the three days including Good Friday and Holy Saturday, leading up to the Sunday of the Resurrection (Easter Day).

The liturgy for Maundy Thursday is sometimes known as the Maundy Thursday Ceremonies, as this liturgy contains a number of elements that again trace the life events of Jesus: the footwashing, the institution of the Eucharist, the stripping of the altar, and the all-night prayer vigil.

On the night before he was crucified, Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with the apostles at which he washed their feet and instituted the Eucharist (“This do in remembrance of me”) by blessing, breaking, and serving bread and wine.

After the supper, Jesus went out into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray (“Father, let this cup pass from me”), where he was then arrested and taken to be judged by Pontius Pilate. The scourging and mocking of Jesus is commemorated by the stripping of the altar.

The liturgy for Good Friday also contains a number of specific elements commemorating the Crucifixion: the reading of the Passion Gospel, the solemn collects, the veneration of the cross, and the singing or saying of anthems specifically extolling the cross.

The Triduum ends gloriously and triumphantly with the Great Vigil of Easter and the Easter Day celebrations. At the Easter Vigil the new fire is kindled (the regeneration of life in the tomb); the Paschal Candle (symbol of our baptisms) is lighted; the Exsultet, the greatest prayer of the Church, is chanted; and the first Eucharist of Easter is normally celebrated.

The celebrations of the Resurrection continue on Easter Day with the triumphant reading of the account of the women discovering the empty tomb and encountering the Risen Lord.

Via livestreaming this year, each of these Holy Week and Easter celebrations will be observed. Tune into our online platforms (website, Facebook, YouTube) where you can access and download PDFs of our service leaflets to follow along.

The three sad days are quickly sped,
he rises glorious from the dead:

all glory to our risen Head! Alleluia!

("The strife is o'er," Hymn 208, stanza 3)

A blessed Holy Week and Easter to us all! 

Photo Credit: www.freeimages.com

Posted by Dr. David Ouzts at Wednesday, April 8, 2020