Small voice of calm

Poor Peter.

In last Sunday’s gospel, Peter blurted out the answer (“You are the Messiah”) before any of the other disciples had the chance to answer, and Jesus rewarded him for it. (“You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.”)

This week, Jesus is foreshadowing the events of his own life – that he must go to Jerusalem, be killed and be raised on the third day – and Peter exclaims, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”

And Jesus’ reply this time is, “Get thee behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Peter cannot win for losing, can he?

I imagine that hearing such horrifying news – Jesus saying that he must die – was devastating for the disciples, most especially Peter who was the first whom Jesus called, presumably the eldest, and the one whom Christ would use to build the Church, his kingdom on earth.

The text for this Sunday’s anthem at the 10:30 service begs God’s forgiveness for “our foolish ways,” something for which Peter is not alone, nor never will be. This great text, “Dear Lord and Father of mankind,” was taken from a seventeen-stanza poem by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892), first published in The Atlantic Monthly (April 1872).

This tune by Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918), with its name Repton, honors the notable Repton School in England and first appeared as a hymn with this tune in the hymnal Repton School Hymns (London 1924). Sir Hubert Parry first composed this melody for his oratorio Judith, which premiered in Birmingham in 1888.

Sometime late in his life, perhaps in 1917, the year before his death, Parry traveled to visit his friends Dr. and Mrs. Stocks at the Repton School. Dr. Stocks was collecting and composing tunes for the school’s new hymnal, and scholars believe he asked Parry for his permission to use the tune set to these words in the new book.

Herbert Arthur Chambers (1880-1967) used the tune and orchestral accompaniment from Judith and arranged a choral anthem setting, crediting the Whittier text and Parry’s melody, which was first published in The Musical Times in January 1941. Chambers was organist of St. Peter’s, Harrow and a music publishing clerk at Novello & Co., publishers of The Musical Times.

The memory engraved upon my mind of this text and hymn tune is from the memorial service in a small stone church in Lockerbie, Scotland, the week after the PanAm 747 bombing and crash in that small village some 30 years ago. A total of 270 people were killed, 189 of them American citizens. I will never forget the news images of people standing outside and surrounding that precious little church, tears streaming down their faces, as the memorial service was broadcast into the village via loud speakers.

We often sing Hymn 653 as a congregation, most often during Communion. However, this Sunday the Parish Choir will offer the Chambers anthem setting of this sublime text and tune. Perhaps no more than today do we need to listen for the “still, small voice of calm” as described in the final stanza:

Breathe through the hearts of our desire thy coolness and thy balm;

let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;

speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,

O still, small voice of calm.


Posted by Dr. David Ouzts at 16:28