Virtually all our Sunday feasts have titles that include numbers: First Sunday of Advent, Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Third Sunday in Lent, Fourth Sunday of Easter, and the like.
The Sundays after Pentecost number the most, lasting from late May or early June until sometime in November, depending upon where Easter Day and the Day of Pentecost fall that calendar year.
Obviously, some feast days, which occasionally fall on a Sunday, have fixed dates: Christmas Day (Dec. 25), The Epiphany (Jan. 6), All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1). The rest are liturgical moving targets.
The Sundays after Pentecost can number up to the Twenty-seventh Sunday after Pentecost, as explained in the “Titles of the Seasons, Sundays, and Major Holy Days,” pp. 31-33 in the Book of Common Prayer.
Epiphany season, our current liturgical season, also grows and shrinks up to a possible eight Sundays after the Epiphany.
Two Sundays during the liturgical year, however, uniquely share always being “the last.”
The Sunday next before Ash Wednesday is always the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, and the Sunday next before Advent season is always the Last Sunday after Pentecost, also called Christ the King Sunday.
Both Sundays share distinct themes and Gospel readings, even between the three-year lectionary cycles. The Gospels for Pentecost Last, whether from Matthew, Luke, or John in the three-year lectionaries, highlight the royalty of Christ and the coming kingdom of God.
The Gospel readings for Epiphany Last, which is this Sunday (Feb. 23), share the vivid story of the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain, where “his face shone like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white.” Moses and Elijah also appeared, talking to him.
Because of this Gospel lesson, Epiphany Last is sometimes called “Transfiguration Sunday,” which is not quite liturgically correct. The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ is a fixed date (Aug. 6).
Music for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany is always fun to plan and sing because the story is so rich. This year, our choirs will sing a beautiful, ethereal anthem scored for choir, organ, and handbells. The handbells significantly help create this ethereal effect by slow, sparse random ringing.
“Adoration of the Divine Light” was written by Atlanta composer Charles Beaudrot, whose “day job” is as a longtime tax attorney and recently as a judge for the State of Georgia Tax Tribunal. He is also on the faculty of the Emory University School of Law.
A graduate of Duke and Harvard, Beaudrot has composed over 40 works for chorus, organ and brass, and chamber orchestra. For many years he has been primarily associated with two choral groups, the Choir of the Cathedral of St. Philip and the Choral Guild of Atlanta.
A trained singer himself, Beaudrot’s choral compositions have been described as “friendly” to the voice, with respect to sensitive voice-leading and legato choral lines.
This marvelous choral piece will be our fitting “last hoorah” before Lent.
Listen to a recording of the Charles Beaudrot "Adoration of the Divine Light" from the Cathedral of St. Philip, Atlanta, by clicking here.
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