The final cosmetic touches in our beautifully refurbished Nave will be finished this week, including the complete cleaning, reassembling, and re-tuning of our Wicks organ, which has been encased in plastic since June 2019.
Meanwhile, the organist is working from home.
Everything in my being wants to "run down to the church to practice," as has been my Saturday afternoon routine for decades in my life. But then the terms COVID-19, social distancing, physical distancing, and stay-home-order crop up.
In June 2019 when we last worshiped in the Nave, the organ console was tightly wrapped in heavy sheet plastic, and a wooden-framed sealed-plastic cover was constructed for the organ facade.
Even with these precautions, we knew that construction dust and plaster dust would seep into the organ chamber, which itself is much like a large, secret room behind the pipes that we see.
Behind the visual pipes are three large chambers containing almost 2000 individual pipes, made of both metal and wood. The largest pipe is 16' tall, rising 8' and bending via a mitred joint, and continuing 8' back down, giving the 16' total feet that the air in that pipe needs to travel.
The smallest pipes are about the size of a No. 2 pencil, sitting in rows and rows atop wind chests. These tiny, skinny pipes held in place by mounted horizontal boards with holed, resembling peg-board upon which you might hang tools in your garage.
The largest of the pipes sit on the floor and have their own individual “vacuum cleaner hoses” to deliver the air from the organ blower (in its own room within the organ chamber) to the bottom of each pipe. The pipes that you see in the facade also have their own hoses that supply the air.
Given the amount of HVAC duct work, attic insulating, asbestos removing, plastering, and sawing that the Nave has experienced in the past ten months, we can only imagine the amount of dust that has accumulated in the organ chamber.
Which is why Mr. Koziel has been vacuuming for the past two weeks.
Our organ technician Greg Koziel, who was already our organ technician even before his wife Dr. Ellen Koziel joined our music staff a few years ago, has decades of experience and is one of the most well-respected organ technicians in the mid-south.
Before Greg could begin vacuuming and cleaning, he had to remove each pipe of the Great division of the organ (which is actually two separate divisions, an enclosed Great and an unenclosed Great) and carefully lay the pipes in long wooden and cardboard trays for temporary storage and protection.
The Linkous construction crew could then safely repair the wall and ceiling leak on the inside west wall of the organ chamber, from a leak with which we have dealt for over ten years.
Greg then returned all the pipes to Great division and started vacuuming and cleaning, a slow, meticulous, tedious process.
I do not have the patience to be an organ technician, bless my heart.
Thank goodness there are people like Mr. Koziel who do!
He then moved to the enclosed Swell division, which is behind the very center of the facade, and continued the dust removal. A long walk-board extends out over the Swell division pipes, which is why organ technicians need to be slender and sure-footed.
Again, not me, bless my heart.
The chamber to the right contains the Pedal division and the Festival Trumpet, affectionately known as the "Hosanna Horn." These trumpet pipes are mounted against the east chamber wall and have their own separate high wind pressure.
More vacuuming, sweeping, and cleaning for Greg.
At some point in the next week or so, you will hear the organ via livestream, video clip, or posted audio recording. The minute I am allowed, I will don my mask, grab my organ music and canvas organ shoes tote bag, and sneak down to the church.
I will sit at the console, with my container of sanitized wipes, and reprise the glissando and tone-clusters improvisation that I performed on the Choir Room piano a couple of weeks ago.
To assist Mr. Koziel, my job then becomes playing the organ as much as possible and using each stop on the organ to help make sure all the construction dust is blown out of all the pipes.
During online virtual parish staff meeting this morning, the Rector said that blowing out the pipes has never been an issue for me, bless my heart.
Later this week, raise your den windows at home, or sit out on the deck, and you will probably be able to hear me!
Photo Credit: Cindy Putnam McMillion
In a normal, regular week, this blog might be about Sunday's Gospel reading and how our hymns and anthem enlighten the reading.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about favorite Bible verses and mentioned the shortest verse in the Bible, "Jesus wept," which actually shows up in this Sunday's Gospel reading.
Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus, after which he called, "Lazarus, come out!" Lazarus walked out of his tomb, a foreshadowing of Jesus' own Resurrection on Easter morning.
This Sunday the Parish Choir would have sung a poignant anthem text, set to music by Carl Schalk (b. 1929), an important 20th century American Lutheran composer whose is very much alive age 91 and whose daughter I knew during my Topeka Episcopal cathedral days.
Another story for another day. And remember that I am easily star-struck.
Schalk's anthem text, "Blessed Are the Dead":
And I heard a voice from heaven saying, "Write this:
Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth."
"Blessed indeed," says the Spirit, "that they may rest from their labors,
for their deeds follow them." (Revelation 14:13 RSV)
Blessed are they who die in the Lord. Central to the Christian faith message. Death is not necessarily a scary word for Christians, a fact that I love.
And then the pandemic hit. And our world changes in a matter of days.
On Sunday, March 15, we had a handful of worshipers and a few Parish Choir members at church. On Sunday, March 22, we livestramed Sunday morning worship from the Children's Chapel with six staff singers.
And for Sundays, March 22 and April 5, we will livestream again from the Children's Chapel with only a priest and a pianist, as the Mayor of Memphis has wisely asked us to self-quarantine at home for two weeks.
Needless to say, we have quickly regrouped worship and liturgy at Church of the Holy Communion, moving from Holy Eucharist to Morning Prayer on Sunday mornings and from Contemplative Eucharist to the Office of Compline on Sunday evenings.
However, many blessings can be found even in the midst of a pandemic. We have livestreaming worship from our beautiful new Children's Chapel via our website, YouTube, and Facebook, complete with full-text PDF service leaflets to use at home.
When as a worshiping congregation did we last experience the historic office of Morning Prayer? With its deeply rich canticles and prayers, Morning Prayer is uniquely Anglican in the same way that Choral Evensong is.
When as a larger worshiping congregation have we last experienced the beautiful imagery of Compline? My personal favorite is, "Keep us, O Lord, as the apple of your eye; hide us under the shadow of your wings."
This Sunday, we will hear the Gospel message of resurrection delivered from the tomb of Lazarus. We will say some of our favorite prayers in the Book of Common Prayer. We will read powerful canticles that are unique in the Anglican tradition. And we will remain in our homes to help confine the spread of this pandemic.
God will keep us safe, and God will be praised, even though we are temporarily apart.
Photo credit: Children's Chapel of Church of the Holy Communion by Cindy Putnam McMillion.
The Gospel lessons during the Lenten season are usually noticeably longer, but the readings for this Sunday and last are among the most significant readings of all in the Bible.
The story of the woman at the well was this past Sunday and is a personal favorite of mine. There are so many facets of this encounter between the Samaritan women and Jesus. Jesus, a Jew, asks a Samaritan for a drink of water: not proper, as we say in the south.
Jesus then told her to go and get her husband. When she replied that she had no husband, Jesus commended her for speaking the truth, “…for you have had five husbands.”
The woman left her water jar and went back into the city to witness that Jesus was the Messiah and to come and see. The disciples, of course, were “astonished” that he was even speaking to a woman.
After Jesus freed Mary Magdalene from demon possession, she followed him as a disciple from then on. She was also the first person to whom Jesus appeared the morning of the Resurrection.
Is it not interesting that Jesus’ experiences with women in the Bible are the ones that often revealed to the world who he was?
This Sunday (March 22), the Gospel is another great story and another personal favorite. As a child who loved to play outdoors, occasionally in the mud, I suppose I was fascinated by Jesus spitting into the dirt, making mud, spreading mud on the blind man’s eyes, and sending him to wash in the pool of Siloam.
This time Jesus uses a blind man to educate the disciples. Neither the blind man nor his parents were sinners who God punished with the man’s blindness; “…he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
Jesus used the lowly and the infirm as personal witnesses that he was the Son of God.
A lesson for all of us for sure.
This Sunday’s anthem is a contemporary musical setting of an ancient poem. I frequently say that a text or tune “is one of the oldest things in the book.” Truth is, The Hymnal 1982 contains ancient texts and tunes that still speak to us today, and we need to not forget them.
Alcuin (735-804) was a scholar, teacher, poet, and priest from York, Northumbria, which is now parts of Northern England and Southeastern Scotland. English priest Christopher Idle (b. 1938) took imagery from Alcuin’s Prayer for Knowledge and Strength and wrote the text “Eternal light, shine in my heart.”
Alcuin’s prayer employs personification, of which I am also a literary fan:
Light eternal, shine in my heart
Power eternal, deliver me from evil
Wisdom eternal, scatter the darkness of my ignorance
Might eternal, pity me
By leading with the word eternal, Idle transformed Alcuin’s prayer into a litany-like text:
Eternal light, shine in my heart;
eternal hope, lift up my eyes;
eternal power, be my support;
eternal wisdom, make me wise.
Eternal life, raise me from death;
eternal brightness, help me see;
eternal Spirit, give me breath;
eternal Savior come to me.
Tying Sunday’s music to the healing of the blind man, notice all the light and sight images in our anthem and hymns texts. We will also sing the hymns “O for a thousand tongues to sing” and “I want to walk as a child of the light.”
In “O for a thousand tongues to sing,” Charles Wesley (1707-1788) empowers the infirm, as Jesus did:
Hear him, ye deaf; ye voiceless ones,
your loosened tongues employ;
ye blind, behold, your Savior comes;
and leap, ye lame, for joy!
Photo Credit: www.freeimages.com
Do any seasoned Episcopalians out there in Blogland still remember the old Morning Prayer days?
As some friends will remember, I migrated into the Episcopal Church during my grad school days, after Book of Common Prayer revision in 1979 and during the introduction of The Hymnal 1982 in 1985.
Even in the mid-1980's, I would occasionally hear from parishioners, "Why do we no longer regularly sing the old Venite or the Jubilate?
For about the first 175 years of the Anglicanism in this country, known as the Episcopal Church, the Sunday norm in most places was Communion on the first Sunday of the month, with Morning Prayer with Sermon being held for Sunday morning worship for the remaining Sundays.
The opening liturgical rite for Morning Prayer, called the Invitatory and Psalter, includes seasonal opening sentences, an optional Confession of Sin and Absolution, a song of praise (one of the canticles, Venite, Jubilate, or Pascha nostrum during Easter season), and the psalm appointed for the day.
Between the reading of the appointed lessons for the day, other canticles were sung: Benedictus (one of three different texts), Magnificat, Nunc dimittis, Gloria, Te Deum.
These canticles are unique in liturgical Christian worship traditions and are among the most beautiful biblical texts that we have in our Prayer Book.
Our appointed Eucharistic psalm for this Sunday (March 15) just happens to be the old Venite.
Score one for Morning Prayer in the midst of the Holy Eucharist.
Indeed, the Venite canticle does not consist of the entirety of Psalm 95, as we will sing the psalm this Sunday.
Though we will sing Psalm 95 (Venite) to our regular Lenten plainsong chant this Sunday, multiple settings of the canticle are found (#S-2 through S-7) in the Service Music section in the front of our hymnal The Hymnal 1982.
While parish traditions greatly vary by region, I imagine that Morning Prayer devotees would recognize #S-4, the Anglican chant by Edwin George Monk (1819-1900).
Come, let us sing to the Lord; *
let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving *
and raise a loud shout to him with psalms.
For the Lord is a great God, *
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the caverns of the earth, *
and the heights of the hills are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it, *
and his hands have molded the dry land.
Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee, *
and kneel before the Lord our Maker.
For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. *
Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice!
Harden not your hearts, as your forebears did in the wilderness, *
at Meribah, and on that day at Massah, when they tempted me.
They put me to the test, *
though they had seen my works.
Forty years long I detested that generation and said, *
"This people are wayward in their hearts; they do not know my ways."
So I swore in my wrath, *
"They shall not enter into my rest."
Photo credit: Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), Adoration of the Magi (1504). Oil on wood. Uffizi, Florence, Italy. Public Domain.
What is the most familiar verse in the Holy Bible?
What is your favorite Bible verse?
Both are loaded questions, I know. And every Christian will have a different answer.
We all know the shortest verse in the Bible.
Jesus wept. (John 11:35)
For the most familiar and favorite, many will answer with a verse from this Sunday’s appointed Gospel reading:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Indeed, this is one of the first verses I remember memorizing. After all, I am a Vacation Bible School graduate, over many years, you know.
Some will say that John 3:16 is the central theme of the Christian message. Though impossible to reduce Christianity to one statement or theme, John 3:16 arguably comes close.
Innumerable choral settings of this beloved text have been composed throughout the centuries. Our parish choral library includes four, including a choral movement from John Stainer’s (1840-1901) oratorio The Crucifixion, which many will consider the definitive choral setting.
We also own three very fine contemporary settings by Bob Chilcott, Joel Martinson, and Craig Phillips. This Sunday our Parish Choir will sing Bob Chilcott’s setting, which is quite lush and is scored for divisi choir and soprano soloist.
(Divisi indicates multiple independent parts with in the regular four-part choir divisions.)
Lush, tight harmonies are hallmarks of Bob Chilcott’s compositional style. A boy chorister and a university student in the famed Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, Chilcott sang from 1985-97 in the King’s Singers, a professional ensemble formed in 1968 by six former King’s College choral scholars.
He has written for adult and children’s choirs and has composed all manner of works from jazz masses to cantatas. He has also written large-scale works, a Requiem and a setting of the St. John Passion. A past conductor of both the BBC Singers and the choir of the Royal College of Music in London, he is presently the conductor of the University of Birmingham (UK) Singers.
Listen to the John Stainer setting of “God so loved the world,” sung by the Choir of St. Paul's Cathedral, London, here.
Listen to Bob Chilcott’s setting of “God so loved the world,” sung by the Mississippi College Singers, here.
This Sunday is the First Sunday in Lent, and each year offers us an opportunity to regroup.
Some people take on a specific Lenten discipline – giving up something like chocolate or taking on something like a book study – which is fine but can begin to feel burdensome. I like to think of the Lenten season as a time to pare away the excesses, allowing more time for God.
Lent is a great gift to those of us who love worshipping God with liturgical practice. I confess that I had to gain some spiritual knowledge and maturity to be able to fully appreciate Lent, but I now realize that your Easter resurrection can be only as good as your Lenten discipline is.
Liturgical observances throughout the Christian year were not necessarily handed down “from on high” but result from a combination of Church documents, traditions, and customs. Each parish has its own particular practices, and Church of the Holy Communion is no different.
On Sundays, worshippers will notice a few changes for the Lenten season:
The color purple is significant for Lent for two reasons. First, it is the color historically associated with mourning, which anticipates the pain and suffering of the crucifixion. Secondly, purple is the color for royalty, signifying Christ’s resurrection and sovereignty. The color is also mention in scripture: “They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns, and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’” (Mark 15:17-18)
Flowers on the re-table behind the altar will be replaced with arrangements of branches for the Lenten season. These arrangements will, Sunday by Sunday, grow with the subtle adding of greenery and small buds, which will morph into resplendent lilies and colorful spring flowers for the Great Vigil of Easter and the Easter Day celebrations.
The Great Litany
Based upon a prayer used as early as the 5th century in Rome, The Great Litany is the oldest piece of original-English liturgy that we have, prepared by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and first published in 1544. Cranmer included it as an appendix in the first 1549 Book of Common Prayer, and it has been published in each successive prayer book. It is the Church’s greatest, all-encompassing prayer and may be used before services or as a complete liturgy in itself.
The word Alleluia is based upon the Hebrew word for “Praise the Lord.” Because of the penitential nature of the Lenten season, the Western Church has traditionally suspended the use of the word for Lent. The omission of the Alleluia goes back to at least the 5th century. The rubrics of our Book of Common Prayer is consistent with, “In Lent, Alleluia is omitted.” On the other hand, the rubrics say that the Alleluia may be omitted at other times “except during Easter Season.”
If the ringing of bells symbolizes joy, taking the bells out of our Eucharistic celebrations for Lent might be likened to using the Kyrie rather than the Gloria in excelsis, which is the Church’s great hymn of praise. The Sanctus Bell is another one of those practical practices from the Middle Ages, when the Mass was said in Latin: the Sanctus Bell denoted the moment at which the worshippers would look to the altar to see the elevations of the sacraments.
I am personally quite proud of the manner in which this parish sings psalmody, and we use all manner of forms of Psalm singing: Anglican chant, plainsong chant, responsorial between cantor/people, congregational refrains with choir or cantor singing the verses, and metrical (hymn) settings. Throughout the year we alternate between all of the above, but in Advent and Lent our local parish tradition is to sing plainsong settings, which sound simpler and somewhat austere. I believe the simplicity of the plainsong tones allow the singer to pay careful attention to the text.
Kyrie rather than Gloria in excelsis
Our parish practice is to use the Gloria in excelsis canticle, or some other joyful, spirit-filled canticle, as the Song of Praise in our 10:30 Sunday Eucharistic celebrations. For Lent, we sing the Kyrie eleison, using either the Greek (not Latin, as some think it is) text or the “Lord, have mercy” English translation. This year we are using the old, beloved Healey Willian mass settings for the Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei, which is allowed even in Rite Two by the rubric, “Any prior approved forms of texts may be used.”
Solemn Prayer over the People
An option in our Anglican tradition is for the Celebrant to say a Solemn Prayer over the People rather than give the Blessing in Lent. These solemn prayers, which are printed in a supplement to the Book of Common Prayer, use beautiful, penitential images that send us out into the world at the end of our liturgy. Before the priest says this prayer, you will hear the ancient admonition, “Bow down before the Lord,” followed by the solemn prayer. These beautiful solemn prayers are in stark contrast to the triumphant blessings that will return at the Easter celebrations.
Perhaps one of the “new” Lenten hymns in The Hymnal 1982 says it best:
Eternal Lord of love, behold your Church, walking once more the pilgrim way of Lent.
—Hymn 149, stanza 1, Thomas H. Cain (1931-2003)
Photo credit: www.freeimages.com
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.
Photo Credit: www.freeimages.com
Before we get too far, this week's entry is not about the Ten Commandments.
Well, not necessarily, but perhaps indirectly.
The Revised Common Lectionary, which we use each week for worship, is rich with its messages that come from a common thread or theme found in the Sunday’s four readings: Old Testament, Psalm, New Testament, and Gospel.
The theme is also present in the Collect of the Day, one of the opening prayers in our liturgy. Often this collect has an immediately recognizable relationship to the Old Testament reading. These opening collects represent the liturgical history of the Church, handed down through the successive editions of the Book of Common Prayer.
This Sunday (February 16), the central theme is commandments.
From the Collect of the Day: "O God...give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments, we may please you both in will and deed..."
In the reading from Deuteronomy, Moses proclaims, "If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God...by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous..."
The Psalmist then prays to God: "You laid down your commandments, that we should fully keep them. Oh, that my ways were made so direct that I might keep your statutes!"
In the reading from the Gospel of Matthew, part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus references the actual Ten Commandments: "You shall not murder," and "You shall not commit adultery."
Keeping the commandments points us directly to the word of God, and our hymnal is filled with marvelous, poignant texts that reference God's word, such as this Sunday's opening hymn:
Blessed Jesus, at thy word we are gathered all to hear thee;
let our hearts and souls be stirred now to seek and love and fear thee;
by thy teachings pure and holy, drawn from earth to love the solely.
All our knowledge, sense, and sight lie in deepest darkness shrouded,
till the Spirit breaks our night with the beams of truth unclouded;
thou alone to God canst win us; thou must work all god within us.
Gracious Lord, thy self impart! Light of Light from God proceeding,
open thou our ears and heart, help us by the Spirit's pleading.
Hear the cry thy Church upraises; hear, and bless our prayers and praises.
Sung to the chorale tune Liebster Jesus, a favorite of our parish, this original German text was translated by the prolific Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878), the daughter of an English silk merchant who studied under two prominent Unitarian ministers.
She spent a year in Dresden, Germany, and in 1854 published her first book, Lyra Germanica, a collection of German hymns that she had translated into English.
The Harvard University Hymn Book says that Winkworth "did more than any other single individual to make the rich heritage of German hymnody available to the English-speaking world."
Also described as an early feminist, Winkworth significantly promoted women's education in the 19th century. She is also commemorated in the Lesser Feasts and Fasts of the Episcopal Church (August 7) and on the Calendar of Saints of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (July 1).
Inspired by Winkworth's rich translation, we are, therefore, prepared to hear the God's commandments and listen for God's message.
The congregation cheered and applauded this past Sunday morning when the Rector announced:
“Only eight Sundays until we’re back in the nave!”
Yes, the finish line is in sight, and we are down to the wire. The nave presently still is surrounded with chain-link fencing and is inaccessible. When walking the halls of the parish house, we frequently hear jackhammering and beeping equipment coming from behind its locked interior doors.
However, on the outside of the nave, we see a new roof and huge new palladian windows. Inside we see a new slate tile floor on the surrounding hallways.
Palm Sunday will be a triumphant day in the life of this parish. When all is said and done, every inch of interior space will have been remodeled, reconfigured, or constructed anew, except for only the chapel and nave balcony.
After returning to the nave, only four projects will remain, which will be completed by July: Cheney Parish Hall refurbishment, new nave pews, front lawn restoration, and outside signage.
Indeed, we are getting all new pews, to be installed in May, which means that on Palm Sunday and Easter Day we will be using stackable and/or folding chairs.
Folding chairs have played a significant part in the history of this parish, and the congregation has played along as troopers.
In January 1950 when the nave was first opened, there were folding chairs; the pews arrived some weeks later. In June 2019, the old pews were removed while we were still in the nave, and we had “Folding Chairs Sunday,” which was a major photo op!
In our parish archives, we have the folding chairs photos from 1950 and 2019, and we will have others from 2020 Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter.
There are so many memories in these buildings, and the parish history is illustrious. In year eighteen for me, I cannot believe that I have witnessed history in this place, as I still think of myself as “the new guy.”
When I am greeting appointments outside our new parish office suite, I take great delight in showing four of the eight windows in the large upstairs hallway and gathering space, saying, “These four windows used to be in the Choir Room.”
In early July, the construction crews will depart a completed church and school campus after 26 months of work, which is difficult to believe, and we will valiantly move forward in ministry.
“Only eight Sundays.”
Of course, I must write on The Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple this week, as it is a red-letter day.
Red letter days, referring to special days on any calendar, have their origins from calendars of the Roman Republic (509-527 BC) when they were printed on the calendars with red ink.
After the invention of the printing press, the red-letter day practice was continued in liturgical books of the Roman Catholic Church.
The feast days or holy days on the calendar of the first Book of Common Prayer (1549) were printed in red. In the current Book of Common Prayer (1979), these holy days are listed on p. 16.
Our cycle of feast days and holy days consists of Principal Feasts, which most everyone can quickly list: Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, All Saints’ Day, Christmas, and the Epiphany.
All Sundays of the year are considered major feasts, feasts of Our Lord Jesus Christ. However, there are three fixed-date feasts that, when they fall on a Sunday, take precedence on a Sunday: The Holy Name (January 1), The Presentation (February 2), and The Transfiguration (August 6).
All these liturgical minutiae may not make a big difference in the day-to-day world, but when you work for the church and are trying to maintain the celebrations of the Christian Year correctly, these things do make a difference.
The Feast of the Presentation does document a beloved story in the life of Jesus. Following Jewish law, Joseph and Mary brought the infant Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem “to present him to the Lord.”
An old devoutly religious man, Simeon, was there in the temple. The Holy Spirit had spoken to Simeon, saying that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Seeing and taking the child into his arms, Simeon proclaimed,
“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)
Also in the temple, praying, fasting, and worshipping at the time, was the prophetess Anna, the daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher. Anna also began praising God and testifying about who the child was.
Therefore, this Sunday, February 2, is not the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany but the actual Feast of the Presentation. Truth be told, our music and liturgy this Sunday will not be that different. Many of the themes of Epiphany season and the Presentation are the very same: light, revelation, truth, hope.
At the 10:30 service, the Sequence hymn is a metrical setting of the Nunc dimittis (Song of Simeon) canticle, which we occasionally use at choral or congregational Evensong; this hymn became a favorite when our 5:30 Sunday service began in 2001. At Communion, we will sing two congregational favorites, “Let all mortal flesh” and “Christ, mighty Savior.”
The text of this Sunday's opening hymn tells the story of this feast day:
O Zion, open wide thy gates, let symbols disappear;
a priest and victim, both in one, the Truth himself, is here.
Aware of hidden deity, the lowly virgin brings
her newborn babe, with two young doves, her humble offerings.
The aged Simeon sees at last his Lord, so long desired,
and Anna welcomes Israel’s hope, with holy rapture fired.
But silent knelt the mother blest of the yet silent Word,
and pondering all things in her heart, with speechless praise adored.
All glory to the Father be, all glory to the Son,
all glory, Holy Ghost, to thee, while endless ages run.
Jean Baptiste de Santeüíl (1630-1697), tr. Edward Caswall (1814-1878).
Hymn 257 in The Hymnal 1982.
Photo credit: The Presentation (c. 1000 AD) from the Menologion of Basil, an illuminated manuscript of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Public domain.