Music Notes | Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Eric Mellenbruch Associate Director of Music and Organist

After Jesus stills the storm in Mark 4, we find him healing and restoring, first, the Gerasene demoniac (a passage curiously omitted in the Revised Common Lectionary), then, in this week’s passage, the woman who had suffered a hemorrhage for twelve years, and the daughter of a leader of the synagogue, thought to be dead. A passage from the Wisdom of Solomon – ‘God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living’ – accompanies this Gospel portion, and we will sing the classic hymn on the subject of healing, ‘O for a thousand tongues to sing’ (see notes for 2021-01-31, the 4th Sunday after the Epiphany). Our opening hymn, ‘Immortal, invisible, God only wise’ [423], besides being a general hymn of praise, states more specifically, ‘To all life thou givest, to both great and small; / in all life thou livest, the true life of all’. ‘O God, our help in ages past’ [680] also speaks of the unchanging, everlasting presence of God, ‘under the shadow of [whose] throne / [his] saints have dwelt secure’. (For more on this great hymn, please see the notes for 2020-08-09).

We continue our review of the parish’s repertory of Communion hymns with ‘For the bread which you have broken’ [341], written in 1924 by hymnologist and hymnographer Louis F. Benson, modified somewhat for the Hymnal 1982. Many will likely hear the first stanza as thanksgiving for the historical work of Christ, for bread broken, wine poured, words spoken during Our Lord’s earthly life, and it certainly is that. The Hymnal Companion, however, calls this text a postcommunion hymn (the present-perfect verbs in the first stanza do suggest a more immediate past time frame than New Testament days), which would imply that Christ is the host of the particular celebration of the Eucharist at which it is sung – as indeed, in some sense he is, the human celebrant being rather a ‘steward of the divine mysteries’, as the Collect for the Common of Pastors [BCP 197, following I Corinthians 4.1 and Titus 1.7] puts it.

The second stanza identifies three of the many aspects of the Eucharist – it is a pledge of love, a gift of shalom, an invitation to the eternal banquet (at which we will see our host face to face) – and suggests, by its concluding petition, that all of these can ‘hallow all our lives’. That is perhaps this hymn’s most profound insight, worthy of much contemplation: that the Sacrament and God’s purposes revealed therein, however fleetingly we glimpse them, have the power to make every life, and the totality of each life, holy.

The third stanza was rewritten as part of a thoroughgoing modernization of the text; however, the thrust of this stanza has been somewhat compromised. The original read

With our sainted ones in glory

seated at our Father’s board,

may the Church that waiteth for thee

keep love’s tie unbroken, Lord.

– but whereas ‘love’s tie’ was a tie ‘with our sainted ones’ – that is, the Sacrament was seen as a means of connection between the heavenly and earthly parts of the Church – in the revised version beginning ‘As our blessed ones adore you…’, the two parts of the Church exist instead somewhat in parallel, and the tie seems to exist only within the earthly Church. The final stanza asks for the Lord’s presence and protection and, finally, for the realization of all for

which we pray: ‘let your kingdom come, O Lord’.

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