Music Notes | Fourth Sunday After Pentecost

Eric Mellenbruch Associate Director of Music and Organist

This Sunday as we continue to read through the Gospel according to St Mark, we find the disciples threatened by a storm as they cross the Sea of Galilee. Our Lord, no doubt exhausted from his work of teaching and healing, looks set to sleep through the whole event, until his friends, desperate, wake him, whereupon he commands the wind to cease. The Old Testament Lesson appointed to accompany this Gospel passage is the LORD’s rebuke to Job: ‘Where were you when I created the earth?’ (That is, ‘Who do you think you are?’) Appointed portions of Psalm 107 also speak of God’s command over creation: ‘He stilled the storm to a whisper / and quieted the waves of the sea’. Three of our hymns this week deal more or less directly with these themes. 

Isaac Watts’s ‘I sing the almighty power of God’ [398] was originally written for children, under the title ‘Praise for Creation and Providence’. It simply and beautifully acknowledges the power, wisdom, and goodness of God as known from nature, and God’s constant presence with us – and in the 21st century also challenges us to do our part to care for this good earth. In ‘Jesus, Lover of my soul’ [699], Charles Wesley uses the image of a storm to speak of the poem’s subject as given in its original title, ‘In Temptation’; in the third stanza, he contrasts the frightening and destructive power of water – and thus of the tempestuous passions and lures that buffet us – with water’s nourishing and cleansing properties, ascribing the latter to Christ himself: ‘Thou of life the fountain art’; ‘Let the healing streams abound’. Where Watts’s genial text has been paired with an equally friendly English folk tune, ‘Forest Green’, the brooding mood of Wesley’s hymn is captured and heightened by the tune ‘Aberystwyth’, the work of Welsh composer and professor Joseph Parry (who later used Wesley’s text with this tune in a cantata of his composition). 

Finally, ‘Eternal Father, strong to save’ [608] deals skillfully with the interactions of each Person of the Trinity with water: the Father who, as both our Old Testament Lesson and Psalm remind us, ‘bidd’st the mighty ocean deep / its own appointed limits keep’; the Son ‘whose voice the waters heard / and hushed their raging at thy word’; the Spirit ‘who didst brood upon the chaos dark and rude’, ending each of the first three stanzas with the same prayer: ‘O hear us when we cry to thee / for those in peril on the sea’. The final stanza, now naming the Trinity, broadens this petition to include all of God’s children: ‘from rock and tempest, fire and foe, protect them wheresoe’er they go’. The tune ‘Melita’ was written for this text by John Bacchus Dykes, who wrote a number of other hymn-tunes in the 1860s (including the tune ‘Nicaea’, to which we sing ‘Holy, holy, holy’); Melita is the Latin name of Malta and refers to the safe haven St Paul found there after a shipwreck [Acts 28]. 

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