Music Notes | Tenth Sunday After Pentecost

Eric Mellenbruch Associate Director of Music and Organist

This week we continue the series of Gospel readings from the ‘Bread of Life’ discourse in John 6, paired with a passage from Exodus 16, and one from Psalm 78, describing the LORD’s provision of manna to the Israelites in the wilderness. Thus our hymnody focuses on both the Eucharist (of which the manna is seen as a type, often in conjunction with the water that flowed from the rock, Exodus 17) and, secondarily, on the theme of pilgrimage (‘earthly pilgrimage’ being found in several Prayer Book prayers as a descriptor of the Church on earth): ‘Shepherd of souls, refresh and bless’ [343] (see notes for Proper 11, July 18), ‘Guide me, O thou great Jehovah’ [690] (heard in an anthem arrangement), and ‘O Food to pilgrims given’ [309] (see Easter 3, April 26 of last year) all use these very images. 

Our Postcommunion hymn, ‘Glorious things of thee are spoken’ [522], also draws upon the Exodus 16 account, as well as various manifestations of water. John Newton’s hymn, entitled ‘The City of God’, is a description of heaven – but that is a reality which which we experience here and now most fully through the Church and her Sacraments. In Holy Baptism we experience the ‘living waters’ of God’s grace: an image found all over the Scriptures which grew up in a desert land, from the rivers flowing from Eden and from Zion [Rev. 22.1–2; Ezek. 47.1–12; Zech. 14], to the aforementioned water in the wilderness [see also Ps. 78.20; Isaiah 48.21; 1 Cor. 10.3–4], to Our Lord’s encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well [John 4] and His invitation to the thirsty [John 7; cf. Isaiah 55.1]. The manna is the Body of Christ made present in the bread of the Eucharist. And the Eucharist (which means ‘thanksgiving’) is indeed our thank offering, which we, the ‘royal priesthood’, bring before God (1 Pet. 2.9 and others). 

Our opening hymn, ‘O day of radiant gladness’ [48], puts both the Eucharist and the idea of pilgrimage into the context of the Lord’s Day, the first and eighth day, on which light was created, Christ arose, the Spirit came down; on which we hear the Holy Scripture and greet God’s ‘living presence’ ‘through Bread and Wine made clear’; and toward which ‘we journey on, believing’ and ‘walk the pilgrim way, at length our rest attaining’. 

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