Music Notes | Harvest Sunday (Proper 28)

Eric Mellenbruch Associate Director of Music and Organist

This Sunday has been named ‘Harvest Sunday’ at St David’s as parishioners are invited to make financial commitments to the parish’s ministry for the next year, returning a portion of their wealth as an offering of thanks and praise to God. Two of our hymns in particular reflect this emphasis.

‘Praise to God, immortal praise’ [288] is drawn from a hymn of nine stanzas, the work of Anna Laetitia Barbauld (1743–1825), an English poet, essayist, critic, educator, editor, and children’s author who paved the way for other women to publish and otherwise be active in the public sphere. The original text is headed ‘Praise to God in Prosperity and Adversity; the Hymnal text, focusing on ‘Prosperity’, uses parts of the first several stanzas, substantially editing portions that have not aged well (‘For the vine’s exalted juice, / for the generous olive’s use’, for example), and omitting altogether the second half of the original, a paraphrase of Habakkuk 3.17–18 focusing on ‘Adversity’. The result is a satisfying hymn that establishes God’s providence as a product of divine love, and likewise sets our response of generous thanks in the context of ‘deeds of kindly love’. The repetition of the first line as the last, with the same rhyme in reverse, is a deft touch, while the setting to the familiar and gracious tune ‘Dix’ assures singability and liturgical suitability.

‘O Jesus, crowned with all renown’ [292] is the work of Edward White Benson, who after a series of scholastic and ecclesiastical positions served as Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1880s–90s. The Hymnal text covers similar ground to ‘Praise to God, immortal praise’, though with somewhat more exalted language; here, too, the ‘deeds of kindly love’ to which we aspire are more specifically represented by the prayer ‘that we may feed the poor aright’ from God’s bounty. Omitted portions of the original, longer, text include a treatment of the majesty of the cosmos and Christ’s role as the one through whom all things came to be; a reference to the new covenant after the Flood; and finally a passage locating our rendering of offerings to God explicitly in the church house and specifically at the altar, where 

…to give the second birth

in mysteries and signs, 

the face of Christ o’er all the earth

on kneeling myriads shines

and which is a preview of heaven. The Hymnal assigns this hymn for Rogation Days (the days before Ascension Day, when a procession is made around parish boundaries to bless the land); I do not know whether the hymn was written for that occasion, but the full original text, even more than the much shorter revision, might be seen as following the progress of the Rogation procession, which ultimately arrives in the church house.

Sunday’s eschatological lessons do not use harvest imagery, but the connection between harvest-time and the end-time has been made at least since the era of Hebrew prophecy when the harvest- and pilgrimage-festival of Sukkoth (Tabernacles or Booths) came to symbolize the Day of the LORD when all peoples would be gathered at Mount Zion (see especially Zechariah 10 and 14, and Revelation 7). The Christian feasts of the Transfiguration and Holy Cross are connected to Sukkoth, and Thanksgiving Day, some of whose appointed lessons are also used in Advent proper (see also ‘Come, ye thankful people, come [Hymn 290]), also takes its place within the narrative arc of Christ’s Second Coming that runs through this portion of the Church’s year. And so when the parish gathers for Harvest Sunday and gathers in its riches to make offerings to the LORD and provide for God’s beloved poor – and in this time of contagion does so in plain sight, outside the walls of the church house – we pray that our actions, however small and local, will be sign and means – a sacrament – of God’s gathering, reconciling love that is constantly unfolding and enfolding until that day when all will know it fully.

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