President’s Wall – A Fence with an Open Gate

Walking along Highland Avenue in Birmingham, Alabama, yesterday I saw this sign.

It is located in front of the parking lot of Temple Beth-el. The “wall” is actually a brick and iron fence installed as part of an effort to beautify the synagogue’s street front. There are no gates on the driveways that lead across into the parking lot and the synagogue’s main week-day entrance.

It will be interesting to see how the wall that President Trump may eventually claim to have built compares to that of this synagogue president.

Conversion of St. Paul and the Feasts of Apostles

Today, January 25th, is the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. There is a nice arrangement of the liturgical calendar in the fact that exactly one month after Christmas, in the season of Epiphany, comes the feast of the great missionary apostle. It is also the last day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This eight-day period has been observed since 1908. It begins on January 18. Originally Anglican, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic churches all observed it as feast of St. Peter. Thus the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity unites the feast of these two apostles who are often seen as rivals.

It is possible to read too much into the traditional assignment of days to the feasts of biblical saints. Since the dates of their death or martyrdom are generally unknown, their traditional days have more do to with the dedication of churches in their honor, if their origin is known at all.

But, since allegorical interpretation is common in Christianity, one may consider that:

  • The feast of St. Andrew, the first apostle to be called to follow Jesus, begins the liturgical year on November 30.
  • The feast of “doubting” Thomas occurs on the shortest day of the year (in the northern hemisphere) when the light of the sun begins to grow stronger over the darkness of the night.
  • The feast of John the Apostle, Evangelist, and Beloved Disciple is closest to Jesus’ birthday. This is fitting both because he was the disciple who reclined next to Jesus at the Last Supper, and whom the Gospel of John says served as an intermediary for Peter on a few occasions.
  • The twin feasts of the Confession of Peter and the Conversion of Paul have a nice alliterative symmetry in English. They twin the sometime-rival apostles in the winter even as they are twinned in the feast of their martyrdom in the summer on June 29. As Paul has often been seen as the “type” and “representative” of Protestantism, grace, and freedom and Peter of Roman Catholicism, law, and order, octave, or eight days including their feasts is well chosen as a time to emphasize Christian Unity. They also figure most prominently in the story of early Christian missions in the Acts of the Apostles and thus fittingly occur in the season of Epiphany that is so closely associated with mission.
  • The feasts of Simon and Jude, two of the most obscure apostles occurs near the end of the year, shortly before the feast of All Saints’, which exists in part to honor those saints whom the church has forgotten.

Of course not all Christian observe the same calendar of saints. In reforming and consolidating their medieval inheritance, Western Christian have taken slightly different paths. In the 1960s, the Roman Catholic church

  • Moved the feast of St. Thomas to July 3 so it would not be overshadowed by the special observances leading up to Christmas.
  • Moved the feast of St. Matthais was moved from February 25, which often falls in Lent, to May 14. Some have suggested that it be observed on the Monday after the Ascension, since Mathias’s only appearance in the Bible is when he is chosen after Jesus’ ascension and before Pentecost.
  • Combined the two feasts of the Chair of Peter (on January 18 and February 22) into one on February 22.

Anglicans and Lutherans kept January 18 as the Confession of St. Peter and did not observe February 22. But they have divided among themselves on whether to follow the other changes. The Episcopal Church and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod have kept the traditional dates, while the Church of England and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have adopted the new Roman dates. The two major variations of the the Western calendar of apostolic feasts follow below.

Calendar of the Episcopal Church and Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod

November 30 – Andrew
December 21 – Thomas
December 27 – John
January 18 – Peter (confession of)
January 25 – Paul (conversion of)
February 25 – Matthias
May 1 – Philip and James (the less, son of Alphaeus)
June 11 – Barnabas
June 29 – Peter and Paul
July 25 – James (the greater, son of Zebedee)
August 24 – Bartholomew
September 21 – Matthew
October 28 – Simon and Jude

General Roman Calendar

November 30 – Andrew
December 27 – John
January 25 – Paul (conversion of)
February 22 – Peter (chair of)
May 3 – Philip and James (the less, son of Alphaeus)
May 14 – Matthias
June 11 – Barnabas
June 29 – Peter and Paul
July 3 – Thomas
July 25 – James (the greater, son of Zebedee)
August 24 – Bartholomew
September 21 – Matthew
October 28 – Simon and Jude

Shades Creek History and Samford’s Campus

I learned yesterday that the Birmingham Historical Society’s newest book, Shades Creek: Flowing through Time will be released Saturday at the annual Salamander Festival sponsored by the Friends of Shades Creek. The cover photo appears to be of the portion of Shades Creek adjacent to Samford’s Intramural Fields. The rapids in the foreground are formed by a watervane Samford installed in 2010 to help stabilize the bank and improve the quality of the creek. My colleagues in our biology and environmental science programs can tell you the mixed story of that experiment’s success. They can also fill you in on the salamanders that migrate into pools adjacent to this site about this time every year.

My part in this book was sharing my research on the development of Samford’s Lakeshore campus with Marjorie White, the historical society’s long-time leader and one of the book’s principal authors. It was great to discuss the contribution tot he campusof the famous landscape architectural firm Olmsted Brothers with someone who knows so much about their work and their contribution to Birmingham. I can’t wait to read the finished product.

After Howard College, now Samford University, purchased land on the north side of Shades Creek Road, now Lakeshore Drive, in 1947, it was given the flood plain of Shades Creek which had recently been a lake by the county for a dollar. Gradually Samford sold off or developed most of that land which resulted in the channelizing of the once winding creek. The book will tell the story of this development.

Bizarrely, Google Maps still labels the lake and shows part of the creek’s winding path even though both ceased to exist before Google existed.

Detail of Google map.
Google Map image captured January 23, 2019.

Part of my research on the development of Samford’s campus on the north side of Lakeshore Drive was published in Samford’s Seasons magazine in the Winter 2005 issue. You can read the four page article here. The whole issue and other issues are available are available on the Samford website. Much of the article focuses on the changes between the initial site plan prepared in 1947 by the Boston-based landscape architects, Olmsted Brothers, and the later plan that guided development to the present day. The Birmingham-based firm Van Keuren and Davis (now Davis Architects) partnered with Olmsted Brothers in the first plan, but developed the second by itself.

The initial plan arranged the main quad at an angle to Lakeshore Drive so that it was sited toward the lake. It also had separate quadrangles for men’s and women’s dorms and a back entrance on to Saulter Road. The chapel, rather than the library, was placed at the head of the main drive.

1947 site plan.
Olmsted Brothers, Landscape Architects and E.B. Van Keuren & Charles F. Davis Architects, “Howard College, Birmingham, Alabama, Preliminary Site Plan, October 2, 1947. Special Collections, Samford University Library
1950 perspective.

Howard’s Future Campus, Howard College Alumnus, December 1950.

This plan was abandoned because grading the land to develop it was estimated to be too expensive. This was due in part to apparent inconsistencies between the topographic information supplied to Olmsted Brothers and the actual topography of the land. Van Keuren and Davis’s 1955 plan was more compact, more enclosed, and veered away from the traditions of landscape architecture favored by Olmsted and more toward the classical Beaux-Arts tradition.

1955 perspective.
Van Keuren, Davis, and Company, “Howard College, Birmingham, Alabama,” 1955. perspective. Special Collections, Samford University.
Model of 1955 plan.
Van Keuren, Davis, and Company, model of 1955 plan. Special Collections, Samford University Library.

By using a smaller portion of the site, it left more room for later development, including the eventual sale of the eastern end of the campus to Southern Progress. This land and the three large buildings now on it was repurchased in 2014 and now housed the College of Health Sciences.

The legacy of the Olmsted Brothers plan survives in few ways. These include the location of the site itself, the siting of the main entrance, and the positioning of the performing arts center near Lakeshore Drive and the west gate. Marjorie White has long championed the legacy of Olmsted Brothers and other landscape architects in Birmingham. I look forward to reading more about this in her new book.

Spaces that Shape: Architecture for Worship

In the summer of 2017, the Center for Worship and the Arts at Samford University produced a nine-minute video on understanding church architecture. It was used in Animate, their week-long summer program for teenagers and others. I provided the narration. I’ll be referring to it in a talk at a All Saints’ Episcopal Church this week, so I’m sharing it here for easy access. I hope you find it helpful.

They produced a teaching activity handout based on my notes. If you are interested, let me know, and I’ll see if we can track down a copy.

Epiphany Proclamation of the Date of Easter: History, Texts, and Suggestions

My students know that I am fascinated by religious calendars and liturgical texts. These come together uniquely in the the formal announcement of the date of Easter and other feasts at the celebration of the Epiphany. This ancient custom originated long before printed calendars and may seem utterly unnecessary today. Indeed for most of the history of printing, it has not been performed in parish churches. Yet, in recent decades it has been revived in some Roman Catholic and other churches as a way of linking the observance of Christ’s birth to his resurrection. There now two texts commonly used for the proclamation in English. I think both have there merits and that the one more commonly used by Anglicans and Episcopalians would benefit from a few edits.

History
A variety of sources from the fifth and sixth centuries testify that after parish clergy received news of the date of Easter each year from their bishop they would announce it on Epiphany. From at least the sixteenth century, however, in the Roman Rite the announcement occurred only in Epiphany masses celebrated by a bishop. It survived longer as a practice in parish churches in the Parasian Rite. But this use was curtailed in the nineteenth century. Beginning in the 1970s, Liturgy Training Publications published an English version of it for optional use in Catholic parishes (Merz 2011). A few Episcopalians, Anglicans and perhaps some other Protestants began to use it as well to add an additional festive element to the Epiphany celebration and unite the nativity and paschal cycles of the church year.

Texts, Music, and Variations
Two English texts for the proclamation are in common use. A translation of the Latin text is supplied in the current Roman Missal (2011). Its content is very matter-of-fact. It begins, “Know, dear brothers and sisters that, as we have rejoiced at the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, so by leave of God’s mercy, we announce to you also the joy of his resurrection” and then proceeds to list the dates. Its liturgical performance, however, is more significant than the text itself. It is sung to the same tone as the Easter Proclamation (the Exsultet). For those familiar with it, it brings the full joy and solemnity of the Easter Vigil into the Epiphany eucharist. (The text and a video of its performance are near the end of this post.)

A longer form, approved by the Congregation for Divine Worship in 1989, was used by Roman Catholics through 2011. It is still the version most commonly used by Episcopalians and Anglicans. This longer form is more instructive and can hold its own in the liturgy even if it is not sung. It was published to be sung to a preface tone, not the Exsultet. Using the same tone as the Exsultet would be an improvement.

The text itself needs improvement in at least two places. First, it states, “from Easter are reckoned all the days we keep holy.” This is true theologically. And thus through a “theological license” one might deem it liturgically acceptable. Yet, it is not true calendrically and the proclamation is about the details of the calendar. Second, given the Easter-centered elaboration in this text, the abrupt announcement of the date of the First Sunday of Advent sounds like an awkward. It should be included more logically into the flow of the proclamation. Here is the text as it stands, below it I will propose changes to remedy this problems.

Dear brothers and sisters, the glory of the Lord has shone upon us, and shall ever be manifest among us, until the day of his return. Through the rhythms of times and seasons let us celebrate the mysteries of salvation.
Let us recall the year’s culmination, the Easter Triduum of the Lord: his last supper, his crucifixion, his burial, and his rising celebrated between the evening of the . . . of . . . and the evening of the . . . of . . .
Each Easter–as on each Sunday–the Holy Church makes present the great and saving deed by which Christ has for ever conquered sin and death.
From Easter are reckoned all the days we keep holy. Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, will occur on the . . . of . . ..
The Ascension of the Lord will be commemorated on the . . . of . . .
Pentecost, the joyful conclusion of the season of Easter, will be celebrated on the . . . of . . . And this year the First Sunday of Advent will be on the . . . of . . . .
Likewise the pilgrim Church proclaims the passover of Christ in the feasts of the holy Mother of God, in the feasts of the Apostles and Saints, and in the commemoration of the faithful departed.
To Jesus Christ, who was, who is, and who is to come, Lord of time and history, be endless praise, for ever and ever.
R. Amen

“The Proclamation of the Date of Easter on Epiphany,” Sacramentary Supplement . . . Approved for Use in the Diocese of the United States of America by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and Confirmed by the Apostolic See  (New York: Catholic Book Publishing, 1994), 28

The first change I propose is simply to insert the word “moveable” before “days we keep holy.” This brings the text in line with the realities of the calendar. The dates of Christmas and most saints’ days are in no way affected by Easter’s changing date.

The second change is to move the announcement of the date of the beginning of Advent until after the sentence about the feasts of the saints, and to link it to them. There are a couple of good ways to do this. My preference is to follow ancient tradition and the universal norms for the Catholic calendar issued by Pope Paul VI and state that Advent begins on the Sunday closest to St. Andrew’s Day, November 30 (Roman Missal,114). The First Sunday of Advent is always both the fourth Sunday before December 25th and the Sunday nearest November 30. Since Andrew was the first apostle called by Jesus, it makes sense that he begins the liturgical year. With this change I suggest the end of the proclamation be:

“Likewise the pilgrim Church proclaims the passover of Christ in the feasts of the holy Mother of God, in the feasts of the Apostles and Saints, and in the commemoration of the faithful departed.
“These conclude and begin anew with the feast of Andrew, the first Apostle to follow the Lord, on the 30th of November. Thus the First Sunday of the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ will be the … day of ….
“To Jesus Christ, who was, who is, and who is to come, Lord of time and history, be endless praise, for ever and ever.”

(If November 30 is a Sunday, Andrew’s feast is transferred to December 1. In that case the text is given as above, but with December 1 given as Andrew’s day.)

If the mention of St. Andrew is not desirable, an alternative ending is

“These days are reckoned from the Nativity of our Lord, as is the season of his Advent which this year will begin on Sunday, the . . . of . . ..

Arguably, the reference to the “day of his return” in the opening of this long form of the proclamation invites a more significant reference to Advent and the Second Coming as a kind of inclusio, but I’ll save that proposal for others or another time.

Full texts of the short form, the long form with my edits, and other resources follow below.

‘Short Form’ Announcement of Easter and the Movable Feasts (Roman Missal, 2011) — Text and Performance

Know, dear brethren (brothers and sisters),
that, as we have rejoiced at the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ,
so by leave of God’s mercy
we announce to you also the joy of his Resurrection,
who is our Savior.
On the  day of  will fall Ash Wednesday,
and the beginning of the fast of the most sacred Lenten season.
On the  day of … you will celebrate with joy Easter Day,
the Paschal feast of our Lord Jesus Christ.
On the … day of … will be the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ.]
On the … day of …, the feast of Pentecost.
On the … day of , the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.
On the … day of , the First Sunday of the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom is honor and glory for ever and ever.
Amen.

“The Announcement of Easter and the Moveable Feasts” Roman Missal (USCCB, 2011), 1448-49
Instructional video from the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon. The proclamation itself begins at 1:51.

As Corinna Laughlin notes in her pastoral introduction to the text, the fact that the Roman Missale does not include the text of the Epiphany proclamation without music suggests that if it is not sung, it should not be read (Proclamations 2011). That makes sense to me if this short form is to be used.

‘Long Form’ “The Proclamation of the Date of Easter on Epiphany” (1989) Sacramentary Supplement (1994) — Performance

‘Long Form’ with suggested amendments incorporated

Dear brothers and sisters, the glory of the Lord has shone upon us, and shall ever be manifest among us, until the day of his return. Through the rhythms of times and seasons let us celebrate the mysteries of salvation.
Let us recall the year’s culmination, the Easter Triduum of the Lord: his last supper, his crucifixion, his burial, and his rising celebrated between the evening of the . . . of . . .and the evening of the . . . of . . ..
Each Easter – as on each Sunday – the Holy Church makes present the great and saving deed by which Christ has for ever conquered sin and death.
From Easter are reckoned all the movable days we keep holy. Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, will occur on the . . . of . . . .
The Ascension of the Lord will be commemorated on the . . . of . . ..
Pentecost, the joyful conclusion of the season of Easter, will be celebrated on the . . . of . . ..
Likewise the pilgrim Church proclaims the passover of Christ in the feasts of the holy Mother of God, in the feasts of the Apostles and Saints, and in the commemoration of the faithful departed.
These conclude and begin anew with the feast of Andrew, the first Apostle to follow the Lord, on the 30th of November. Thus the First Sunday of the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ will be the … of ….
To Jesus Christ, who was, who is, and who is to come, Lord of time and history, be endless praise, for ever and ever.
R. Amen

Other Resources

  • The version of the long form provided by Creighton University’s Online Ministries includes the date of Easter Sunday as well as the Triduum.
  • The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops provides the short form with dates for 2019 on its site.
  • On his popular Liturgy blog, Bosco Peters provides the long form, including the dates of Easter Sunday, divided so that it may be read by two lectors.
  • A recording of an a capella proclamation of the long form is here. The audio is good, though the video is shaky.
  • The short form in both Latin and English set in musical notation may be found in various resources including on the Chant Cafe blog.
  • A useful history of the proclamation is provided by Henri Adam de Villers on the New Liturgical Movement Blog.

Works Cited

  • Merz, Daniel J., and Marcel Rooney. 2011. Essential presidential prayers and texts : a Roman missal study edition and workbook. Chicago, IL: Liturgy Training Publications.
  • Proclamations for Christmas, Epiphany, and Easter. 2011. Chicago, IL: Liturgy Training Publications.
  • The Roman Missal . . . English Translation According to the Third Typical Edition For Use in the Diocese of the United States of America. 2011. Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications.
  • Sacramentary Supplement . . . Approved for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America. 1994. New York: Catholic Book Publishing.

Trump as Cyrus

In an earlier post I mentioned that some evangelical supporters of President Donald Trump see him as “a ‘Cyrus’ figure.” A few recent publications have brought more attention to that idea.

In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Katherine Stewart reports that evangelical author Lance Wallnau has drawn draws a rhetorical connection between the 45th president and a chapter of Isaiah in which Cyrus appears, “I believe the 45th president is meant to be an Isaiah 45 Cyrus.” Stewart further explains,

Ralph Drollinger, who has led weekly Bible study groups in the White House attended by Vice President Mike Pence and many other cabinet members, likes the word “king” so much that he frequently turns it into a verb. “Get ready to king in our future lives,” he tells his followers. “Christian believers will — soon, I hope — become the consummate, perfect governing authorities!”

The great thing about kings like Cyrus, as far as today’s Christian nationalists are concerned, is that they don’t have to follow rules. They are the law. This makes them ideal leaders in paranoid times.

Katherine Stewart, “Why Trump Reigns as King Cyrus,” The New York Times, December 31, 2018

In a Washington Post interview published the next day, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell, Jr. doesn’t explicitly compare Trump to Cyrus, but does state that there is nothing Mr. Trump will do that will jeopardize his evangelical support. He also firmly endorses a form of a two kingdoms theology.

There’s two kingdoms. There’s the earthly kingdom and the heavenly kingdom. In the heavenly kingdom the responsibility is to treat others as you’d like to be treated. In the earthly kingdom, the responsibility is to choose leaders who will do what’s best for your country.

Joe Heim, “Jerry Falwell Jr. can’t imagine Trump ‘doing anything that’s not good for the country’,” Washington Post Magazine, January 1, 2019.

Such a theology does not require supporters to value the president’s personal character or religious faith. Though as Stewart points out their preference for him as a strong, unquestioning leader does dovetail with many recent themes in conservative evangelical theology and church polity. Strong executives are in, congregational government is out.

St. John the Evangelist, Philip Schaff, and Christian Unity

Today, December 27, is the feast day of St. John the Evangelist. While internal evidence in the Bible suggests otherwise, tradition identifies him as the son of Zebedee, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and the author of all five books in the New Testament ascribed to a John. As such his role in the New Testament is rivaled only by Peter and Paul. He is recognized in Christian art by usually being beardless or symbolized by an eagle or a chalice with a snake.

St. John the Evangelist represented as on the base of pulpit in Cordoba Cathedal, Spain, and in a rose window at St. Paul’s Cathedral, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA.

Co-editing the works of the pioneering church historian Philip Schaff with my colleague Ted Trost, I learned much about the adulation John has received through the centuries. Schaff was born almost 200 years ago on January 1, 1819. Next week the bicentennial of his birth will be celebrated at the annual meeting of the American Society of Church History, which he founded.

In his first book, The Principle of Protestantism (1845), Schaff wrote

John, the apostle of love, has not without reason been styled by the church the “Theologian” per eminentiam. For by the eagle flight of his believing speculation into the depths of God and his Word as existing before the world and then made flesh for our salvation, he may be said to have led the way to Christian theology in its bold and glorious course. His love is only the strong will-force of knowledge, his knowledge but the keen vision of love.

The whole history of the Church furnishes proof that the men who have exerted the greatest and most happy influence, the wakers of a new life, the pillars of the temple of God, have always been distinguished also above there contemporaries by a thorough scientific cultivation.

Philip Schaff, The Principle of Protestantism, trans. John W. Nevin, in The Development of the Church, edited by David R. Bains and Theodore Louis Trost (Wipf and Stock, 2017), 175-6.

Schaff cites a medieval Latin hymn in praise of John. In his St. John the Divine: The Deified Evangelist in Medieval Art and Theology, Jeffery Hamburger translates it:

He flies like a bird without limit,
in that neither seer nor prophet
ever flew higher.
As much what would be fulfilled as what has been,
never were so many secrets seen
so purely by a pure man.

Cited in Development of the Church, 175

Schaff was an ecumenist, passionately concerned with the reunion of what he, following his German teachers, called the church of Peter (Roman Catholicism) with the church of Paul (Protestantism) in the coming church of John. He closes the Principle of Protestantism stating

The revivification of the spirit of John the evangelist, in the Church, will open the way directly for his second coming, to establish the Church absolute and triumphant, in which law and freedom shall both be perfect in one, and the results of all previous development appear conserved as the constituent elements of a higher and more
glorious state. To this refers the mystical sense of Christ’s word, John 21:22, where he speaks enigmatically of John’s tarrying till his second coming.

Schaff, The Principle of Protestantism, in The Development of the Church, 190.

With such an emphasis on John–the beloved disciple, the theologian, the evangelist, the author of Revelation–as the embodiment of the coming church of the future, it is unsurprising that Americans would name him patron of their largest and most ambitious church, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. Its name was fixed in a 1873 charter when Schaff was in his prime at age 54. Its cornerstone was laid on this day in 1892 a year before Schaff’s death. Its structure, like the reunion of Christ’s visible church is still unfinished.

Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, New York. Crossing and choir (interior, 2009), Exterior from the south.

While for Schaff, the key attributes of John were knowledge and love, the traditional Anglican collect for this feast highlights the theme of the light of truth appropriate for this dark time of year in the northern hemisphere. The phrasing in the Church of England’s Common Worship captures it best.

Merciful Lord,
cast your bright beams of light upon the Church:
that, being enlightened by the teaching of your most blessed apostle and evangelist Saint John,
we may so walk in the light of your truth
that we may at last attain to the light of everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

“O Mercy Divine” Wesley’s Original Text and Weir’s New Carol Setting for Nine Lessons and Carols

On Christmas Eve a new setting of a Charles Wesley Christmas hymn by Judith Weir was premiered as part of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College Chapel, Cambridge University. Weir set nine stanza’s of Charles Wesley’s 1745 text “O Mercy Divine.” The premier performance may be heard as part of free on-demand streaming of the festival at the BBC Radio 4 website until January 21. It begins at 1:05:30. The text and a note from the composer appear in the order of service on the college’s website. The stanzas included in Weir’s setting are:

O mercy divine,
how couldst thou incline,
my God, to become such an infant as mine?

What a wonder of grace,
the Ancient of Days
is found in the likeness of Adam’s frail race!

He comes from on high,
who fashioned the sky,
and meekly vouchsafes in a manger to lie.

The angels, she knew,
had worshipped him too,
and still they confess adoration his due.

Their newly born king,
transported they sing,
and heaven and earth with the triumph doth ring.

The wise men adore,
and bring him their store,
the rich are permitted to follow the poor.

To the inn they repair,
to see the young heir;
the inn is a palace, for Jesus is there.

Who now would be great,
and not rather wait
on Jesus their Lord in his humble estate?

Like him would I be,
my master I see
in a stable; a stable shall satisfy me.

A cello accompanies the choir. In her note on the carol, Weir describes the accompaniment as “a musical ‘flying carpet,” on which the choir can comfortably tread and later float above. The cello’s interludes between sets of stanzas help structure the hearer’s experience of the text.

Hymns for the Nativity of Our Lord (London, 1745) in which Wesley first published these words contains seventeen other hymns. One of these, “Come, thou long-expected Jesus” is frequently sung. The others are not. Weir’s carol followed the scripture telling the story of the coming of the wise men. Accordingly she omits four stanzas that mention the animals, Mary, the angels, and the shepherds. She also omits the final two stanzas. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it is often said of Wesley’s hymns that they begin on earth and end in heaven. While this cannot be said of the text as Weir sets it, it is true when the last stanza is included. As reprinted on the website of the United Methodist Board of Discipleship, It runs as follows:

O mercy divine,
how couldst thou incline,
my God, to become such an infant as mine!

What a wonder of grace,
the ancient of days
is found in the likeness of Adam’s frail race.

He comes from on high,
who fashioned the sky,
and meekly vouchsafes in a manger to lie.

Our God ever blest
with oxen doth rest,
is nursed by his creature and hangs at the breast.

So heavenly-mild
his innocence smiled,
no wonder the mother should worship the child.

The angels, she knew
had worshipped him too,
and still they confess adoration his due.

On Jesus’s face,
with eager amaze,
and pleasure extatic the cherubim gaze.

Their newly born king,
transported they sing,
and heaven and earth with the triumph doth ring.

The shepherds behold
him promised of old,
by angels attended, by prophets foretold.

The wise men adore,
and bring him their store,
the rich are permitted to follow the poor.

To the inn they repair,
to see the young heir;
the inn is a palace, for Jesus is there.

Who now would be great,
and not rather wait
on Jesus their Lord in his humble estate?

Like him would I be,
my master I see
in a stable; a stable shall satisfy me.

With him I reside:
the manger shall hide
mine honour; the manger shall bury my pride.

And here will I lie,
till raised up on high
with him on the cross I recover the sky.

The reprinting of the hymn including that at Hymnary.org reprintings of the hymn arrange it for a four-line meter by combining the first two lines of each stanza into one and combining the stanzas in pairs. Since this requires an even number of stanza’s the penultimate stanza is omitted.

Weir’s note in the order of service reflects this shorter version. She states that Wesley’s full text was fourteen stanzas, not the fifteen found in the 1745 printing of the collection.

President and Mrs. Trump Attend Christmas Eve Service at Washington National Cathedral

President Trump altered his Christmas plans and remained in D.C. to deal with the government shutdown. Mrs. Trump flew back to D.C. from Florida on Christmas Eve afternoon. At 10 p.m. they attended service of Holy Eucharist at Washington National Cathedral. It was Trump’s third visit as president to the cathedral and his first for a regularly scheduled public service. They were seated by Dean Randy Hollerith immediately before the dean welcomed the congregation to the service.

In Florida, the Trumps have commonly attended Bethesada-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church at Christmas and Easter.

In her sermon, the Right Reverend Mariann Edgar Budde, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, challenged worshipers to take their place in God’s redemptive story and to listen for the word that God was saying to them in this service tonight. She quoted contemporary Christian author Rachel Held Evans and the German Jesuit Alfred Delp. Her most extensive quotations, however, were from the African American theologian and mystic, Howard Thurman.

She began the heart of her sermon quoting Thurman, “Celebrating Christmas affirms our solidarity with the whole human race in its long struggle to become more humane and to reveal the divinity in which all humanity shares.” Citing Rachel Held Evans, she insisted that our lives would find their meaning in the biggest story we can imagine and place ourselves in. This could be “nationalism, follow your bliss, or he who dies with the most toys wins,” but it should be God’s story of redemption.

The story of Christmas has “social implications,” she insisted and mentioned that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were forced to flee and take refuge in a foreign country. But as for what those social implications were for those listening to her, she left that to them to discover. Whatever God was calling them to do, she challenged them to “be instruments of God’s love for love’s sake.”

The cathedral’s video stream did not focus on the Trumps or other members of the congregation, but it did show them both the President and the First Lady receiving communion and singing “Silent Night.”

The video of the service and the service leaflet are available on YouTube

[UPDATES: Late Christmas afternoon The Washington Post published a story on the sermon (click here). NPR also broadcast an interview with Bishop Budde that afternoon on All Things Considered (click here).]

100 Years of Lessons and Carols

On Christmas Eve at 3 p.m. in England, a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols will be held in the chapel of King’s College at Cambridge University. It will be broadcast live around the world, in the United States over public radio at 9 a.m. Central Standard Time. (For one of many audio streams, click here. For the printed order of service click here.)

Many articles have been published to mark this anniversary and tell the history of this popular and widely imitated service. One blog post in the Guardian tells the story of the origin of this Christmas Eve service at Truro Cathedral in 1880. Another Guardian article features an interview with Stephen Cleobury who will retire this year after 37 years as the director of the King’s College Chapel choir. The BBC, which has broadcast the service since 1926, provides an overview of the history. King’s College provides a copy of the 1918 order of service.

I’ve listened to the service most years since at least the late 1980s, usually while wrapping Christmas presents. I received an LP recording of the service for Christmas some years earlier. Since my first year in college, I’ve also been to many services of lessons and carols that follow the same format and very similar prayer texts. Here are a few thoughts on this year’s selections and on the finer points of the service’s structure.

This Year’s New Carol

For over three decades the college has commissioned a new carol for the service each year. This year’s is a setting of a Charles Wesley text by Judith Weir. In the order of service, Weir describes the short stanzas of “O Mercy Divine” as “almost haiku-like.” The most poignant of them captures the world-turned-upside-down theme of Mary’s Magnificat
“The wise men adore,
and bring him their store,
the rich are permitted to follow the poor.”
It often said of Wesley’s hymns that they begin on earth and end in heaven. In its full form, this is no exception. It begins speaking of “an infant” and “Adam’s frail race” but ends
“And here will I lie,
till raised up on high,
with him on the cross I recover the sky.”
But Weir omits five of Wesley’s fourteen stanzas including this last one. In her interpretation the hymn concludes in earthly humility.
“Like him would I be,
my master I see
in a stable; a stable shall satisfy me.”

This is perhaps appropriate to its place in the service following the eighth lesson telling of the coming of the Wise Men. After the ninth lesson (John’s prologue), the collect for Christmas Eve, and the blessing, Wesley does get the last word. His “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” is the service’s final text. It concludes
“born to raise the sons of earth,
born to given the second birth.”

Old Favorites

Among the changing music of the service, two of my favorite’s are returning this year. They are Elizabeth Poston’s setting of the anonymous text from New England, “Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree” and John Rutter’s setting of Robert Herrick’s “What Sweeter Music.” The latter was commissioned for this service in 1987. I like the liturgical or courtly procession of Herrick’s text and Rutter’s text is idyllic and dependably singable. My wife and I own a two-disc collection of the commissioned carols and often refer to it as “the challenging carols.” And indeed many are difficult, even if rewarding, to hear. It is not so with Rutter’s.

If you aren’t familiar with these two, there is a fine performance of “Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree” here by my university’s A Cappella choir, and here’s is the link to a 2008 performance of “What Sweeter Music” by the King’s College Chapel choir.

Structure

One aspect of the structure of the service that is often over looked in adaptations of in the U.S.A. is that the carol immediately before the first lesson is intended as an “invitatory carol,” that a call to worship, or an introduction to the service. This year, as often, the text begins “Up! good Christian folk, and listen.” It is a sung introduction to the lessons which is in some respect parallel in function to the bidding prayer. While the worship books of the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, and the Presbyterian Church (USA) all provide orders of worship based on the King’s service, none of them mark out this purpose for a song at this point. Indeed the Presbyterian and Episcopal books call for no song at this point. Having it and marking it as the “invitatory” carol shows the influences of prayer book offices of morning and evening prayer on the service. They each have their own invitatory that introduces the recitations from the psalms.

Lastly, the bidding prayer composed by Eric Milder-White is rightly prized and celebrated. I think one of its many strengths is the way that it is specific to the time and place of the service: “this Christmas eve” and “this chapel, dedicated to Mary, his most blessed Mother.” Similarly it bids prayers for, “the dominions of our sovereign lady Queen Elizabeth,” “this University and City of Cambridge,” and “the two royal and religious Foundations of King Henry VI here and at Eaton.” In services I’ve attended and in the service books of the denominations above these specific are replaced with generics: “this house of prayer,” “our city and country.” It takes a little skill to work proper nouns into these phrases while maintaining the cadence of the prayer. I think it is worth trying to do.

All in all it is the simplicity and adaptability of the format and its focus on song and scripture that make the service successful.