Music Notes for Passion Sunday

This Sunday is a double-edged liturgy; we are celebrating confirmation, which is a wonderful and happy occasion, but we also enter the endgame of Lent, known as Passiontide, in which we trace the suffering and death of our Savior.

Our offertory anthem ties together the two themes of this service: the sacrifice of Christ, and the dedication of our lives to his service. John Ireland‘s “Greater Love Hath No Man” has become one of the classic warhorses of the Anglican choral repertory, due to its drama, varied textures, and memorable tunes. A thoughtful assembly of Scripture verses form the text: beginning with Solomon’s great statement, “Many waters cannot quench love,” we proceed to the Gospel, “Greater Love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” and then through various epistles meditating on our response to the atonement of Christ–“That we, being dead to sin, should live unto righteousness.”

The hymns for this service are similarly a mixture of texts about the Passion and about the Christian life. The final hymn, “In the Cross of Christ I Glory,” is likely to be a very familiar text, but the tune is newer, written by Bruce Neswick, currently choirmaster of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Oregon. The tune appears in the Hymnal 1982 and is truly a prime example of modern hymnody, striking just the right atmosphere for the text. If you would like to familiarize yourself ahead of time, a lovely recording of the hymn by the men and boys of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, can be found here: