Good liturgy offers connections and insights to those who are looking for it. I was reminded of this in a few ways recently. John Rutter wrote a short essay about this with respect to the music at the funeral of Prince Philip; but closer to home, I had one of our first-grade boys at St. Thomas’ stop in the middle of a hymn and say, “Wait! this reminds me of our memory verse!” The realizations that students are absorbing the words are moments that inspire gratitude, and perhaps a little surprise as well, occasionally!
This week I want to point out some of the themes and symmetries in Sunday’s liturgy. The service is bookended by hymns whose tunes are folk tunes of immensely strong character, both adapted for church use by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The text of the first hymn (101) is a nod to Rogation Sunday, the ancient practice of prayer for protection from natural and agricultural disaster observed in the days before Ascension. The last hymn, “Monks Gate,” is better known with words by the Puritan John Bunyan; here is a wonderful recording of it with period instrumentation by the folk singer Maddy Prior. The organ voluntaries feed into the keys of those hymns; and the closing is a work by Healey Willan, whose service music we use at the Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. Our anthem is a Latin setting of the Lord’s Prayer, which appears in the Gospel reading. With this thematic focus on prayer, I thought there was no other choice for a sermon hymn than the beloved gospel standard, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus!”
The next few weeks are one of my favorite times of year. How can we fail to be excited by the trifecta of Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday? The completed work and kingship of Jesus, the gift of the Holy Spirit in power, and the meditation on the persons of the one Living God. Come and worship!
— Bryan Anderson, Director of Music, Rogation Sunday 2021