by Bryan Anderson, Director of Music
Our service this third Sunday in Lent features the anthem “Nolo mortem peccatoris,” composed by the Elizabethan musician Thomas Morley. The text is actually in English, other than the titular line, which is repeated at the end of each stanza as a litany. It is from Ezekiel 33: “I desire not the death of sinners.” In the attitude of Lent, as we make a point to reflect on our own sin, this text points us forward to the answer, and to the necessity of atonement. Our Savior did not desire the death of sinners; therefore, he took our sin upon himself in the Passion that we commemorate a few weeks from now.
Versions of this text exist from the late 15th century, and speak to the strength of vernacular sacred writing even in the decades prior to the English Reformation. There are other Tudor-era musicians represented in this week’s service: Richard Farrant, whose short psalm chant has been a staple for centuries; and Orlando Gibbons, whose organ writing (which I will replicate the best I can in our current space!) is nearly unparalleled in the period.
Our sermon hymn will be the familiar and beautiful text “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind.” These stanzas form the end of a larger poem by Whittier, “The Brewing of Soma.” If you have never read it, I would highly recommend you read it! It only takes a few minutes to read, and will give a better context to the words we sing. It speaks to our desires for ecstatic experiences; the cheapened, human attempts to manufacture those experiences; and, of course, the solution found in the hymn: “Breathe through the heat of our desires/Thy coolness and thy balm…”