Liturgy Lesson, April 11, 2021 (1st Sunday in Eastertide)
Call to Worship: Psalm 40:1-3; Ps. 68:19-20, 35
Hymn of Adoration: Worship Christ, the Risen King (#286)
Confession of Sin
Assurance of Pardon: from Romans 4:25 and I Corinthians 15
Hymn of Assurance: Before the Throne of God Above
Reading of the Word: Lk 23:44-56 (Death and Burial of Jesus)
Sermon: Rev. Eric Irwin
Tithes and Offerings
Supper: Approach, My Soul, the Mercy Seat; Thine Be the Glory! (#274)
George Frederic Handel, the great 18th-century composer of Messiah, is one of the most beloved composers in history. He was a larger-than-life celebrity in his own day, and his music was extremely popular. Handel wrote for the opera stage, which was the apex art form of the day (much like movies now). By his own admission, Handel always aimed to please. “I want them to go home humming,” he once said. Well…anyone who has ever heard the Hallelujah Chorus knows he pretty much nailed it.
Handel composed the music for our highlighted hymn this week. Since he was a man of the theater, I would like to give a few theatrical thoughts (or melodramatic musings) as an intro. I trained in opera and spent many years as a professional on the opera stage. It is an amazing art form that is known for grand spectacle and dramatic excess. In fact, we singers had to take classes in Shakespearean acting to find gestures to match our outsized voices. There were no classes in subtlety! So, my apologies if the following seems histrionic or hyperbolic, but we are dealing with a hymn written by an opera composer that celebrates the most epic event in human history! A bit of embellishment seems appropriate.
Let us consider the operatic scene on opening night of that first Easter weekend so many years ago. We’ll title this one Don Paschale in honor of our lead, whose booming baritone has been hailed by critics as “a voice that breaks the cedars.” The theater has gone dark just before the start of the show. Everyone has taken their seats. What happens next is nothing the audience expects. There is no overture, just a low rumble coming from the orchestra pit. It gathers intensity until the whole opera hall is shaking. Gasps emerge from the crowd as they point to the curtain. It is not receding to the sides of the stage, but parting from top to bottom, as if torn. Then, silence. Calm. Nothing. There is an insufferable pause as the stage remains dark. It feels like an entire day and night passes before…WHOOSH! A blast of wind hits the faces of the crowd and all the lights come up at once, revealing an amphitheater that extends beyond the dimensions of the building. In front, in back, and all around are ranks of angels separated by enormous lampstands. Mixed among the angels are saints dressed in white. And there, downstage center, is a man who seems to create his own spotlight. His face is like the sun shining in all its brilliance. He is dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head is white like wool, and his eyes are like blazing fire. He has scars on his hands and feet, which are like bronze glowing in a furnace. When he begins to sing, his voice is like the sound of rushing water.
The conductor in the pit gives the downbeat and the chorus of saints and angels join him. The music is glorious, some sort of polyphony you have never heard before, but somehow it is familiar. You are compelled to join in. Soon the whole opera hall has caught the theme, and everyone is singing.
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and riches
and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and blessing!”
– Rev. 5:12
You can’t tell if it’s your head or the actual theater that is spinning. Everything is in motion except for the lone figure stage center, as if the room is revolving around him. Even as the surround sound overwhelms you, you can’t take your eyes off Him until your knees give way. You fall down and weep for joy.
Then…raucous applause. Standing ovation. Shouts of “encore” and “bravo” are heard as flowers rain down from the balconies. This goes on and on and on and on and on…
Thine Be the Glory
Text: Edmond Louis Budry (1904)
Tune: G.F. Handel, Theme from Judas Maccabeus
In his introduction to his exposition on the Psalms, Thomas Aquinas (13th century) says this:
“Hymnus est laus Dei cum cantico; canticum autem exultatio mentis de aeternis habita, prorumpens in vocem.”
(Translation: “A hymn is the praise of God with song; a song is the exultation of the mind dwelling on eternal things, bursting forth in the voice.”)
I love imagining the Holy Spirit on Easter morning, waiting in the wings with the heavenly choir and orchestra, his arms suspended in mid-air. His eyes are on the Father, who, in turn, is watching the tomb. As soon as the Spirit hears “cue music!” he gives the downbeat and the Omniphonic “Hallelujahs” erupt from every corner of the cosmos!
Could there be a more wonderful thing to dwell on than the resurrection and triumph of Jesus Christ? And has there ever been a better prompt for praise? Just as he leapt from the grave, so our voices “burst forth” in this hymn of victory, which exquisitely displays the glory and brilliance of Christ’s resurrection. The lyrics for this hymn were written by Edmond Louis Budry in 1904. Budry was a Swiss minister, writer, and translator. The original text was in French, and it was first translated into English by Richard Hoyle in 1925. It is believed that part of the inspiration for this hymn came after the death of his first wife. This hymn is inspired by the Gospel resurrection accounts and parts of Isaiah 25:8.
The tune for this hymn is JUDAS MACCABEUS. The title comes from the oratorio “Judas Maccabeus” by George Frederic Handel. The tune comes from the chorus “See, the conquering hero comes,” and it is—without a doubt—a hero’s fanfare. Full of pomp and rhythmic vitality, the music includes a lively refrain at the end of each verse, which ramps up to a high note on the word “victory.” When it was first released, the tune exploded in popularity. John Wesley mentioned several times in his journal that the tune was one of his favorites. In 1796, Beethoven, who was astounded by Handel’s genius, composed 12 variations of the tune for cello and piano.
I must say that I share Wesley’s opinion. This is one of my favorite hymns set to the music from my absolute all-time favorite composer. What an infectious, enthusiastic, and joyful hymn!
Brothers and Sisters, as you collect your playbill (a.k.a. bulletin) and take your seat on Sunday morning, you are entering the theater of God’s glory, where His story is being told. I have arranged the musical score to include everyone, the patrons and the cheap seats. This is because there is no stage or curtain here. This is a theater in the round. We are all part of the show. In fact, each of you has a main role! The composer God has written parts just for you, and He loves hearing your voice blend with the others in the cast. The resurrection of His Son is undoubtedly the operatic high-note moment in His re-creation opus. So, just like any good opera chorus, let’s hold that high note and let it ring from the rafters! May the encore of praise go on and on and on…
Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son!
Endless is the victory thou o’er death has won!