Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone / And rests in Him unceasing.
Buxtehude + Bach + Brahms
Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone / And rests in Him unceasing.
—Paul Speratus (1484–1551)
The text of the hymn “Salvation Unto Us Has Come” hails from Paul Speratus. In a progression that is remarkably similar to Luther’s life, Speratus was forced to leave two parishes in Roman Catholic territories for preaching the right doctrine of justification by grace through faith in Christ. He received his doctorate from a major university and later became one of the first priests to openly marry. Speratus was condemned by the Catholic faculty at Vienna, imprisoned for a time under King Ludwig, and in 1523 came to Wittenberg, where he assisted in the preparation of the first Lutheran hymnal. It is no surprise, then, that the first Lutheran hymnal, the Achtliederbuch (“Eight Song Book”), contains the earliest hymns of both Luther and Speratus.
The Lord, the King of Archangels: O come, let us worship Him
— Invitatory for the Common of Holy Angels
The name of the archangel St. Michael means “Who is like God?” He is mentioned in the book of Daniel (12:1), Jude (v. 9), and Revelation (12:7). He serves as the angelic helper of Israel in the battle against all forces of evil. The narrative in the Epistle for The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (hereafter “Michaelmas”) describes Michael’s final casting down of Satan, the enemy of God’s people, an end-times victory made possible by Christ’s victory on the cross. St. Michael is often associated with Gabriel and Raphael, the other chief angels who surround the throne of God, although only Michael is specifically described in the Scriptures as “the archangel.” Since Michael and all angels are “charter members” of the heavenly choir, there is no shortage of sacred music for Michaelmas, including choral works by Bach, Mendelssohn, and Willan.
A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.
— Jeremiah 31:15
During the past three years as Command Chaplain at Naval Air Station Lemoore, CA, I have had the pleasure of participating in the annual Candle Lighting Ceremony, sponsored by our Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support Group (hereafter “Child Loss Group”). Every October, as part of Child Loss Month, these wounded healers gather in our chapel to light a candle, to tell their intensely personal stories of loss, and to listen to sacred music for the occasion. With my forthcoming transfer to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, my association with this group will soon end. As I look back on all that they have shared with our Navy family, I would like to broaden the audience and pay tribute to them by sharing with you, the reader, the three sacred choral works that I shared with them over the past three years. Each work was originally written as a trumpet in the darkness for those who weep for their children.
On Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs: "Lord, Thou hast been our Refuge" (Psalm 90) by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958)
He who daily remembers that he will die is one who easily despises all worldly things.
— St. Jerome
Psalm 90 (please see the text below the video link) is the only Psalm attributed to Moses, perhaps written after the people sinned in the wilderness, or possibly at the end of his life. Martin Luther summarizes the theology of this Psalm:
Death is . . . the gateway to our homeland, the tabernacle of joy, the everlasting kingdom of peace.
The reader may recall from the April 2018 issue of “Lifted Voice” that we explored music inspired by the Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s last Sunday (April 7, 1945) before his martyrdom in the death camp at Flossenbürg. Two days later Bonhoeffer was hung from the gallows for his alleged involvement in an unsuccessful plot to kill Hitler. The disposition of his remains is still unknown. Two weeks later the Allies liberated the camp. In another week Hitler committed suicide and the war in Europe was over. His twin sister, Sabine, did not hear about his death until May 31. As late as July 23, Bonhoeffer’s parents, Karl and Paula, had only heard the rumor of Dietrich’s death, although they were aware of the death of their son Klaus. Meanwhile, two pastors and Dietrich’s dear friend, Bishop George Bell, organized a memorial service for brothers Dietrich and Klaus, which was held on July 27 at London’s Holy Trinity Brompton Church (please see the image above). Bishop Bell arranged for it to be “livestreamed” in Germany, which served as confirmation for Bonhoeffer’s extended family that he was dead. Three sacred choral works from this memorial service will serve as the focus of this issue of “Lifted Voice”.
Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
— St. John 7:38
From the rivers of salvation in the Old Testament to the Jordan River in the New Testament, Psalm 42 points the thirsting soul toward the waters of salvation. The picturesque images in the first 3 of the Psalm’s 11 verses have especially inspired composers through the centuries:
Today you are not to be given fear of life but courage;
and so today we shall speak more than ever of hope,
the hope that we have and which no one can take from you.
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Confirmation Sermon, March 13, 1932
On Sunday, April 8, 1945, in an abandoned schoolhouse in the village of Schönberg, the Lutheran pastor and prisoner, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), celebrated the first Sunday after Easter (hereafter “Easter I”) with a short service of preaching, prayer, and praise. Bonhoeffer had been imprisoned since April 5, 1943, charged with collaboration in a failed plot to assassinate Hitler. Hitler, whose army was reduced to young boys and old men, was handing out death sentences aplenty. On this solemn occasion, Bonhoeffer read from a devotional book known in German as the Losungen (“watchword”), which appointed Isaiah 53:3 as the Old Testament watchword for the day and I Peter 1:3 as the New Testament counterpart (Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy, pp. 527-529). The traditional Communion propers for this Sunday, especially the Introit and the Gospel Lesson, were certainly on his mind, if not included in his sermon. Inspired by these events, and in part because April 8th is Easter I this year, this issue of “Lifted Voice” will focus on musical settings of the aforementioned devotional readings and appointed propers for Easter I.
Chant + Motet + Hymn
For behold, by the wood of Your cross joy has come into all the world!
— The Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday
In the sixth century, the Queen of France founded a nunnery in Poitiers. Before the formal consecration of the nunnery, she was kind enough to present various relics to it, including a supposed piece of the true cross of Christ, which she obtained from Emperor Justin II. As the story goes, the Bishop of Tours, escorted by numerous clergy and laymen, with torches and incense, joined in the procession and the solemn dedication of the nunnery on 19 November in the year 569. It was on this occasion that the hymn “The Royal Banners Forward Go” by Venantius Honorus Fortunatus (c. 530-609), known in Latin as Vexilla Regis, was heard for the first time:
The Psalter is the book of all saints, and everyone, whatever his situation
may be, finds psalms and words in it that fit his situation. . .
— Martin Luther
With this Ash Wednesday installment of “Lifted Voice,” I am pleased to introduce my occasional series, “On Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs” (from Col. 3:16), which will explore the church’s vast treasury of Psalm settings for choir and congregation. We begin our journey with one of the most famous works in the a cappella repertoire, Miserere (“Have mercy,” i.e., Psalm 51) by the Italian composer, Gregorio Allegri.
By the mystery of Your holy incarnation; by Your holy nativity . . . Good Lord, deliver us!
— from The Litany
On the fourth and final Sunday of Advent, many of the Faithful hear the following Introit: “Drop down, ye heavens from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness.” As Advent turns to Christmas and expectation to fulfillment, many of us will hopefully take time to sing, pray, and meditate on the following ancient responsory for Matins on Christmas Day:
Pr Brian Hamer
Brian J. Hamer is Chaplain to the 11th Regiment of the 1st Marine Division, Camp Pendleton, CA, via the LCMS Board for
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