Music for Sunday, 20th May: Pentecost (Whitsunday)

The readings for this Sunday are:

Ezekiel 37:1-14
Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Romans 8:22-27
John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

…you still have to use Acts as the first or second reading.

The reading from Ezekiel is one of my favourites: the valley of dry bones, put back together when Ezekiel prophesies to them as instructed by God, and brought back to life when Ezekiel prophesies to the breath, the wind, to go into them. The bones are, of course, a metaphor for the people of Israel — and some would say for the church today, waiting for God’s spirit to bring us back to life too.

Acts is a description of the coming of Holy Spirit at Pentecost, when the followers of Jesus began speaking in many different languages. Some of the onlookers are amazed, others scoff that they’re obviously drunk. Peter sets them right, explaining that this is part of the prophecy from Joel about the last days.

The portion from Psalm 104 is about how great God is, and particularly the way in which living things depend on God’s spirit or breath for life.

Romans 8:22-27 is about waiting for the redemption of our physical bodies, about not knowing how to pray but the Spirit praying within us in “sighs too deep for words”.

The reading from John is Jesus promising to send the Advocate (that is, the Spirit of truth), who will speak truth and tell the disciples the rest of what he has to tell them.

A good hymn for Pentecost would be “O Breath of Life” by Bessie Porter Head, to the tune SPIRITUS VITAE by Mary Jane Hammond:

1 O Breath of life, come sweeping through us,
revive your church with life and power.
O Breath of life, come, cleanse, renew us;
and fit your church to meet this hour.

2 O Wind of God, come bend us, break us,
till humbly we confess our need.
Then in your tenderness remake us;
revive, restore, for this we plead.

3 O Breath of love, come breathe within us,
renewing thought and will and heart.
Come, love of Christ, afresh to win us;
Revive your church in every part.

There are a bunch of anthems that would be suitable, too. Carol Barnett’s SATB (with divisi) setting of Veni, Sancte Spiritus is fairly long at seven and a half minutes, but would work in a setting where you expect a large number of people coming up for Communion, or perhaps if you’re allowing extra time for healing prayer.

Andrea Ramsey also has a setting of Veni Sancte Spiritus, for SSAA + djembe or TTBB + djembe, which might suit better if you’re looking for something shorter (four minutes) and more energetic. Here it is on YouTube.

If you want something in English, and quieter, my own SATB setting of verses from Herrick’s Litany to the Holy Spirit, Sweet Spirit, Comfort Me is available to download from CPDL, and there’s a demo recording on YouTube. I tend to think of it as suitable for Evensong rather than a main service.

And finally, Libby Larsen has an organ prelude on Veni Creator Spiritus which looks from the sample page as if it would be worth playing.

Music for Thursday, 10th May: Ascension Day

The readings for Ascension Day are:

Daniel 7:9-14
Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 47 or Psalm 93
Ephesians 1:15-23
Luke 24:44-53

It’s still Easter, gotta use the reading from Acts, you know the deal by now if you’ve been reading along…

Daniel 7:9-14 is a vivid, awesome vision of God, and of the “one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven” being given all dominion and kingship.

Acts 1:1-11 is a description of Jesus promising the disciples that they would receive the Holy Spirit, and then being taken up to heaven.

Psalm 47 is about praising God, and about God’s kingship; and of course there is the verse “God has gone up with a shout”, or, as the Coverdale version has and Common Worship has retained, with a “merry noise”.

Psalm 93 is about the kingship and mightiness of God.

Ephesians 1:15-23 is the letter writer praying that the Ephesians might receive the spirit of wisdom and revelation so that they can know the hope they are called to, the inheritance of the saints, and the kingship and power of Christ.

Luke 24:44-53 is another description of the Ascension of Jesus.

The traditional text for Ascension Day is Psallite Domino, and in 2010 Cecilia McDowall wrote a setting of it for SSATB. I haven’t found it available to purchase online so the best thing to do would be to contact the composer via her website.

Alternately, there is also this German hymn for SAB by Sigrid Schultz-Kokerbeck.

When I asked about German translations I got a number of them back, but the one by Rosemary Riepma stands head and shoulders above the rest, because it fits the metre of the original:

Let every child of God rejoice
The Lord ascends triumphantly
So sing his praise with hearty voice

The Lord himself prepares a place
To keep us in eternal grace
So sing his praise with hearty voice

Now may he send the Holy Ghost
To bathe sore hearts that need it most
And comfort us with his own word
And guard us from the Devil’s sword

Although we’re living in this world
Our actions do not satisfy
The world, but we obey God’s word
And live as he has told us to

So let’s give thanks to our dear Lord
And offer him our heartfelt praise
Sing praises with the angels’ choir
Sing praises for the heavens to hear

In the German, the final line of the first two verses is repeated, and it would make sense to do this in English too.

Music for Sunday, 6th May: Easter 6, Year B

The readings for this week are:

Isaiah 55:1-11
Acts 10:44-48
Psalm 98
1 John 5:1-6
John 15:9-17

It’s still Easter, so you still need the reading from Acts as the first or second reading.

Isaiah 55:1-11 is an invitation to everyone thirsty to drink, to everyone hungry to eat: of that source of all being which is God.

In the reading from Acts, some Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit, much to the surprise of the existing (Jewish) believers. Peter takes this as a reason that the Gentiles should be baptized, too.

Psalm 98 is an excited instruction to sing and praise the victorious God who will come to judge the earth.

1 John is still emphasizing that God is love — and “The love of God is this, that we obey his commandments”. He also makes a point that faith in God is what conquers the world. Then he identifies Jesus Christ as having come by water and blood, not just water, and asserts that the Spirit is the truth.

The Gospel reading has Jesus continue his speech to the disciples, telling them to keep his commandment to love one another, and calling them friends rather than servants, and referring back to the vine imagery with “I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last”.

There is a Cantate Domino by Williametta Spencer, but it appears to be out of print; the best bet if you haven’t got it in a music library somewhere is probably to contact her via her website.

There’s also the SSA piece CONTEMPLATIONS 21, 22 by Hilary Tann, using parts of Psalm 98 and a poem by Anne Bradstreet, an American Puritan poet. Available to order from Brichtmark Music (scroll or search the page to find it). Here’s an excerpt: