Music for Sunday, 8th April 2018: Easter 2, Year B

This week’s readings are:

Exodus 14:10-31, 15:20-21
Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 133
1 John 1:1-2:2
John 20:19-31

The deal in Eastertide is that the reading from Acts is mandatory. So you could go Exodus, Psalm, Acts, John, or you could go Acts, Psalm, 1 John, John, or if you’re doing a service with just two readings it would be Acts and John.

Exodus is the story of the parting of the Red Sea, and the drowning of the Egyptian pursuers.

Acts is the early Christian believers sharing their possessions in common, having no private ownership and ensuring anyone who needs anything receives it according to their need; this is not a new idea, as it’s also mentioned in Acts 2. When anyone tells you they try to model their religious life after what we know of the early church, it’s worth asking them how they carry out this part of the pattern.

Psalm 133 is about the wondrousness of dwelling together in unity (also the foundation of the generous sharing mentioned in Acts), likening it to abundant oil running down the head and beard and overflowing onto the collar, a very sacramental image. I love the idea of unity as blessing, as sacrament.

1 John is… complicated. The letter opens with a heartfelt description of what is being declared: “what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands,” and goes on to say that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all — and then to talk about what that means for our conduct, and especially about our honesty about our own sins. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” But if we confess our sins we have Jesus Christ as an advocate.

John’s Gospel is the familiar tale of Jesus appearing to the disciples, or some of them at any rate, and breathing his Spirit into them, and with it the ability to forgive or retain sins. But Thomas isn’t there, and doesn’t believe it when they tell him about it; so a week later Jesus appears again, and Thomas recognises him by his wounds.

Easter 2 is also known as “Low Sunday”, though, mostly because after the exertions of Holy Week and Easter Day, exhaustion can set in. Clergy probably spent half the week in slump mode, and “Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost, But now the organist is toast,” has been known to be uttered. Servers and vergers and so on are feeling the same. And in countries where the school holidays line up with the liturgical ones, you might find that the choir is all on holiday.

Nevertheless, if you do have a choir it’s well worth singing Melissa Dunphy’s a cappella, SATB setting of Acts 2:44-46: “And all they that believed were together and had all things common. Their possessions and goods they sold and divided them to all, according as every one had need. And continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they took their meat with gladness and simplicity of heart.” You can listen on Soundcloud and the music is available from Melissa Dunphy’s website, included with a download from Bandcamp:

If you’re after something much simpler, I have a piece called The Doubter based on St Thomas. It’s for unison and organ, though it could be divided up between upper and lower voices easily enough.

The other piece that would work might be a setting of O Salutaris Hostia: the text is really for Corpus Christi, but it works: Corpus Christi is about Christ’s body, which is a big deal in this week’s readings (both in the wounds shown to the disciples and Thomas, and in the unity of the church — the Body of Christ). And the plea for help (“bella premunt hostilia: da robur, fer auxilium” — “hostile wars press on us: give strength, bring aid.”) along with the idea of the Saving Victim being the Gate of Heaven, could serve as a reference to Christ as our advocate, but also as an allusion to the Exodus, in which the Israelites pass through the sea on dry land: they were surrounded by enemies and the parting of the sea acted as a sort of gate. There’s a setting attributed to Leonora d’Este as part of a set of 23 motets, Musica quinque vocum. More information on d’Este and the attribution given here is available from Musica Secreta on Youtube.

I’ll admit I cheated on this last one, though: it’s being sung on Sunday morning at St Paul’s Cathedral by the Aurora Nova choir. More on that later in the week!