A New Epiphany Hymn: “On this clear night”

One of the things I quite enjoy about the Book of Common Praise 2017, or as its latest edition is named, Magnify the Lord, is that it has a number of contemporary songs and hymns.  Yes, contemporary hymns too.  Hymn #87, in the Epiphany section, was written by Cynthia Erlandson in 1997.  Like the older classic Songs of thankfulness and praise, this new hymn outlines the Gospel themes of the traditional Epiphanytide, and does so brilliantly.

On this clear night, led by a star much brighter than the rest,
Wise Gentiles travel west to see God’s Wisdom manifest:
Emmanuel has come to earth in human vesture dressed.

Incense and gold they give to him, the King whom Herod fears,
To those who see the Light of lights, salvation now appears,
Ordained before all times until the fullness of the years.

The boy Messiah’s wisdom in the temple soon is heard,
The wond’ring scribes astonished by God’s flesh-encompassed Word,
More powerful, more piercing than a soul-dividing sword.

In Jordan, God’s beloved Son fulfills all righteousness,
Baptized by John, the prophet, crying in the wilderness,
“Prepare a highway for our God, the way of holiness.”

Thus marked, the Groom-to-be as guest performs a wondrous sign:
At wedding feast, the Word-made-flesh turns water into wine,
The best has been withheld till now: the fruit of Christ the Vine.

To one born blind, the world’s true Light reveals a radiant sight:
The vision of his kingdom, coming into earth’s dark night.
Unto his saints, once blind to Truth, the healer shows his might.

Unto the Father, Son, and Spirit, Holy Trinity,
The Three in One, the one and only glorious Deity,
All praise and honor be for Jesus’ great epiphany.  Amen.

This is set to the tune MORNING SONG, which is better known for the text Awake, awake, to love and work.

The poetry of Mrs. Erlandson’s lyrics are striking, often matching similar names and titles for Jesus in the first and second lines of a given verse.  Several of them are hyphenated, or at least multi-word titles, drawing from the rich treasures of biblical language to expound our Savior in the various epiphany gospel stories recounted here.  The best poems, lyrics, and songs are really just sermons in artistic format, and this one definitely fits the bill.

If you want to see what else she has written, I would point you to the book The Slumbering Host, which is just now being released from Little Gidding Press.  I had a small role in wrangling the typesetting and formatting of this book, and would be very happy to see the fame of its many poet-contributors spread abroad.  You’ll find that Mrs. Erlandson’s contribution to this book is of a similar style to this epiphany hymn: another poem that explores a foundational Christian doctrine sequentially in three-line stanzas.

Introduction to the Epiphany season

Part 3 of the church year is Epiphanytide.  This is part of my year-long video series on the church calendar, check it out:

For further reading:

Subject Index:
* 00:30 Introduction to Epiphanytide
* 01:02 Major Themes
* 02:44 Historical features
* 7:26 Walk-through with the 2019 BCP
* 18:36 Summarizing the season with the “Surge illuminare”

Readings Review – The Epiphany Special

Our usual Monday fare is going to look a little different today.  Instead of looking at the lessons of the whole weeks (past and present) we’re just going to narrow in on the feast of the Epiphany.  But first, the quick run-down…

Last week: Wisdom 9-11 Genesis 1-4, Revelation 21-22, John 1-3:21, Song of Songs 6-8, Jeremiah 1-3, Luke 23-24, Galatians 1-4

This week: Genesis 5-11, John 3:22-6:21, Jeremiah 4-10, Galatians 5-6, 1 Thess. 1-4:12

Special reading for the Epiphany on Monday morning: Matthew 2:1-12
Special reading for the Epiphany on Monday evening: John 2:1-12

As I noted last week the Epistles of St. Paul in evening prayer are being read in their estimated chronological order, so after Galatians we’re moving to 1 Thessalonians.

The Epiphany Lessons

The major highlight this week is today – January 6th, the feast of the Epiphany.  It’s one of the seven Principle Feasts listed in the 2019 Prayer Book on page 688, putting it essentially on par with Christmas and Easter (and four other holy days).  As a result, both Morning and Evening Prayer get a special reading, out of the daily sequential sequence, to mark this day.

In the morning is the obvious choice: Matthew 2:1-12, in which we read of the magi and their journey and the gifts for the young Jesus.  This is the “primary” celebration for the Epiphany.  It’s also doubling with today’s gospel lesson at the Communion, which previous daily lectionaries never really did before, but ours does due to the sad reality that very few churches hold communion services on weekday feasts anymore.

The other special reading, in Evening Prayer, is John 2:1-12, which is perhaps less obvious: the Wedding at Cana.  If you go back to the original prayer book daily lectionary you will see three major gospels featured: The adoration of the magi (at the Communion), the baptism of Jesus (in Morning Prayer), and the Wedding at Cana (in Evening Prayer).  Those are three big “epiphanies” that start off the season.  Each of these gospel stories, in their various ways, proclaim the divinity of Jesus – his reception of gifts, the testimony from God the Father, and finally the power at Jesus’ own command.  The wedding at Cana would go on to be the gospel lesson for the Communion in one of the early Sundays of the Epiphany season, and in the 20th century the baptism of Jesus began to take over the first Sunday of Epiphanytide also.  But in the modern lectionary that we have in the 2019 Prayer Book, the wedding at Cana in John 2 is no longer a mainstay gospel.  It’s read on the second Sunday in Year C, but not not Years A & B.  Therefore our lectionary makes a point of retaining this story on Epiphany Day itself to make sure it’s still part of our annual observance of Epiphanytide.

Renewal of Baptismal Vows

Coming up in a couple weeks is the First Sunday of Epiphany, which is one of the four traditional Baptismal occasions of the church year.  I say “four traditional occasions,” but take that concept gently: any day is a good day for a baptism.  Don’t turn people down because it’s Advent or Lent; as it says on page 221, The minister shall encourage parents not to defer the Baptism of their children (emphasis added).  That being understood, when dealing with baptismal preparation for those of a riper age, there are four big days scattered fairly evenly throughout the year that have been identified as especially appropriate for Baptism and Confirmation: The Baptism of our Lord (the modern Epiphany 1), the Easter Vigil, the Day of Pentecost, and All Saints’ Day.  Of course, any day, a holy day or otherwise, is appropriate for such life-giving rites as baptism and confirmation, but insofar as a parish is able to plan and prepare for these milestones, those are the “best” four days in the year to aim for.

One of the interesting features of the 2019 Prayer Book, adapted from the 1979’s use, is the “Renewal of Baptismal Vows” – a rite appointed for use when there are no actual baptisms to be had.  Our prayer book, on page 194, notes that

If there are no baptisms or confirmations at the Easter Vigil, the Renewal of Baptismal Vows takes place after the Service of Lessons or the Sermon.  On other occasions, the Renewal of Vows follows the Sermon.  The Nicene Creed is not said.

This means that we are expected to use this rite at the Easter Vigil when no baptisms and confirmations are taking place, and we are permitted to use it at other times.  The four “big baptismal days” – Epiphany 1, Easter Vigil, Pentecost, All Saints’ – are arguably the “best” times to pull this rite out and observe it with your congregation.

Last Sunday after Epiphany: liturgical colors

In a couple days it’ll be the last Sunday before Lent begins.  I have seen, and participated in, a couple different conversations about the liturgical color appropriate for that day, and so thought it prudent to compile the different perspectives and their major arguments

Before we begin, though, there’s a prologue question that should be addressed: “Who cares?”  Granted, the Prayer Book tradition has never mandated a particular scheme for liturgical colors, and granted, the Puritan party of Reformers held the day for a while in Anglican practice whereby liturgical colors were not used by the majority of ministers.  If that is the way you like it then there’s not a lot we can do for you here.  The use of liturgical colors is one of the church’s many and ancient practices for providing visual aids to worship and teaching.  As long as the colors are used in a consistent fashion, they can convey different postures and moods befitting different occasions.  Black for mourning, white for joy, purple for penitence, and so on.  But the key here is that these colors have to be used consistently with their use and meaning, otherwise they will only ever be fashion accessories and a frivolous game of ecclesiastical dress-up.  That’s why getting the colors right, if you’re using them in the first place, matters.

The Traditional Option

If you’re using the historic calendar and lectionary, this Sunday is “Quinqagesima” – the last Sunday before Lent – and Western tradition is unanimously clear: the liturgical color is purple.  The Pre-Lent season is nearing its end, Lent is almost here, the Alleluias have already been “buried”, there is no question: it’s purple.  Easy!  Done.

The Modern Calendar

Anglicanism has no history of its own when it comes to the liturgical color tradition; we’re just one of the several pieces of Western Catholicism in this matter.  Therefore, when Anglicans switched to the modern calendar developed in the Roman Catholic Church, the standard color practice was also imitated.  So if catholicity is your primary concern in choosing liturgical colors, or you’re just looking for the quick and easy answer, then do what the majority of Western tradition does in the modern calendar: it’s white.  Done.

But, but, but…

Not everyone’s happy with this idea, though.  Some argue for green, others for purple.  So let’s look at these arguments and compare with them with the reasons for using white.

The argument for green stems largely from a concern for the integrity of the Calendar as a whole and a rejection of the way the Last Sunday after Epiphany is treated.  This Sunday, wrapping up the modern Epiphany season, is always about the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountaintop.  But, Green Advocates point out, the Transfiguration is already a feast day in the calendar: August 6th.  To read it in the Gospel lesson this Sunday and wear white is basically to double that holy day in the calendar.  This is an inappropriate imbalance, they say, and this Sunday should be normalized to green along with the rest of Epiphanytide.

The argument for purple is a sort of hybrid approach to the modern calendar, drawing in some of the mindset of the old. Instead of looking at it as the Last Sunday after Epiphany it’s the Last Sunday before Lent, and the very observance of Christ’s Transfiguration as a prelude to Christ’s Passion supports this case.  This Sunday is basically the Pre-Lent Sunday of the modern calendar, and thus, in line with pre-1970’s liturgical practice, this Sunday is best characterized by purple.

So why does the Roman order (and all standard Protestant recommendations) appoint white for this day?  Part of the answer is a liturgical symmetry: both of the green seasons (after Epiphany, after Trinity) begin and end with a white Sunday (1st after Epiphany, Last after Epiphany, Trinity Sunday, Christ the King Sunday).  This may be rebutted by some: Christ the King Sunday shouldn’t be white either, and like the transfiguration is best left to its “proper” place in the calendar (Transfiguration to its feast on August 6th, Christ the King to its mini-season with Ascension Day and Sunday after).  But, I would point out, these arguments to take white away from these Last Sundays at the end of the green seasons, especially to replace them with green, are also arguments against the very nature of those Sundays in the modern calendar.  In short, a color scheme revision isn’t enough, these objections cut all the way to the lectionary, and will not be solved unless or until the lessons for “transfiguration” and “christ the king” Sundays are also changed.

Even the appeal for purple runs into trouble along similar lines.  The argument for purple has the advantage of befitting the readings – especially now in Year C where the Epistle lesson happens also to be the traditional Epistle for Quinqagesima! – but still requires a slight re-write of the calendar.  We have the Last Sunday after or of Epiphany, but purple requires the name to be Last Last Sunday before Lent.  It is natural, in the liturgical context of the modern calendar, to reconsider this Sunday as a Pre-Lent purple sort of day, but you have to change its name in the Prayer Book in order to justify it fully.

The Saint Aelfric Customary’s Recommendation

I sympathize with all these arguments.  It’s ecumenical to stick with the Roman order and wear white; it’s annoying to double a feast day like the Transfiguration; it would be nice to bring back some of the historic Pre-Lent purple.

The arguments for green, I think, run into too many counter-arguments that create even more tension within the calendar, and ultimately lead in a direction of a complete overhaul.  I’m not opposed to a complete overhaul; for the most part I’d like to see the calendar restored to the way it was before the radical revisions of the 1960’s and 70’s.  But changing this one Sunday from white to green isn’t really going to help us get there.

The idea of using purple in the modern calendar may primarily be my own imagination; I don’t remember if I’ve actually heard anyone else suggest it before.  It’s less disruptive to the calendar’s color scheme as a whole than choosing green, but it’s still clearly against the spirit of the modern calendar.

So, honestly, I still think white is the way to go.  It may not be the best solution, but at least let’s think of it this way: this is our last hurrah before Lent, let’s do our best to enjoy it and sing Alleluia before we bury it for six and half weeks.

Echoes of Lent in Epiphanytide

Traditionally this Sunday is/was Septuagesima, the third Sunday before Lent.  The modern calendar, however, continues the Epiphany season through these final weeks, all the way to Ash Wednesday.  What’s interesting is that some of the Collects for these final Sundays are lifted from the traditional Lent and Pre-Lent observances.  This week’s Collect, for example, Epiphany VI, is as follows:

Almighty God, look mercifully upon your people, that by your great goodness they may be governed and preserved evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

Traditionally this was the Collect appointed for Lent V, or Passion Sunday.  Compare this to the Good Friday Collect and you’ll see a very similar prayer: “behold this your people O Lord…”

This was no accident: Passion Sunday (Lent 5) was the beginning of Passiontide, the last two weeks of Lent, which direct our attentions to the suffering and death of Jesus.  Lent 5, being the Sunday immediately before Palm Sunday, provided something of a theological background to prepare the worshiper for Palm Sunday, by exploring the concept of sacrificial atonement such as found in Hebrews chapter 9.  Good Friday, being the intensification of Palm Sunday and Holy Week and Passiontide, naturally brings the some sort of prayerful approach as Lent 5.

But now we have that Collect here on the 6th Sunday after the Epiphany.  Although diminished in effect by being so much farther away from Good Friday, it can still be a signal for us that something different is coming.  Instead of hailing the beginning of Passiontide like it did at Lent 5, it now hails the approach of Lent, giving us a foretaste, an echo back in time, of the Good Friday subject: may God graciously look upon his people and govern and preserve us evermore.

The Collect(s) for Epiphany V

Sorry for the late post this time.  Nothing especially ground-breaking was planned for this post, mainly just some observations.  The “Collects for the Christian Year” document for our up-and-coming prayer book has undergone a few subtle changes here and there over the past three or four years, and to be honest this is the part of Texts for Common Prayer that I have monitored the least.  There’s only so much one pair of eyes can keep track of, I guess.

Still, I’ve noticed that this week’s Collect has undergone some interesting little edits over the years.  Here it is in its current form (at least, as of September 2018)…

O Lord, our heavenly Father, keep your household the Church continually in your true religion, that we who trust in the hope of your heavenly grace may always be defended by your mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord…

Compare that to how it appeared previously in 2016 and/or 2017:

O Lord, our Creator and Redeemer, we ask you to keep your household the Church continually in your true religion; so that we who trust in the hope of your heavenly grace may always be defended by your mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord…

The address to God has shifted from “Creator and Redeemer” to “our heavenly Father”.
The petition previously was “we ask you to keep” and is now more terse: “keep…”
The purpose clause had the word “so” but has since dropped it.

Before we can make too many inferences about the reasons for these changes, we should consider the original, traditional, collect for Epiphany V:

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Notice that the address here is simply “O Lord”… the question of the modern version seems to be concerning how to expand that.  We can see that “we beseech thee to keep” was initially recast as “we ask you to keep”, and then apparently ruled too clunky for modern English.  Considering the Great Litany still uses the phrase “we beseech you to hear us, O Lord” I’m not sure why this simplification was ruled necessary.  There’s also a style difference – traditional English prayer language tends to use third person (them/those who do lean…) where modern tends to prefer first person (we who trust…).  This is, I’d argue, a good adaptation to current language use; one rarely refers to oneself in the third person anymore 😉

Sometimes it’s just fun to explore how things have developed over time, and discover the strengths and weaknesses of modern language and style.

Pairing: a Collect & a Hymn

Our Collect of the Day from Sunday, the fourth in Epiphanytide, is the first Sunday Collect this season that matches the old Prayer Book tradition.  The first three Sundays have modern Collects to reflect the modern Epiphany emphasis on missions, and now this fourth one takes us back to the original Epiphany tradition.  Here it is:

O God, you know that we are set in the midst of so many and grave dangers that in the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright: Grant us your strength and protection to support us in all dangers and carry us through every temptation; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

What I thought we’d do with this Collect today, rather than analyze it or link to a Scripture reading, is match it up with a hymn.  And, rather than dig up a lesser-known song as we’ve done a few times already, let’s pair this classic Collect with a classic hymn: O worship the King.

According to hymnary.org this song appears in nearly 1,000 different books, and probably hundreds more that aren’t compiled on that site.  The lyrics were written by Robert Grant in 1833, loosely based on Psalm 104.  It has been set to a couple different tunes, so I’ll let you readers fight over if LYONS or HANOVER is best, or if one should vote third party.

It is the 5th verse that especially links up with the Collect for Epiphany IV.

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
In thee, Lord, we trust, nor find thee to fail;
Thy mercies, how tender! how firm to the end!
Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and friend!

Both the prayer and the hymn consider us in terms of frailty.  We are “set in the midst of so many and grave dangers”, we need God’s “strength and protection” that, unlike us, are “firm to the end!”  It seems appropriate to consider this hymn a sort of response or follow-up to the Collect: we pray for God’s promised protection, and then we sing joyfully of his steadfast love, his covenant faithfulness, by which we know that our maker, defender, and redeemer is also our friend.

 

The Presentation / Purification / Candlemas

February 2nd is the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple, also known as The Purification of Mary, or Candlemas for short.  I thought I’d take up some of the liturgical tid-bits that characterize the celebration of that day, and point out something of how they inform us of the Christian Faith, and biblical interpretation.

There are three primary worship services in Western liturgical tradition: Morning Prayer (or Mattins), the Mass (or Communion or Eucharist), and Evening Prayer (or Vespers).  Although they are normally held throughout the day in that order, the Communion service is the “principle” celebration of the day; that means that the scripture readings in that service are usually the most significant ones for the given holiday, and the readings in the Office are supplementary.  Also, what exactly the readings are, and how many of them exist, will vary between different specific traditions.  Older Anglican Prayer Books differ slightly from newer ones, and Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox liturgies also have slightly different choices in many cases, but over all the similarities tend to outweigh the differences.  With that in mind, let’s dive in!

The Collect

The “Collect of the Day” is a prayer that is meant to collect together the theme(s) of the day from the Scripture readings.  Looking at how this is done in a given Collect can reveal the theological, devotional, or practical emphases that the tradition is putting forth.  Here is one Collect for the feast of the Presentation:

Almighty and everlasting God, we humbly pray that, as your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in the substance of our flesh, so we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts by Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

This focuses on the historical event (Jesus’ presentation in the Temple) and draws a spiritual analogy to the end product of our salvation: the Day we are all made completely holy in Christ such that he may present us to the Father as adopted members of the household of God.  It also points out that Jesus was in “our flesh,” providing an emphasis on the incarnation and the exchange that takes place: God entered into our humanity so that we can enter into His divinity.

Morning Prayer readings

One Old Testament reading that some of the classic Prayer Books set forth for the Office of Morning Prayer is Exodus 13:1-16.  This makes for a great first reading on this holiday because it gives the Old Testament Law of Moses background for what’s going on with Jesus and his family.  In the wake of the Passover (Exodus 12), God instructs Moses that by destroying all the firstborn males in Egypt except for those households protected by the blood of the Passover Lamb, all firstborn males in Israel now belong to Him.  Therefore they must be redeemed (or bought back) after they are born.  It’s like a first-fruit offering, except because children are not to be sacrificed, they are to be paid for instead.  (Interestingly, it’s the same concept as an indulgence – a debt is owed, but another form of payment is accepted.)

This is what Mary and Joseph were doing in the Temple with 40-day-year-old Jesus; they were obeying this law going back to the time of the Exodus.

Holy Communion readings

Across the board, the Gospel reading for this holiday is Luke 2:22-40, as that is the account of the event on which this holiday is based.  There we find the story of Jesus’ family in the Temple, Simeon recognizing Jesus and singing his prophetic song (or Canticle), and Anna the prophetess recognizing Jesus and sharing the good news of His arrival as well.

The Old Testament reading often included here (including our 2019 Prayer Book) is Malachi 3:1-5.  Much of that passage provides material for the preaching of St. John the Baptist, which inevitably draws the participant in the liturgy back to the season of Advent.  For there we heard for one or two Sundays about John and his preaching, and the accompanying Advent theme of the future return of Christ for the final judgement echoes in this reading too.  But most importantly, the very first verse here says “suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple.”  Obviously this has multiple fulfillments, as Jesus visits the Temple many times in his life and significant things take place at several of those visits.  But this is his first arrival in the Temple, and there are two people there (Simeon and Anna) who had been seeking him there.

Other readings

An Epistle reading found in some Daily Office lectionaries is Galatians 4:1-7.  There we find a theme mentioned briefly in the Collect – our own becoming sons of God.  It also mentions the dynamic of moving from being bound to the Law to being adopted as sons.  Jesus himself, it says, was “born of a woman, born under law,” which this holiday describes.  So the sharing of Christ in our humanity leads to our sharing in his divinity, because “since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.”

One reading often used at the end of the day is Haggai 2:1-9.  This prophetic writing speaks of the newly-build second temple and its inferiority to the original built under King Solomon.  And yet, God promises that it will be greater in glory, for “in this place I will grant peace.”  This promise is empty and void throughout Old Testament history; it is not until Jesus arrives there that God’s presence actually ever even enters the Temple again!  As the Christian goes through Evening Prayer and sees this promise of peace at the end of the Old Testament lesson, he or she will be drawn back in memory to the Gospel reading earlier, specifically the words of Simeon: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.”  Haggai’s words are directly answered by Simeon in Luke’s Gospel book!

The Canticle of Simeon

Let’s stick with Simeon’s song for a moment here.  It’s Luke 2:29-32, specifically, and is actually used throughout the entire year as a canticle (prayer-song) in the Daily Office.  Traditionally it’s a canticle appointed for Compline, the bedtime office of prayer.  In that context, it is read by Christians sort of in union with Simeon with our approaching bedtime as a picture of our eventual death (as Simeon had been promised that would not die until he’d seen the Savior).  In Anglican practice, the Canticle of Simeon is also used in Evening Prayer, but the end-of-day/end-of-life context and effect is the same.  My point is that a regular participant in the liturgy will be intimately familiar with the Canticle of Simeon.  As a result, hearing it in the liturgy for this particular holiday will have an interesting effect.

Two major promises stand out in the Canticle of Simeon: Christ will be a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and will be a light to be the glory of Israel.  The theme of light coming into the world is echoed throughout the seasons of Advent (Romans 13:12’s armor of light), Christmas (John 1:9’s light coming into the world), and Epiphany (Isaiah 60’s light shining upon the nations).  So as this holiday wraps up the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany cycle, the theme of light is brought to the foreground and celebrated quite visually.

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The Blessing of Candles

This holiday’s nickname is Candlemas, because of the tradition of blessing candles on this day.  All the candles to be used in the Church for the coming year are gathered up to be blessed for their sacred purpose.  Additionally, other candles are blessed and distributed to the people to carry in procession and to take home.  This is a physical enactment of what we learn from Simeon – Christ is the light of the world for all nations, including ourselves!  One can also find in the Gospel books the words of Christ, “you are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14 and following).

Light does many things.  It drives out darkness and exposes what’s hidden.  Thus, the blessings spoken over the candles include both penitential aspects as God’s people repent of their sins, and apotropaic aspects as demonic spirits are to flee from the light of Christ.  The Scriptures do attest, after all, that the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).  So, by receiving candles and lighting them, we participants in the liturgy are given physical reinforcement to the words and teachings of Scripture that we are God’s adopted children, receiving Christ the light of the world promised in ages past by the Prophets.  And we receive this not just as some abstract teaching, but as historically linked to real events that actually happened.  Christ the Light of the World is not just a spiritual reality that occurs in our hearts, but is grounded in the real arrival of the real Christ child in the real (though now long-gone) Temple.  And with all that in place we are pointed to look ahead to the Day we each are presented in the heavenly temple to our heavenly Father by our adoptive brother, Christ Himself.

This post, apart some new edits, was originally published on my blog Leorningcnihtes boc, on 3 February 2016.

Last Christmas Hymn: From East to West

Tomorrow is the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, or, the Purification of Mary, celebrating the events of Luke 2:22-40.  As I’ve suggested and explored here before, using these 40 days from Christmas Day until tomorrow is a great way to crawl through the massive collection of Christmas songs in our hymnals.  A good choice for the last of these hymns is From East to West, from shore to shore.

This is an ancient hymn, its text written in Latin by Coelius Sedulius around the year 450.  As often is the case with ancient hymns, its English translation has been set to several different tunes, so I’m not going to include a YouTube link this time; the lyrics will have to suffice.

From East to West is a good choice for the end of this extended run of Christmas hymns because its lyrics touch upon some thematic material that makes it fitting for this point in the calendar:

  1. The appeal for “every heart”, “from East to West, from shore to shore,” to awake and sing about the newborn Christ, is very Epiphany-appropriate.  The song starts immediately with that world-wide invitation to worship Jesus.
  2. The epiphany theme of revealing the divinity of Jesus is also prominent in this song, which identifies him with godly epithets such as “the everlasting King” and “the world’s Creator” and “the Lord most high.”
  3. Mary plays a relatively prominent role in these lyrics, anticipating her prominent role in the feast of the Presentation tomorrow.  Here she is celebrated, “a maiden in her lowly place,” who becomes “the chosen vessel of his grace.”  In the doxology, the final verse of the hymn, Jesus is named as the “Virgin-born.”

In all, this is a fantastic hymn that works for Epiphanytide almost as well as for Christmastide.  I wouldn’t be afraid to pull it out almost any time of year, come to think of it, if I knew I’d be preaching or teaching Christology.  It plays out the dual reality of Jesus’ humanity and divinity, his lowliness and his exaltation, marvelously.

Perhaps you can read or sing it at the Daily Office or other time of devotion today?

From east to west, from shore to shore Let ev’ry heart awake and sing
The holy child whom Mary bore, The Christ, the everlasting king.

Behold, the world’s creator wears The form and fashion of a slave;
Our very flesh our maker shares, His fallen creature, man, to save.

For this how wondrously He wrought!  A maiden, in her lowly place,
Became, in ways beyond all thought, The chosen vessel of His grace.

And while the angels in the sky Sang praise above the silent field,
To shepherds poor the Lord Most High, the one great Shepherd, was revealed.

All glory for this blessed morn To God the Father ever be;
All praise to You, O Virgin-born, And Holy Ghost, to thee.  Amen.