Liturgy

Beauty Springeth Out of Naught

The Queen’s coffin is borne into St. George’s Chapel, Windsor

 

Once again, to my delight, the Robert Bridges’ text, “All my hope on God is founded,” set to Herbert Howells’ tune, Michael, was a musical selection for the Committal Service for the late Queen, this time as part of a liturgy in the more intimate setting of  St George’s Chapel, Windsor. This is a hymn tune and text that might deepen your spiritual life. It certainly has had this effect upon me.

One of the striking lines in Bridges’ remarkable hymn text, sung by the whole congregation at the Queen’s Service of Committal, is this: “God’s great goodness aye endureth, deep his wisdom, passing thought: splendour, light, and life attend him, beauty springeth out of naught.”

That line wonderfully honors the biblical account in Genesis of God’s creation of the vastly beautiful universe out of nothing, as well as the glory of the Lord’s resurrection after crucifixion from an empty tomb. It provides an encouraging reminder that even when we feel most empty, or when circumstances seem most unpromising, God brings light in the darkness, and creates beauty where ugliness seems to prevail.

Bridges’ compelling hymn text complements all that has been said in honor of the late Queen’s reliance upon her faith, her life of duty and service, and self-sacrifice. Indeed, the role of faith in her life, and her unhesitating devotion to it, are the kinds of attributes that later lead those who propose additions to the Church’s calendar to consider someone like Elizabeth II for such a fitting remembrance.

For all her hope on God was founded, and she exemplified the beauty of a well-lived public life. She might well have protested that it was an apparent ‘beauty sprung out of naught,’ but the recent fortnight of observances and demonstrations of respect show that most think and believe otherwise.This fits with how -as a sincere Christian- she truly believed that Grace provides where human limitations fall short.

Here is the full text of the hymn. Verse 2 was omitted at the Queen’s Committal service, perhaps out of sensitivity regarding her solemn commitment to upholding the institution of the monarchy. But I very much doubt that the Queen had any hesitation about the generic point of those words.

All my hope on God is founded;
he doth still my trust renew.
Me through change and chance he guideth,
only good and only true.
God unknown,
he alone
calls my heart to be his own.

Human pride and earthly glory,
sword and crown betray his trust;
what with care and toil he buildeth,
tower and temple, fall to dust.
But God’s power,
hour by hour,
is my temple and my tower.

God’s great goodness aye endureth,
deep his wisdom, passing thought:
splendour, light, and life attend him,
beauty springeth out of naught.
Evermore
from his store
new-born worlds rise and adore.

Daily doth th’ Almighty giver
bounteous gifts on us bestow;
his desire our soul delighteth,
pleasure leads us where we go.
Love doth stand
at his hand;
joy doth wait on his command.

Still from earth to God eternal
sacrifice of praise be done,
high above all praises praising
for the gift of Christ his Son.
Christ doth call
one and all:
ye who follow shall not fall.

Based on its inclusion in the September 9 Service of Remembrance (along with an anthem setting by Howells), and it having been featured again at the September 19 Committal service, this hymn was surely one of the Queen’s favorites. For we are told that she selected all the music and other liturgical and ceremonial details for these recent services. With its lyrical melody, and its positive and faith-stirring text, so fitting to the Queen and her life, “All my hope on God is founded” is another treasure among works offered for Anglican worship and liturgy.

 

The photos above are screen capture images from the Royal Family’s YouTube channel recording of the Committal Service for Her Majesty The Queen.

The Truth Within Beauty

 

There is something remarkable about traditional English and Anglican choral music. We hear it in the sustained notes sung without vibrato, and the full throated melodical willingness almost to shout out the most stirring words in beloved anthems.

For me, this was most movingly displayed in the recent Service of Prayer and Reflection on the Queen’s Life, broadcast from St Paul’s Cathedral, London, following the televised address by the new King Charles.

The beautifully lyrical Herbert Howells tune, Michael, set for the processional hymn, was a most appropriate way to begin this liturgy remembering Elizabeth. Especially with its text, so meaningful for the occasion (“All my hope on God is founded…”). And then, to my further wonder, the first anthem was also a stirring setting by Howells, and sung in the most inspiring way by the cathedral choristers.

Having lived almost six years in England, all of it at Oxford, with the opportunity to hear Evensong sung by equally gifted choirs on a daily basis during term, has surely disposed me to a particular bias. English Anglicans can do liturgy and ceremony in the most superior and yet also spiritually evocative way, especially when it is non-politicized. We have much to learn from them on this side of ‘the pond.’

Perhaps it is first a willingness – by some of the most reticent people I have lived and worked with – to reach for and grasp at transcendence. And then, to express that desire and its fulfillment in worship, in a way that is so compelling for many. Witness two thousand seats filled on short notice in a first come, first served way for the Prayer and Reflection service for Queen Elizabeth. Many of those among the congregation appeared moved by the experience though it was also apparent that not all were familiar with Anglican hymns or forms of worship.

I would suggest that it was, and will remain, in large part the capacity of music – and music well-composed and well-prepared – which draws people into the power of beauty, and which also creates experiences of transcendence and of truth. Yet it is also the power of the word, both in the form of the words of the liturgies as well as in the Word as presented in Scripture. Well-chosen and well-presented biblical and liturgical texts, as well as those prepared for proclamation, allow people unfamiliar with the Christian faith and its customary practices to find themselves stirred. For this preparation and these practices invite others to be curious about the transcendent motivation behind and accounting for these remarkable occasions of public worship.

I have no doubt that the Queen’s upcoming funeral will provide no less of such an experience.

 

The above photos are screen captures of images from the UK’s Sky News streaming rebroadcast of the Service of Prayer and Reflection on the Queen’s Life, from St. Paul’s Cathedral, London (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgOridFp7Do). Here is a link to the full text of that service (C ofE_Anglican_service_of_prayer_and_reflection_1)

I offer this with grateful thanks for the music ministry of John Hamersma, Mary Hamersma Baas, and Benita Woltersdorf-Fredlund, whose ministries have not only enriched my life and those of many others, but also have changed and affirmed our lives forward in a most positive way.