Worship

Glory to God in the Highest

James B. Janknegt, Glory to God in the Highest

 

Luke’s Gospel portrays the birth of Jesus in the context of literal good news for the poor and those who are outcast. In Luke’s telling, angels announce the arrival of the Messiah to shepherds sleeping out in the fields or in caves with their flocks. As we shall note soon, Matthew casts these events in a more worldly and political context, with visiting Magi from the East, and Herod’s anxiety about a challenge to his propped-up throne.

Jim Janknegt is a painter whose thoughtful and creative engagement with the Scriptures I have admired for years. He paints in a style that some might describe as ‘primitive.’ Yet, in my view, he is an artist whose work often displays a highly sophisticated engagement with multiple dimensions of the biblical texts that shape our worship in both this and in other liturgical seasons. As the above image suggests, he also demonstrates a sensitive and wide-ranging color palette.

On this third day of Christmas, which is also the feast of St. John, the Apostle and Evangelist, I am grateful for Janknegt’s portrayal of the shepherds receiving and rejoicing over the witness of the holy angels.

As we sing in a favorite hymn:

Angels we have heard on high,
singing sweetly through the night,
and the mountains in reply
echoing their brave delight.

Gloria in excelsis Deo.
Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Shepherds why this jubilee?
Why these songs of happy cheer?
What great brightness did you see?
What glad tidings did you hear?

[repeat chorus]

Come to Bethlehem and see
him whose birth the angels sing;
come, adore on bended knee
Christ the Lord, the newborn King.

The Hymnal 1982, #96

To learn more about the artist, James B. Janknegt, and his work, click this link: http://bcartfarm.com/index.html

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… On the Feast of Stephen

Music and Illustration related to the Christmas Carol, Good King Wenceslas, from 1913

 

For our brothers and sisters ‘across the pond’ in the U.K., today is Boxing Day. The name comes from the tradition of giving boxes or baskets of Christmas gifts to family, friends, and employees, on December 26. Today is also the feast of St. Stephen, my patron saint. We have a familiar Christmas carol associated with this day.

From Wikipedia:

“Good King Wenceslas” is a Christmas carol that tells a story of a Bohemian king who goes on a journey, braving harsh winter weather, to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of St Stephen. During the journey, his page (or helper) is about to give up the struggle against the cold weather, but is enabled to continue by following the king’s footprints, step for step, through the deep snow. The legend is based on the life of the historical Saint Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia (907–935).

The fact that the Church, in its historical liturgical calendar, would remember the first of the martyrs on the second of the 12 Days of Christmas bears some reflection. Here, below, is a panel of a compelling contemporary triptych painting by the gifted British painter, Peter Koenig, depicting the martyrdom by stoning of Stephen (see Acts, Chapters 6 – 7). Against the backdrop of the spires and walls of an image of the new Jerusalem come down from heaven (in the upper left), we find Stephen holding a chalice of the ‘the blood of the new covenant’ outside the walls of the ‘old city,’ the world in which we presently live.

 

Annunciation to Joseph

Alexander Ivanov, Joseph’s Dream

 

Here I begin sharing a series of images for the 12 days of Christmas, including two prior events as well as some that follow the Nativity. Christmas Day, Dec. 25, is officially the first of the 12 days. Yet, as we anticipate the holy season ahead, it is appropriate to remember and consider what prepared the way for the miracle we are soon to celebrate.

In this new Revised Common Lectionary year, which focuses on Matthew’s Gospel we hear of an Annunciation to Joseph (Matthew 1:18-25), less familiar to most of us than the Annunciation to Mary as recorded by Luke. Joseph was as attentive to his Annunciation as Mary was to hers. And like her, he was equally trusting and obedient.

May our Lord, who was and is, and is to come, bless us and our loved ones during this holy time.

The Beauty of Mosie Burks

 

One of the most beautiful women in America is someone you may never have heard of. By saying this, I am referring to a concept of beauty that transcends the contemporary, much too usual, sense of beauty that is shaped by outward appearance. What I have in mind here is a deeper sense of that word, one that is anchored in goodness and truth, and in a personal and vibrant faith.

Mosie Burkes reminds me of my Swedish-descended grandmother. On the face of it, that seems like a ridiculous statement. Yet, to my knowledge both women have shared the same deep faith, while having very different cultural ways of expressing that truth. For sure, there is a world of difference between Mosie, an African-American Church of Christ woman born of sharecropping parents in pre-Civil Rights rural Mississippi, and my own forbear, Lydia, who grew up in an 1890’s immigrant family in Minneapolis in a Swedish Baptist church. Yet, both women are faith-shaping for me, but in varying ways. There is a truism that can help me and others parse this: if we have grown up as persons of faith, a grandmother often has been a significant part of the picture. And, for many, Mosie Burks may be that substitute grandmother.

Paradoxically, it may be my Swedish great-grandfather who perhaps also accounts for my appreciation for Mosie Burks. He left Sweden in the 1890’s to come to America as a dissident Baptist – not only from the Anglican Communion-friendly Church of Sweden, but from his own fellow Baptists. Why? Because, as best as we can discern, his proclivity toward Pentecostal experience. After founding a Swedish language newspaper in Minneapolis, and in pursuing local ministry, he then engaged in missions to South America.

As much as my own spiritual and liturgical instincts run in an old-fashioned Anglican direction (“Let all mortal flesh keep silence…”), preferring reflective and mystical forms of worship, I am stopped in my tracks by Mosie Burks and her singing with the Mississippi Mass Choir. When I watch her sing, along with that magnificent choir, I have the sense that the spirit of my great grandfather rises up within me. Yet, I do not want to deny the universal appeal of her talent and that of the ministry of her choir. YouTube even has a comment, in French, from a self-identifying Muslim, who adores Mosie’s singing.

I think that the power of Mosie Burks’ singing with the Mississippi Mass Choir has a lot to do with her unrestrained and unselfconscious authenticity. In several of her videos we see moments where, ‘slain by the Spirit,’ Bernini’s Baroque sculpture, ‘St Theresa in Ecstasy,’ becomes transposed through a music video into contemporary Jackson, MS.

As she gives herself to her music – and this is a key point – Mosie unconsciously embodies in her voice and movement the heartfelt significance of the words she shares with us.

Wouldn’t we – self-restrained as we usually are – want to give ourselves to Jesus in such a self-revealing way? Well, as a descendent of far-northern European immigrants to America, I know my usual answer to that question! And this is why – for me – Mosie’s approach to singing the Gospel and in demonstrating her faith is so compelling. Watching her sing, with such power, finds me saying to myself, I want to go to her church!

God bless you, Mosie Burks!

 

Look for Mosie Burks and the Mississippi Mass Choir on YouTube. The images above are stills taken from music videos available through that medium.  I especially recommend among her repertoire these: “When I Rose this Morning;” “I’m Not Tired Yet;” and “They Got the Word.” Some of her videos were recorded when she was in her 80’s!

Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending (The Beauty of His Return)

Jim Janknegt: I will make all things new (2005)

 

The title of this post comes from Charles Wesley’s hymn-text adaptation of words from Revelation that refer to the Second Coming of Christ in glory: “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him” (Rev 1:7). In this first week of Advent, and perhaps having sung Wesley’s hymn on Sunday, we need to explore what this ‘wailing’ may involve.

Many people today regard the Second Coming as something prompting fear about a Final Judgment. This may be one cause for the wailing that Wesley anticipates. Though texts in Revelation, as well as in the Gospels, certainly involve this theme, Revelation’s author is also very clear in expressing a faith that Christ’s return will involve restoration, the fulfillment of promises, and the beauty of shared glory. Hence, the wailing may also reflect holy sorrow stemming from a deepened awareness of personal sin, accompanied by ‘tears of joy’ over being forgiven.

Wesley’s verse 2 of his hymn predicts the first dimension of wailing: “Every eye shall now behold him, robed in dreadful majesty; those who set at nought and sold him, pierced, and nailed him to the tree, deeply wailing, … shall the true Messiah see.” Verse 3 describes the second dimension: “Those dear tokens of his passion still his dazzling body bears, cause of endless exultation to his ransomed worshipers; with what rapture, … gaze we on those glorious scars!”

Words in Revelation, preceding and following its prediction about how “all tribes of the earth will wail,” provide a foundation for hope. The author says at the beginning of this last book of the Bible (1:4-5), “Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from … Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead…” And then (in 1:8) we find, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come…’”

These words are echoed near the end of Revelation, where we find a description of the New Jerusalem and a renewed Creation. Among them are these: “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new'” (21:5).

Jim Jaknegt’s painting, I will make all things new, expressively captures the positive dimension of these themes and the ground for hope that lies in the beauty of the Lord’s return. All things! That is a phrase worth exploring in terms of quite a number of biblical texts, especially Paul’s letter to the Colossians.

In the first chapter, Paul writes, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (1:16-17). Paul then indicates (1:19-20) the ground for hope regarding “all things,” which Janknect suggestively depicts: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven…”  God’s ultimate goal in all this is reconciliation rather than condemnation, even though people who dismiss God’s ongoing work of reconciliation may find themselves brought to sadness.

Notice the pronounced swirling motion in Janknegt’s painting, as all things are caught up into the returned Lord’s orbit. But all people? For unlike flora and fauna, as well as inanimate objects, human beings made in God’s image and likeness possess the freedom of will either to accept or to refuse God’s initiatives to reconcile us into divine intimacy. This is why there may be at least two dimensions to the wailing that the Lord’s return is likely to initiate. For grief over sin may bear fruit in repentance.

We should therefore note the words of invitation at the end of Revelation: “‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20)

 

Jim Janknegt is a painter who is based in the Austin, Texas, area, who has produced a remarkably large body of work based on biblical themes and imagery. The website featuring his work can be found at http://bcartfarm.com/ I have admired, and with his permission have featured, his images for many years. Lo! He comes with clouds descending appears as Hymn 57 in The Episcopal Church’s The Hymnal 1982.

 

Being Within God’s Loving Regard

 

 

Today, Nov. 2, is commemorated by many as All Soul’s Day, or All Faithful Departed. I am reminded of how some years ago a friend suggested that I watch the Disney Pixar film, Coco. He commended it because the movie connects directly with the celebration of the great feast of All Saints on Nov. 1. Coco also bears upon our observance of All Soul’s Day and All Hallow’s Eve (or Halloween). The movie is set in a traditional Mexican village on the eve of All Saints. In Latin America, and especially in Mexican culture, this feast is traditionally called Día de Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. At the heart of the film and at the center of All Saints is a reality, the reality – through Baptism – of our continuing fellowship and communion with those who have died and gone before us. This is why, in the revised Lectionary, the Scripture readings for All Saints are among those also designated for funerals.

Coco draws us into recognizing how myths, whether ancient or modern, powerfully present truths we already know. We find this, of course, in the opening chapters of Genesis. But we also find how myths play a role in our secular culture. We are enchanted by narrative, and charmed by stunning visual imagery. And we are touched when we are reminded by how family and community relationships shape us. Yet, to refer to biblical and other stories as involving myth, we need to be very clear that the power of myth depends upon the power of truth. {In effect, not all myths are ‘real;’ not all news conveys ‘truth‘}. And so, because human connections are real in our life experience, we are moved by representations of them in ancient Scriptures, as well as in modern literature and the visual arts. What is true, has always been true.

And what surely has always been true for the peoples of the world is this: we do not want to be alone. We do not want to be separated from our families and our friends. And if either family or friends, or both, have been hurtful to us, we still yearn for ideal examples of them —especially when hopeful images of these relationships give us strength to hold our current experience to account.

So, if we don’t want to be separated from our families and friends, we also yearn for a connection with our heritage. We value the history of our family and our many forebears, as well as of our communities. Coco, the movie, plays upon this wonderful aspect of our human experience.

And yet, while commending Coco, I do not think we should accept uncritically every aspect of this delightful film’s story. For Coco contains a notable divergence from traditional Judaism and Christianity. The movie portrays —as being central to the observance of the Day of the Dead— a particular belief. It is this ~ that, if we are not remembered by others, we cease to exist. Yet, as faithful Christians and Jews believe, we are always known and remembered by God, even if our family or our community forgets us! Even if we cease to exist for them, we never cease to exist in God’s loving regard for us.

This day, All Souls or All Faithful Departed, is particularly focused on the idea that, even if we should be forgotten by others, we are never forgotten by God.

 

An earlier form of this post was first published in November, 2018. The image above was an image found on the internet related to promotion of the movie, Coco.

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.