The Tenth Century (the period from 901 – 1000 A.D.) is usually regarded as tied with the 7th Century as the low point in European history. Medievalist Lynn White said that “to the modern eye, it is very nearly the darkest of the Dark Ages”, but concluded that “… if it was dark, it was the darkness of the womb.” Which is hopeful … but still dark!
I have been thinking of the Tenth Century because our Processional Hymn this Sunday is “Father Most Holy”, a Latin Hymn written in honor of the Trinity, found in several 10th century French manuscripts, and translated by Percy Dearmer who was born shortly after the Civil War. So that means this hymn comes from the 10th century, maybe earlier. This means that as we sing this wonderful hymn in praise of the “Light never waning” and the “Light of the angels” we are praising the same God our ancestors praised, using the same concepts and ways of viewing The Triune One that they used. (To see and hear the YouTube videos of these hymns, just click on the title of this blog.)
“Father most holy, merciful and tender; Jesus, our Savior, with the Father reigning; Spirit of comfort, advocate, defender, Light never waning. // Trinity blessed, unity unshaken; goodness unbounded, very God of heaven, Light of the angels, joy of those forsaken, hope of all living. // Maker of all things, all Thy creatures praise Thee; all for Thy worship, were and are created; Now as we also worship Thee devoutly, hear Thou our voices. // Lord God Almighty, unto Thee be glory, One in three persons, over all exalted! Glory we offer, praise Thee and adore Thee, now and forever.” And just notice all those good Epiphany references to light!
At the Prayer of the Day we pray. “O Lord, keep Your family the Church continually in the true faith that, relying on the hope of Your heavenly grace, we may ever be defended by Your mighty power; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”
The Scriptures for this 5th Sunday after the Epiphany are Isaiah 58:3-9a; 1 Corinthians 2:1-12; and Matthew 5:13-20. Centuries ago, cities were built on a hill or on a hillside. The reason was obvious — they were easier to defend because the approaching enemy could be seen from a distance. It was also true that the enemy could see the city. As God’s people, we are to be as a city set on a hill. We are to let the light of our faith in Christ shine brightly for all to see.
The Hymn of the Day is “Rise Shine You People.” How perfectly this hymn fits with the wonderful Gospel reading! In Matthew 5:13-20, Jesus reminds us that we Christians are the salt and light of the world! One of the important Epiphany themes is that as it has been revealed to us Who Jesus Christ is, so we are to go and tell the rest of the world. This strong, majestic hymn was inspired by one of Ronald Krug’s favorite Epiphany texts: Isaiah 60:1 — “Rise, shine, for your light has come and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.”
In this hymn, written in 1973, we sing “Rise, shine, you people! Christ the Lord has entered our human story; God in Him is centered. He comes to us, by death and sin surrounded, with grace unbounded. // See how He sends the pow’rs of evil reeling; He brings us freedom, light and life and healing. All men and women, who by guilt are driven, now are forgiven. // Come celebrate; your banners high unfurling, your songs and prayers against the darkness hurling. To all the world go out and tell the story of Jesus’ glory. // Tell how the Father sent His Son to save us. Tell of the Son, who life and freedom gave us. Tell how the Spirit calls from every nation His new creation.” Notice how this terrific Epiphany hymn incorporates so many of the Scriptures we have heard this season!
The Distribution Hymn for this Sunday is “Lord Whose Love in Humble Service,” a tender devotional hymn that picks up the message of this Sunday’s Old Testament reading. In Isaiah 58:3-9, the prophet reminds all listeners that the worship God desires is “to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own kin. Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry and He will say, ‘Here I am,'”
The Recessional Hymn is “O God of God, O Light of Light.” The only thing I know about this hymn is that John Julian, the Anglican priest who wrote it, was an authority on hymns, had a vast collection of materials on hymnody, and wrote a monumental Dictionary of Hymnody (among other writings). The theology of this incredible praise hymn takes my breath away! The words of this wonderful hymn express my feelings to my Lord much more clearly and beautifully than I ever could. (Some people can always say exactly what they mean; not me. I know what I want to say, but I can never find the right words. This gorgeous hymn to Jesus has all the right words. This hymn expresses the thoughts of my heart in words that I myself am not able to express.)
One final observation: Last week at the Saturday night service I could see that the days are getting longer! For the first time since we left Daylight Savings Time, the sun had not completely set before the Saturday Night Service was over. Every year, I take a deep and quiet delight at welcoming back the light during the Saturday Night Worship services during Epiphany. Arise, shine for your light has come.
See you at worship on Sunday!