". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Monday, March 7, 2011

"And His face shone like the sun"

Yesterday at my church we joined many liturgical Christians around the world in celebrating the Feast of Transfiguration. Here's the Biblical account from yesterday's Gospel reading, Matthew 17:1-8:

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah." He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Rise, and have no fear." And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

Following is a video of yesterday's processional hymn. Some of my confessional Lutheran friends don't like this song. We sing it once a year at my church, on Transfiguration, because it fits the theme of a radiant Jesus so very well. I post the video because I think the reason some people don't like the song has more to do with its associations and the way it is sometimes done than with the song itself. It is possible to sing the song in a churchly way, a way that keeps the focus on the object of worship and not on the worshiper. Notice that there is no drumset here, no backbeat, no amplifed songleaders standing up front, no screen, no hand clapping or arm waving. Instead there is piano and brass and congregational singing. (By the way, if you listen to the end you will hear the processional hymn followed by our junior high choir singing a 16th-century setting of the Kyrie by Leonhard Lechner.)

Procession for Transfiguration Sunday from Cheryl on Vimeo.

I thought about posting a video of how NOT to do this song, but I decided that would be counter-productive and cruel to your ears. :-)

By the way, I'm not suggesting that every church should sing this. It may not be suited to your parish. But it works well for us as a Transfiguration hymn. And while I think a church body should share the bulk of its hymnody and liturgy and have a generally uniform practice that reflects its doctrine, I also think there is room for some variance from one congregation to another. Congregations are different; the people in them are different; it is not surprising that there will be some minor differences in practice from one to the next. So just because my congregation embraces this song doesn't mean yours will, and that's okay. It also doesn't mean that my congregation is embracing Contemporary Worship or its theology, any more than our singing of a hymn with Methodist roots means we are embracing Methodism.

The new president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Rev. Matt Harrison, is proposing (and I think moving forward) with something called the "Koinonia Project" that has at its goal helping "brothers and sisters talk with each other about our theology and how our theology works out in practice" (source). I guess you can consider today's post one of my tiny little drops in the "koinonia" bucket.


Dave Lambert said...

If the song passed the "Pastor Rossow test," it must be OK!

Cheryl said...

Dave, for what it's worth, it also passed synodical doctrinal review for both LCMS and WELS. I guess the question is, whose test do you value more? ;-)

Untamed Shrew said...

You're right, Cheryl--I don't really have a problem with the song itself, but with what typically happens when this song is sung. Excellent, edifying execution by Saint Phil and the brass.

[LOVE the Kyrie.]

Cheryl said...

Thank you, Shrew. You have NO IDEA how much that means to me.

(By the way, I don't think your name suits you at all. At least not the "Shrew" part.)