8 May, 2017
In this issue:
· Forgot to attach my sermon last week
· SMCC’s Season Finale Concerts coming up quickly!
· This week at St. Andrew’s
Several people had asked me to attach the sermon I preached a week ago here at St. Andrew’s, and I intended to do that last week, but forgot. So it’s attached this time.
A disclaimer: Many of you know of my religious skepticism, and might be surprised to see such a sermon preached from a church pulpit (i.e. to question the historical veracity of miracles in the Bible! Forsooth!). For those not aware, I was raised the son of a Baptist minister in a fundamentalist household; I went to Wheaton College, a prominent Evangelical institution. While there, however, the development of my intellectual life and the crystallization of my personality led me to question the religious assumptions of my upbringing, and I became something between an agnostic and an atheist. Yet I continued attending church, I became a staff singer here at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral, and continued to pursue the study of sacred music as a postgraduate. I became an Episcopalian in the 1990’s, and have always felt an inexplicable, one might even say mystical, draw to Anglicanism. And St. Andrew’s cultivates an atmosphere particularly attractive to skeptics, such that I think our rector sees it as important every once in a while for the congregation to hear the voice of a skeptic from the pulpit, as so many of them will identify with it. I am profoundly grateful to her for her friendship and trust, her deep spiritual counsel, and her recognition of my vocation as an intensely committed but theologically unorthodox Anglican musician (I think it was RVW’s widow who described him as a “disappointed theist,” and this resonates with me).
Yesterday St. Martin’s Chamber Choir had our first rehearsal with Richard Robertson, the organist for our season finale concerts “Sound the Trumpet!”, which will feature the Joseph Jongen (1873-1953) Mass for brass, organ, and chorus; and several motets by Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) for similar forces. And it is thrilling hearing the parts coming together. The choir sounds marvelous, and I am gaining a deep appreciation for the Jongen Mass as a thrilling and exquisite piece of music. It’s interesting to observe the roots of fame, neglect, obscurity, and the tendency for a composer to get “pigeon-holed” for one thing. Jongen is one of those who had a brilliant career as a teacher and performer, writing much orchestral and chamber music that got performed in his lifetime to wide acclaim; yet his music fell into obscurity after his death, and he is now chiefly remembered for only a small part of his oeuvre – his works for organ. His Symphonie Concertante is heard now and then, and considered by many to be the finest work for orchestra and organ in the repertoire. Likewise, his Mass Op. 130 has been championed sporadically over the last half-century as a tour de force. These partly explain his fate of being remembered as an organ composer, but one can’t help feeling it’s a bit unjust.
It’s also interesting to juxtapose the rather Teutonic solidity of Bruckner’s motets to the Gallic finesse and lyricism of the Jongen. Both reach rather thrilling climaxes; and both have moments of lush romantic harmonies couched in largely subdued dynamics; but the similarities end there. Bruckner’s motivic development is much tighter and more satisfying (to me); but his music will come off to some as inflexibly forced when compared to the supple beauty of what will come after the intermission in the Belgian composer’s work.
The works by Bruckner are Afferentur regi (SATB, 3 trombones), Libera me (SSATB, organ, 3 trombones), Inveni David (TTBB, 3 trombones), Locus iste (SATB), Christus factus est (I) (SATB, div.), Christus factus est (II) (SSAATTBB, organ, 3 trombones), and Ecce sacerdos magnus (SSAATTBB, organ, 4 trombones); as well as two Aequale for 3 trombones.
We collaborate with members of the justly famous Denver Brass. Anyway, get your tickets now to what will be an exciting concert: www.StMartinsChamberChoir.org/concerts, or call (303) 298-1970 for assistance.
· Fri., May 19, 7:30pm – St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral, 1400 Washington St., Denver
· Sun., May 21, 3:00pm – St. Paul Community of Faith, 1600 Grant St., Denver
This last week was a real highlight for me in terms of the music at St. Andrew’s. The Choral Evensong on Thursday with a dectet of singers and organ turned out very well – I was extremely pleased (the bishop wasn’t there, it turned out – he was ill – but the 20-some congregants who did show up were treated to a wonderful service). And then yesterday’s renderings of the Stanford “The Lord is my Shepherd” were nothing short of thrilling. On the last three pages of this anthem, the choir and organ spiral upwards in a meticulously crafted and sustained climax (on the words “and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”), before subsiding at the end into the bucolic gentleness that characterizes the rest of the anthem. The choir and Ralph Valentine on the organ achieved this with marvelous intensity, and I was so emotional through the hymn that followed that I dared not look at anyone for fear of bursting into tears. Bravi to my colleagues, all!
This week’s Evensong will be the opposite – an intimate, quiet a cappella quartet rendering the following:
May 11, 2017, Choral Evensong: Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf
Preces & Responses: Thomas Ebdon (1738-1810)
Canticle of Light: “Round me falls the night” by Adam Drese (1620-1701)
Service: Thomas Kelway (c.1695-1749) in B minor
Office Hymn: [copy into leaflet] (O Du Liebe meiner Liebe)
We mark the life of Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700-1760), a man instrumental in allowing the Moravian Church to survive and flourish in 18th century Germany and then the United States. So all the music is from the 18th century (the hymn has a text by von Zinzendorf). I’m looking for a suitable Moravian anthem, but haven’t happed upon it yet, so it remains TBD above. Suggestions are welcome. 😉
May 14, 2017, Fifth Sunday of Easter
*Introit: “O come, ye servants of the Lord” by Christopher Tye (c.1500-c.1572)
Anthem: “The Lord hath been mindful” by Samuel S. Wesley (1810-1876)
Communion motet: “O how amiable” by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1874-1958)
Hymns: 430 (Sonne der Gerechtigkeit), *455 (Dunedin), 457 (St. James), 518 (Westminster Abbey)
The Wesley that we sang at Evensong last week will make a reappearance this coming Sunday, joined by Vaughan Williams’ “O how amiable.” My wife always gets choked up, she says, as the anthem segues into the hymn “O God, our help” at the end. It would be interesting to analyze when and why emotional responses like this occur.
Timothy J. Krueger
Choirmaster, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Denver
Artistic Director, St. Martin’s Chamber Choir (professional)
Affiliate Music Faculty, Metropolitan State University of Denver
The Third Sunday of Easter (April 30, 2017)
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
1 Peter 1:17-23
The painting on your leaflet covers is the well-known depiction of today’s Gospel story, by the 19th-century Swiss painter Robert Zünd. A reprint of this painting hung in my parents’ bedroom as I was growing up. I loved this picture as a boy, especially the highly detailed portrayal of towering oak trees; the realistic touch of a culvert under the dirt road; the faint outline of a city in the hazy distance.
This painting has colored my personal imagery of this Gospel story ever since; but this year, a new phrase in this story has captured my imagination. It is a phrase of passion, of excitement, of vivid imagery: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us?” Were not our hearts burning within us?
The phrase suggests being fascinated with something, or being irresistably drawn to something, without quite being able to put your finger on the reason. Indeed, this is, in a phrase, perhaps the most apt description of my spirituality that I can think of. When I had rejected the fundamentalism of my upbringing while at university and become an intellectual skeptic of all religion, I nevertheless retained a fascination for things ecclesiastical and things spiritual. I continued to pursue a degree in sacred music, and never missed a Sunday service, despite my theological wrestlings. Why was this? I think, because, though my intellect could not fully accept the tenets of orthodoxy, my heart still occasionally burned within me – like when I heard music within the context of worship, or when I walked into a Medieval church. My head doubted, but my heart still burned – for what I wasn’t quite sure; but it did – and it wasn’t just acid reflux.
Last week’s Gospel saw the Apostle Thomas not being willing to believe that the resurrection had taken place unless or until he had physical proof of it. In this week’s Gospel, by contrast, we are presented with persons who, even though they saw the risen Christ with their own eyes, and heard him speak with their ears, did not comprehend, did not apprehend. Hours passed in company with this stranger – and not just a stranger who happened to be quietly present, but a stranger who occupied their whole attention, whose discourse caused their hearts to burn within them. They listened, and responded, and queried, and looked into the eyes of Jesus – even as they spoke of him in light of recent events – yet they did not see him. They did not apprehend that this was he.
Yet – their hearts burned within them all the while; and the burning was not recognized for what it was until after Jesus had departed from them. Then they recognized that the sensation of burning hearts had been significant – had, indeed, indicated the true nature of this stranger, when their physical senses were unable to make the identification. It turned out, they reflected afterwards, that their senses had failed them, yet their hearts had been crying out the truth all along.
At the conclusion of last week’s Thomas story, the author of John’s Gospel writes this: “Now Jesus did many other signs . . . which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.” Note that phrase, “these are written so that you may come to believe.”
I think it may be a characteristic of the ancient, pre-scientific, world that miracles were proof of the truth of something. Signs and wonders were the evidence that something was “for real.” They were seemingly what was required to prove that something was not only true, but important. I believe that many of the miracles of the Gospels – from the Star of Bethlehem and the virgin birth, right through to the resurrection itself – were put in the Gospels in order to make people pay attention, in order to “prove” the specialness of Jesus, and the truth of their claims. No ancient god was devoid of wondrous stories about him; so Jesus, the first Christians thought, should also have such stories.
Well, I must admit that I am skeptical of miracles. I tend to identify with another doubting Thomas – Thomas Jefferson – in finding the miracles of the Bible difficult to stomach. Jefferson famously created his own version of the Gospels, removing everything supernatural and miraculous, and retaining only the wisdom and sayings of Jesus, and the account of his death. I suppose I am with Jefferson in that my Enlightenment, scientific approach to truth disallows the supernatural. In direct contrast to the ancient mind, the presence of miracles in a story makes me less inclined to believe it than more.
Indeed, what is compelling to me about Christianity is not that Jesus performed miracles, or that he was born of a virgin, or even that he rose from the dead. In fact, most of these are impediments to my faith rather than otherwise. What is attractive, and even persuasive, about Christianity is more its story of sanctification of the physical world through the notion of God becoming man. That the Divine, which is usually seen as all-powerful, actually humbled itself to become one with humankind; that it gave up its power, and even suffered and died, and allowed itself to be utterly defeated at the hands of the creation that it sought to redeem with its love. That the Divine nature is about turning the other cheek, not getting even. This seeming contradiction – this utter weakness; this surrendering of power; this meekness in the face of arrogance – THIS is what persuades me that Jesus is a man worth following, and Christianity a way of life worth living, rather than some show of muscular power in smiting the heathen, or turning water into wine, or healing the blind, all in a bravura attempt to win my heart through a display of power. And is it not noteworthy in today’s Gospel that the disciples finally recognize Jesus, not through a miracle or any commanding display that would astound them, but through the mundane act of breaking bread, and serving them.
And I think it is this contradiction of a God who chooses love over power; who chooses to suffer rather than causing suffering; a God, as the Collect goes, “whose property is always to have mercy;” that causes my heart to continue to burn within me when I contemplate spirituality, even when my intellect prevents me from acceding to the more militant claims of Christianity. In fact, just like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, it is the burning of their hearts that is a truer indication of the presence of the Divine in their midst, than what their physical senses could apprehend. It is the burning of my heart as I make or listen to music; the burning of my heart as I contemplate what it is to be holy; the burning of my heart when I apprehend beauty, that is – perhaps – the truest indication of a Divine presence in my life. And perhaps it is the burning of our collective hearts as we worship and pray and sing, as we reach out to the homeless, as we break bread together – both here at the altar and below in the undercroft – that is the truest indication of a Divine presence in our life together as the community of St. Andrew’s.