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Music Notes: Good Shepherd Sunday


Music Notes

29 April, 2015

Psalm 23  Good Shepherd Sunday holds special significance for the writer of music notes, for it was on this Sunday in 1988 that he made his arguably successful “debut” as a church musician, playing “The Lord’s My Shepherd” on the violin for the offertory.  The older, more deaf members of the congregation supportively compared his playing to that of “angels in the high heavens playing wondrous odes to God’s glory.”  The more hearing-capable among the congregation, including his peers from Lutheran grade school, likened the performance to “a chicken scratching on a cardboard box.”  He shortly thereafter began organ study. . .

            Today’s service, then, is organized around the readings from John 10 and Psalm 23 in particular. The handbell ensemble’s prelude to the service, “Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us,” can only rightfully be said to derive inspiration from Psalm 23 or John 10—the majority of the thoughts belong to the nineteenth-century author, Dorothy Thrupp.  In addition to Christianizing the Hebrew thoughts (she adds the concepts of the atonement, sin, imploring for mercy and grace as well as “cleansing”), Thrupp sets this entire hymn as a prayer, addressed to the Savior.  One of the refrains implores, “Hear, O hear us when we pray.”  This hymn fits into the gospel song genre popularized by the revival/evangelism movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  When singing this hymn, we are meant to feel conviction for sin so as to change our sinful ways.  No allusion is made to baptism, communion, or even to any specific scripture.  This is why we in the Lutheran Church do not consume a steady diet of gospel songs—they are relatively weak in content.  But, in the context of the faithful renderings of Psalm 23 sung previously, this hymn allows the singer to engage in a more personal response of faith.

            The sermon hymn, “The King of Love My Shepherd Is,” by Henry Baker (first published in 1868) does not attempt to remain literally faithful to the words of the psalm.  Firstly, it can be noted that Baker is much more free with the translation.  His opening lines, “The King of love my shepherd is, whose goodness faileth never;  I nothing lack if I am His and He is mine forever” contrast with the psalm’s first verse, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”  The concepts of “King,” “love,” “goodness” and the use of His/mine are not original to the psalm.  The second stanza (“Where streams of living water flow, my ransomed soul He leadeth.  And where the verdant pastures grow, with food celestial feedeth”) contrasts with the second and third verses of the psalm in the same manner (“He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul.”)  In this case, Baker alludes to the eucharist by “food celestial,” and introduces the concept of the atonement with the phrase “my ransomed soul.”  The fourth stanza is even more explicitly Christian, “In death’s dark vale I fear no ill with Thee, dear Lord, beside me, Thy rod and staff my comfort still, Thy cross before to guide me.”  Here Baker theologically extracts the wooden cross from the wood of the shepherd’s rod, clearly delineating the connection between the religion of the ancient Hebrews to its fulfillment in Christ’s atonement.  The final stanza even address Christ as the “Good Shepherd,” completing the Christianizing of the psalm by blending the theological concepts found in John 10.  Here would our Hebrew friend take umbrage.

Posted by Benjamin Kolodziej with

“No Tramp of Soldiers’ Marching Feet”

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“No Tramp of Soldiers’ Marching Feet”  Today’s liturgy is unique amongst all our services within the liturgical year. No other service bears the character of Palm Sunday. We begin the service rather triumphantly, reliving Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, in which “. . . the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19: 37-38) The children echo this cry as they sing “All Glory, Laud, and Honour” whilst waving their palm branches, and the congregation likewise is able to join in the hymn of praise. But the character of the liturgy soon changes, just as the crowd, who on one day extolled Jesus as King of the Jews, would later in the week use the same appellation to heap scorn and mockery upon Him. The joy and celebration which characterizes the beginning of our service, and the beginning of Jesus’ week, would soon turn into Golgotha, and our liturgy will soon turn somber. In the first stanza we sing:

No tramp of soldier’s marching feet with banners and with drums,
No sound of music’s martial beat: “The King of glory comes!”
To greet what pomp of kingly pride no bells in triumph ring;
No city gates swing open wide: “Behold, behold your King!”

Timothy Dudley-Smith (b. 1926), a living English hymnwriter, composed this text. He attended Cambridge, Pembroke College, and served various parishes in the UK until he retired as the Bishop of Thetford. He wrote over 80 hymns in several different collections. His second stanza recounts the biblical story of Palm Sunday:

And yet He comes. The children cheer; with palms His path is strown.
With every step the cross draws near: the King of glory’s throne.
Astride a colt He passes by as loud hosannas ring,
Or else the very stones would cry “Behold, behold your King.”

Listen to the way our choir and musicians lead us in this hymn this morning—there is little organ, little of the sound we come to expect. This beautiful tune, an English folk tune collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams, stands by itself, the choir leads, but it belongs to the congregation. If it feels strange not to have the organ lead—it should.

What fading flowers His road adorn; the palms, how soon laid down!
No bloom or leaf but only thorn the King of glory’s crown.
The soldiers mock, the rabble cries, the streets with tumult ring,
As Pilate to the mob replies, “Behold, behold your King.”

Poetically, Dudley-Smith ends each stanza with “Behold, behold your King,” linking all four together, but each bearing a slightly different theological implication. In this third stanza, the phrase is used ironically, as Pilate had wished to release Jesus, but succumbed to the crowd’s insistence on Barabbas. The final stanza bears an eschatological—end times—imprint:

Now He who bore for mortals sake the cross and all its pains
And chose a servant’s form to take, the King of glory reigns.
Hosanna to the Savior’s name till heaven’s rafters ring,
And all the ransomed host proclaim “Behold, behold your King.”

Here Jesus is portrayed as the Mediator between God and man, indeed, the reason for which He became human is manifest in its fullness starting today. The drama in the historical narrative is reflected in our hymns and liturgy today, Thursday evening, Friday night, and next Sunday morning. It is a drama that is best lived and reenacted in our liturgy, at least that was the thought of the ancient church fathers who established the church year gradually many centuries ago.