Christmas 7: Rejoice in your new clothes

Liber_choralis_S.Leonardi_(MCM),_XV_Gaudens_gaudebo2017 is almost over, and today we have two choral pieces to conclude our year with, one early, one modern, both settings of one of the readings for the first Sunday after Christmas, Isaiah 61:10-62:4. The first is the delightfully joyous “Gaudens Gaudebo in Domino” by the 16th century German composer Philip Dulchius. The text comes from the opening to the song, “I will rejoice greatly in the Lord”, which Mary echoes in her Magnificat in Luke’s Gospel. A modern reimagining of this text is the late Norwegian composer Knut Nystedt’s beautiful “I will greatly rejoice”, similarly jubilant but with simpler harmony. Both settings, looking not only to our own salvation but the saving of all nations, are wonderful calls to praise and prayer at the end of 2017.

Rejoice in your new clothes,
for the old is done.
The saving one has clothed you with joy
and in the bright raiment of His saving day.

Look to the east, to the west, where the sun
is rising and setting and setting the way,
where the hope of the new is calling, and calling,
where the world is enwrapping in light.

Rejoice in your new clothes;
rejoice greatly now in renewing delight.
For the old is done, the new bright as son,
bright as bridegroom and bride,

bright as the new spring in their eyes,
bright as wedding dance of old foes,
bright as the diadem in your thinning hair,
bright though the year be dimming.

Christmas 6: Nunc Dimittis

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Rembrandt van Rijn – Simeon in the Temple, 1669

The story of Simeon has given the church one of its oldest hymns, called the “Nunc Dimittis”, after the first two Latin words of the song: “Now dismiss…” There have been many musical versions of Simeon’s song, but today’s poem takes as its inspiration a modern setting by the living Swiss composer Carl Rütti. Rütti’s setting, full of dissonance and peace at the same time, perfectly captures the tension of the story, a moment of jubilation, fulfilment of age-old longing and pure relief and release. The same mood is captured for me in the painting by Rembrandt, who tackled the story of Simeon at the start and end of his career. This is the second of his versions, left unfinished at his death. Is it fitting that he never finished it? Rembrandt caught many of the most poignant moments of Scripture in a manner both raw and sublime. I personally love the second version much more than the first, though the latter is polished where the former is rough. Yet the roughness fits the theme perfectly: Simeon’s praying hands stretched out with the infant Jesus balanced over them, his eyes barely open, his mouth open just enough to say this final prayer. I’ve tried to capture some of this in today’s poem.

Nunc Dimittis

After the silence, a cascade
of wonder, of sound, of light.

Before the darkness, a sight
of promise, of presence, of peace.

And in this aching and drooping of arms,
an answer, a dimming, an eternal day.

Now dismiss. I hold the day;
I hold the way that holds me into night.

The Lord’s Prayer (Cornucopia of Heaven)

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The Lord’s Prayer

After Otto Nicolai, “Pater noster, Op. 33” 

Our Father –

the heavens are Your home,
       earth Your tent,          and yet

           You are a Father.           Teach
our fickle hearts,       our yelling hearts,
           to still, to stop
to look upon               Your glory, high
                               and lifted up.
Our Father who         our Father in
            Our Father, You who are in heaven
                   hallowed be
              Your name, Your will
      be done in us,    be done in dust.
This broken, fickle dust proclaims
            Your high, exalted, heaven name.

Our Father – You who are
            in heaven – lift
       our      broken            prayers.
       Hallowed be Your name, Your throne
            be known on earth
                today,  as in

            Your heavenglory     home.

Assurance (Cornucopia of Heaven)

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Assurance

After Giovanni Gabrieli, “Exultavit Cor Meum”

 

From depths,
            from brokenness, the trumpet
sounds, the trumpet
                        sounds the new,
            it sounds the dawn
                        of low made high.
                                    Exalt, my heart!
            My heart exalts.
                        My eyes will see,
                                    my ears will hear
            O Domino,
                        exalt my humbled knees
                                    and hear
                        the polyphonic joy, the song
                                of humbled, broken
                                     songs arising
                 from the fractured soil,
                        the soul
                                    now sings
                        a trumpet call…

Kyrie (Cornucopia of Heaven)

Image: Score of Palestrina's Kyrie Eleison myartprints.co.uk
Image: Score of Palestrina’s Kyrie Eleison myartprints.co.uk

Kyrie

After Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, “Missa Papae Marcelli: Kyrie”

 

From earth, from soil, from hearts, from fractures
             Kyrie               Kyrie
From death, from fire, from quake, from anguish
                          Kyrie               Kyrie
From drought that blocks, from self that locks
                                    Kyrie eleison

From sin, from toil, from pride, from hate
            Christe             Christe
From plenty turned to nothing, starving
                          Christe             Christe 
From world rebelling, fair made foul –                                                                                                                      Christe eleison
Sing, creation. Sing, dead bones.
            Kyrie               Kyrie
Long for what has died to live
                         Kyrie               Kyrie
Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy –
Long for when He comes again –
                                 Kyrie eleison.