St John the Evangelist

Commemorated on 27 December

The author of the Gospel of John does not identify himself by name, but only as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. Most Christians believe that St John’s Gospel was written by the Apostle John. He is thought to have been born about 15AD and therefore to be the youngest of The Twelve. He was the only one of the Apostles not to die for his faith and is believed to have lived until about the year 100. The words of the hymn mention “Thy belov’d, thy latest born” and “Latest he, the warfare leaving”.

There are more scriptural references in the hymn. Verse 7 of Psalm 81: “Thou calledst in trouble, and I delivered thee: I answered thee in the secret place of thunder: I proved thee at the waters of Meribah“. The psalmist is referring to the long journey of the Israelites out of Egypt. Exodus 16 tells us that Meribah was where Moses struck the rock and water gushed forth and in Exodus 19 we read how Moses went up Mount Sinai in the thunderclouds to hear the voice of God, while the people below only heard the thunder. In Chapter 12 of his Gospel, John describes how the crowds flocked to see Jesus as He was coming to Jerusalem for the Passover just after the raising of Lazarus: “And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified…. Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him… Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light.

The words of the hymn were written by Revd John Keble (1792-1866).

Word supreme, before creation
Born of God eternally
Who didst will for our salvation
To be born on earth, and die;
Well thy saints have kept their station,
Watching till thine hour drew nigh.

Now ’tis come, and faith espies thee:
Like an eagle in the morn,
John in steadfast worship eyes thee,
Thy belov’d, thy latest born:
In thy glory he descries thee
Reigning from the tree of scorn.

He first hoping and believing
Did beside the grave adore;
Latest he, the warfare leaving,
Landed on the eternal shore;
And his witness we receiving
Own thee Lord for evermore.

Much he asked in loving wonder,
On thy bosom leaning, Lord!
In that secret place of thunder,
Answer kind didst thou accord,
Wisdom for thy Church to ponder
Till the day of dread award.

Thee, the Almighty King eternal,
Father of the eternal Word;
Thee, the Father’s Word supernal,
Thee, of both, the Breath adored;
Heaven, and earth, and realms infernal
Own, one glorious God and Lord. Amen.

St Andrew

Commemorated on 30 November

Andrew the Apostle was the brother of Simon Peter. They were both fishermen. Andrew was born in the village of Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee, a region where Greek language and culture were known. The name “Andrew” is of Greek origin and no Hebrew or Aramaic name has been recorded for him. it is thought that he preached along the Black Sea and as far east as Novgorod, so became patron saint of Ukraine, Romania and Russia.

He is said to have been martyred by crucifixion on an X-shaped cross at Patras in Achaea in AD 60. Legend has it that his relics were brought to the site of the modern city of St Andrews in Scotland. The 1320 Declaration of Arbroath cites Scotland’s conversion to Christianity by Andrew, “the first to be an Apostle”; he had by then been considered to be Scotland’s patron saint for several centuries. The Saltire (national flag of Scotland) is a white X-shaped cross on a blue background.

The words were written by Irish-born Cecil Frances Alexander née Humphreys (1818-1895), wife of Revd William Alexander, who later became Archbishop of Armagh. She wrote many well-known hymns. A number of the hymns she wrote for children are still popular today, including Once in royal David’s city, There is a green hill far away and All things bright and beautiful.

Jesus calls us; o’er the tumult
Of our life’s wild, restless sea,
Day by day His sweet voice soundeth,
Saying, “Christian, follow Me;”

As of old, Saint Andrew heard it
By the Galilean lake,
Turned from home, and toil, and kindred,
Leaving all for His dear sake.

Jesus calls us from the worship
Of the vain world’s golden store;
From each idol that would keep us,
Saying, “Christian, love Me more.”

In our joys and in our sorrows,
Days of toil and hours of ease,
Still He calls, in cares and pleasures,
“That we love Him more than these.”

Jesus calls us: by Thy mercies,
Saviour, may we hear Thy call,
Give our hearts to Thine obedience,
Serve and love Thee best of all.

Edith Cavell: 12 October

Edith Cavell is commemorated in the Church of England on this day – the date of her execution in 1915. She was born on 4 December 1865 in Swardeston, the village near Norwich, where her father was vicar. She had worked as a governess, but returned home to look after her father when he became seriously ill. After his recovery she resolved to become a nurse.

In 1906 she took a temporary post as matron of the Manchester and Salford Sick and Poor and Private Nursing Institution, and while there she worshipped at Sacred Trinity Church on Chapel Street, Salford. Before her father’s illness, she had worked as a governess at Avenue Louise, Brussels 1890-1895 and in 1907 she was recruited back to Brussels to be the matron of a nursing school in Ixelles (a district of Brussels). After the outbreak of WW1, she began sheltering British soldiers and funnelling them out of occupied Belgium to the neutral Netherlands. She was arrested on 3 August 1915 and charged with harbouring Allied soldiers. She was convicted and condemned to death by firing squad for treason. The evening before her execution she recited the hymn Abide with me with an English chaplain. This is one reason for the hymn’s enduring popularity in Britain.

Postscript: A hundred years after Edith Cavell’s first stay in Brussels, I was working at an office on Avenue Louise, Brussels from 1990-1995, and was living in Ixelles.
Dave Williams.

Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary – 8 September

The Birth of the Virgin – Giotto

The birth of Mary is not recorded in the Bible, but apocryphal sources (and tradition) say that her parents were St Joachim and St Anne. 8 September is the date of the commemoration in many Christian denominations, including the Church of England. This date is 9 months after 8 December, the date commemorated as the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (In the Church of England this date is in the lectionary as a “lesser festival”. In the Roman Catholic church it is known as the Immaculate Conception, but this doctrine is not accepted in Protestant churches, nor in the Orthodox church.)

Shall we not love thee, Mother dear,
Whom Jesus loves so well?
And to His glory, year by year,
Thy joy and honour tell?
Yes, we will love thee, Mother dear,
Whom Jesus loves so well.

Bound with the curse of sin and shame
We helpless sinners lay,
Until in tender love He came
To bear the curse away.
Yes, we will love thee, Mother dear,
Whom Jesus loves so well.

And thee He chose from whom to take
True flesh His Flesh to be;
In it to suffer for our sake,
By it to make us free.
Yes, we will love thee, Mother dear,
Whom Jesus loves so well.

Thy Babe He lay upon thy breast,
To thee He cried for food:
Thy gentle nursing soothed to rest
Th’ Incarnate Son of God.
Yes, we will love thee, Mother dear,
Whom Jesus loves so well.

O wondrous depth of Grace Divine
That He should bend so low!
And Mary, O, what joy ’twas thine
In His dear love to know.
Yes, we will love thee, Mother dear,
Whom Jesus loves so well.

Joy to be Mother of the Lord,
And thine the truer bliss,
In every thought, and deed, and word,
To be for ever His.
Yes, we will love thee, Mother dear,
Whom Jesus loves so well.

And as He loves thee, Mother dear,
We too will love thee well;
And to His glory, year by year,
Thy joy and honour tell.
Yes, we will love thee, Mother dear,
Whom Jesus loves so well.

Jesu, the Virgin’s Holy Son,
We praise Thee and adore,
Who art with God the Father One,
And Spirit evermore.
Jesu, the Virgin’s Holy Son,
We praise Thee and adore.

Peace be to this congregation

A hymn by Charles Wesley.

Peace be to this congregation,
peace to every soul therein,
peace, which flows from Christ’s salvation,
peace, the fruit of pardoned sin,

peace that speaks its heavenly Giver,
peace, to earthly minds unknown,
peace divine that lasts forever,
peace that comes from God alone.

Jesus, Prince of peace, be near us;
fix in all our hearts your home;
with your gracious presence cheer us;
let your sacred kingdom come;

raise to heaven our expectation,
give our favoured souls to prove
glorious and complete salvation,
in the realms of bliss above.

  • Veronica on Peace be to this congregationNever heard this one before! It's really lovely! 🙂 Hopefully it will be added to our choir's repertoire, especially whilst...

Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire

The words to this hymn were written by James Montgomery (1771-1854). He was born in Scotland but eventually settled in Sheffield. He wrote over 600 hymns, several perhaps more familiar than this one. They include:
Angels from the realms of Glory
For ever with the Lord
Hail to the Lord’s Anointed
Lord, teach us how to pray aright
Songs of praise the angels sang
Stand up and bless the Lord

Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
uttered or unexpressed;
the motion of a hidden fire
that trembles in the breast.

Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
the falling of a tear;
the upward glancing of an eye,
when none but God is near.

Prayer is the simplest form of speech
that infant lips can try,
prayer the sublimest strains that reach
the Majesty on high.

Prayer is the contrite sinner’s voice,
returning from his ways;
while angels in their songs rejoice,
and cry, ‘Behold, he prays!

Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath,
the Christian’s native air,
his watchword at the gates of death:
he enters heaven with prayer.

The saints in prayer appear as one,
in word and deed and mind;
while with the Father and the Son
sweet fellowship they find.

O Thou by whom we come to God,
the Life, the Truth, the Way,
the path of prayer thyself hast trod:
Lord, teach us how to pray!

The Blessed Virgin Mary: 15 August

In the Roman Catholic Church, 15 August is a holy day of obligation: The Assumption of Mary into Heaven. The “the bodily taking up of Mary, the mother of Jesus, into Heaven at the end of her earthly life” was declared as dogma in the RC Church by Pope Pius XII in 1950. But as this picture was painted by Titian about 1517, this had obviously been part of the belief and culture of many Christians for centuries.

Most Protestants see no biblical basis to justify belief in the Assumption of Mary. In the Church of England, 15 August is a “non-specific feast” of The Blessed Virgin Mary.

The words to Ye who own the faith of Jesus were written by Revd Vincent Stuckey Stratton Coles (1845–1929). He was Principal of Pusey House, Oxford from 1897 to 1909, and Warden of the Sisterhood of the Epiphany in Truro from 1910 to 1920. He also wrote the hymn We pray Thee, Heavenly Father.

Ye who own the faith of Jesus
sing the wonders that were done,
when the love of God the Father
o’er our sin the victory won,
when he made the Virgin Mary
Mother of his only Son.
Hail Mary, hail Mary, hail Mary full of grace.

Blessèd were the chosen people
out of whom the Lord did come,
blessèd was the land of promise
fashioned for his earthly home;
but more blessèd far the Mother
she who bare him in her womb.
Hail Mary, hail Mary, hail Mary full of grace.

Wherefore let all faithful people
tell the honour of her name,
let the church in her foreshadowed
part in her thanksgiving claim;
what Christ’s Mother sang in gladness
let Christ’s people sing the same.
Hail Mary, hail Mary, hail Mary full of grace.

Let us weave our supplications,
she with us and we with her,
for the advancement of the faithful,
for each faithful worshipper,
for the doubting, for the sinful,
for each heedless wanderer.
Hail Mary, hail Mary, hail Mary full of grace.

Praise, O Mary, praise the Father,
praise thy Saviour and thy Son,
praise the everlasting Spirit,
who hath made thee ark and throne;
o’er all creatures high exalted,
lowly praise the Three in One.
Hail Mary, hail Mary, hail Mary full of grace.

Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee

Florence Nightingale died on 13 August 1910. She is commemorated in the Church of England Calendar on 13 August.

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) was the founder of modern nursing. It is relevant that she was a pioneer in the use of statistics. She came to prominence while serving as a manager and trainer of nurses during the Crimean War, in which she organised care for wounded soldiers. She gave nursing a favourable reputation and became an icon of Victorian culture, especially in the persona of “The Lady with the Lamp” making rounds of wounded soldiers at night.

With the arrival of COVID-19, it is appropriate to celebrate all that nurses do for us. There are several medically qualified people in our congregation: we are blessed by their selfless attitudes of care.

This is the best-known hymn by Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879), who was the daughter of the Rector of St Nicholas, Worcester. She wrote many hymns, but most have fallen out of fashion. She also wrote I am trusting Thee, Lord Jesus, which is included in this collection.

Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Take my hands, and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love:
Take my feet, and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take my voice, and let me sing
Always, only for my King.
Take my lips, and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee.

Take my silver and my gold,
Not a mite would I withhold;
Take my intellect, and use
Every power as Thou shalt choose.

Take my heart, it is Thine own,
It shall be Thy royal throne:
Take my will and make it Thine,
It shall be no longer mine.

Take my love; my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure-store;
Take myself, and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee.

O what their joy and their glory must be

John Mason Neale is commemorated on 7 August (the day after he died in 1866), so one of the hymns he translated has been chosen for todays post.

The original Latin hymn O quanta qualia sunt illa sabbata was written by Peter Abelard (1079-1142). He was born in Brittany. His father had been a military man, but Abelard became a philosopher, theologian and logician. In about 1115 he became the master of the cathedral school of Notre Dame in Paris (although the present cathedral had not yet been constructed). While there he famously had an affair with Héloïse, and the couple secretly married. However, things did not turn out well (you can read the gory details on Wikipedia), and he became a monk. He seems to have had a talent for upsetting people.

Revd John Mason Neale (1818-66) was born in London, the son of a clergyman and a descendant on his mother’s side of Revd John Mason, author of How shall I sing that Majesty. Neale was ordained in 1842 and was briefly incumbent of Crawley, but had to resign on account of chronic lung disease. He was Warden of Sackville House (an alms house at East Grinsted) from 1846 until his death at the age of 48. He died on 6 August 1866 – the feast of The Transfiguration of Our Lord, so he is commemorated on the following day.

He translated many hymns from Latin and Greek. The 1875 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern included 58 of them and there were even more in the English Hymnal of 1906. He also wrote hymns of his own. In many cases (including this one), the English translations preserved the metre of the original Latin, so that the translated hymns could still be sung to the original plainsong melodies, for example:

Angelaris fundamentum
Conditor alme siderum
Jerusalem luminosa
O Lux beata Trinitas
Urbs Sion aurea
Urbs beata Jerusalem
Veni, Redemptor gentium
Veni, Sancte Spiritus

Christ is made the sure foundation
Creator of the stars of night
Light’s abode, celestial Salem
O trinity of blessed light
Jerusalem the golden
Blessed City, heavenly Salem
Come thou Redeemer of the earth
Come, thou Holy Spirit, come

He also wrote:
Around the throne of God a band
Christian, dost thou see them
Good King Wenceslas
O Happy band of pilgrims

Four of the seven verses (the missing starred verses are shown below):

1 O WHAT their joy and their glory must be,
Those endless sabbaths the blesséd ones see!
Crown for the valiant; to weary ones rest;
God shall be all, and in all ever blest.

3 Truly Jerusalem name we that shore,
‘Visions of peace,’ that brings joy evermore!
Wish and fufilment can severed be ne’er,
or the thing prayed for come short of the prayer.

4 We, where no trouble distraction can bring,
Safely the anthems of Sion shall sing;
While for thy grace, Lord, their voices of praise
Thy blesséd people shall evermore raise.

7 Low before him with our praises we fall,
Of whom, and in whom, and through whom are all;
Of whom, the Father; and through whom, the Son;
In whom, the Spirit, with these ever One.

2 *What are the Monarch, his court, and his throne?
What are the peace and the joy that they own?
Tell us, ye blest ones, that in it have share,
If what ye feel ye can fully declare.

5 *There dawns no sabbath, no sabbath is o’er,
Those sabbath-keepers have one and no more;
One and unending is that triumph-song
Which to the angels and us shall belong.

6 *Now in the meanwhile, with hearts raised on high,
We for that country must yearn and must sigh,
Seeking Jerusalem, dear native land,
Through our long exile on Babylon’s strand.

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

Celebrated on 6 August.

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

Raphael painted The Transfiguration about 1520

This ancient hymn Coelestia fornam gloriae from the Cluniac Breviary of 1686 was translated into English by the Welshman Revd Richard E Roberts (1874-1945), who emigrated to North America in 1916. Originally a Calvanistic Methodist, he joined the United Church of Canada when it was formed in 1925 (an amalgamation of Methodists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists) and was Moderator of the UCC 1934-36.

An image of that heavenly light,
The goal the Church keeps ay in sight,
Christ on the holy mount displays
Where He outshines the sun’s bright rays.

Let every age proclaimer be
How, on this day, the chosen three
With Moses and Elias heard
The Lord speak many a gracious word.

As witnesses to grace are nigh
Those twain, the Law and Prophecy;
And to the Son, from out the cloud,
The Father’s record thunders loud.

With garments whiter than the snows,
And shining face, Lord Jesus shows
What glory for those saints shall be
Who joy in God with piety.

The vision and the mystery
Make faithful hearts beat quick and high,
So on this solemn day of days
The cry goes up of prayer and praise.

O God the Father, God the Son,
And Holy Spirit, Three in One,
Vouchsafe to bring us, by thy grace,
To see thy glory face to face.