Sunday, 21 April 2013

Three hymn tunes by John Bacchus Dykes

The Good Shepherd ... a stained glass window in Saint Mark’s Church, Armagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford

Patrick Comerford

This is the Fourth Sunday of Easter, and later this morning [21 April 2013], at the end of a very busy teaching weekend, I am presiding at the Eucharist, and the Revd Tanya Woods is preaching.

The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary this morning are: Acts 9: 36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7: 9-17; and John 10: 22-30, and these are reflected in our hymns.

Our Processional Hymn is the first three verses of Hymn 466 (Irish Church Hymnal), ‘Here, from all nations, all tongues, and all peoples.’

This hymn by the Revd Christopher Idle, is based on our second reading (Revelation 7: 9-17). This popular hymn, which has appeared in almost 30 hymnals, is sung to the quasi-plainsong tune, O Quanta Qualia, dates back to 17th century France and the Paris Antiphoner of 1681 and was later harmonised by the Revd John Bacchus Dykes, who wrote over 300 hymn tunes.

An interesting alternative might have been Hymn 467, ‘How bright those glorious spirits shine,’ by Isaac Watts, or perhaps my favourite hymn of all, ‘How shall I sing that majesty’ (468) by John Mason.

“They cried out in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ And all the angels stood around the throne” (Revelation 7: 10-11) … a fresco in a monastery in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

We are singing Psalm 23 as Hymn 20, ‘The King of love my shepherd is,’ by the Revd Sir Henry Williams Baker.

Baker was the driving force behind the publication of the first Anglican hymnal, Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861), and this hymn was included in an appendix published in 1868. In writing this hymn, Baker copied the pattern of George Herbert’s earlier paraphrase of this psalm, ‘The God of live my shepherd is,’ but in Stanza 1 he changed the word ‘God’ to ‘King,’ and in Stanza 2 turned the ‘still waters’ to ‘streams of living waters.’ There are other changes too in the stanza that follow, giving the hymn additional sacramental resonances.

Once again, this tune is by JB Dykes, and it was sung at his funeral in 1876.

His other well-known hymn tunes include: Wir Pflügen, which he harmonised and is commonly sung to the words of ‘We plough the fields, and scatter’ (Hymn 47, ICH), a translation of the German hymn Wir pflügen und wir streuen; Melita, sung to the words ‘Eternal Father, Strong to Save’ (612), sometimes known as ‘For those in peril on the sea’ from its recurring last line; Gerontius, sung to the words ‘Praise to the Holiest in the height’ (108), from John Henry Newman’s poem, The Dream of Gerontius; and Lux Benigna, sung to Newman’s poem Lead, Kindly Light (653).

Our Gradual Hymn is ‘Blessèd assurance, Jesus is mine’ (Hymn 562) by Mrs Frances Jane van Alstyne, better known as Fanny Crosby. It was made popular by Moody and Sankey. This is not a favourite hymn of mine, but its words are interesting preparation for today’s Gospel reading and, as we shall hear, this morning’s sermon.

The Offertory Hymn is Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty (Hymn 321) – our third hymn with a tune by JB Dykes. This hymn was written for Trinity Sunday by Bishop Reginald Heber, capturing the apocalyptic vision in Revelation 4. Dykes named his tune Nicaea after the Council of Nicaea in 325 which reaffirmed the doctrine of the Trinity and refuted Arianism. It has been described as his finest hymn tune, and its opening rising triad on the tonic chord is subtly symbolic of the Trinity.

Finally, our Post-Communion hymn is the last two verses of our opening hymn (Hymn 466):

He will go with them to clear living water
flowing from springs which his mercy supplies
: gone is their grief, and their trials are over;
God wipes away every tear from their eyes.

Blessing and glory and wisdom and power
be to the Saviour again and again.
Might and thanksgiving and honour forever
be to our God: Alleluia! Amen.


Almighty God,
whose Son Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life:
Raise us, who trust in him,
from the death of sin to the life of righteousness,
that we may seek those things which are above,
where he reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer:

Merciful Father,
you gave your Son Jesus Christ to be the good shepherd,
and in his love for us to lay down his life and rise again.
Keep us always under his protection,
and give us grace to follow in his steps;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The photographs are used on the covers of this morning’s booklet.

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