05 April 2015

‘Rise, Heart, Thy Lord is Risen’

Patrick Comerford

I have been meditating each morning throughout Lent this year on a hymn or a piece of music associated with the great English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). I concluded this series with my closing meditation yesterday [4 April 2015]. In the Easter Eucharist in Saint Matthew’s Anglican Church, Portland Oregon, this morning [5 April 2015], they have selected George Herbert’s hymn, ‘Rise, Heart, Thy Lord is Risen,’ with a setting by Vaughan Williams, as the Offertory hymn.

This hymn, in which George Herbert’s words are set to an arrangement by Vaughan Williams, was one of the poems I had selected for my first Easter meditation three years ago [8 April 2012]. http://www.patrickcomerford.com/2012/04/poems-for-easter-1-easter-by-george.html My reflection that Easter morning has been adapted by the Music Director, Melinda Loomis, in the Parish Newsletter in Saint Matthew’s this morning:

George Herbert (1593-1633) was a skilled priest, poet, teacher, and an accomplished musician. Herbert turns to his lute to assist him in song, drawing on Scripture to illustrate the poem (Psalm 57: 8-10 and the theme of the Letter to the Romans exploring how we are made right with God through Christ’s death on the cross).

“Calcined: a chemical term referring to the process where impurities are removed from precious metals, or the means of reducing things like lime or some other similar substance. Herbert is thinking of how at death our bones are reduced to chalk or our lowest commonest denominator, the dust of which we all are made.

“He stretched sinews”: Herbert pictures Christ’s arms stretched tight on the cross, like lute strings which, in Herbert’s days were made from the muscle fibres of animals. Sacred music was traditionally set to higher keys than secular music – and the tighter the string, the higher the pitch. Christ, stretched out in death on the wood of the cross, becomes God’s instrument, playing a melody of love to the world. The heart responds to the melody by joining with it, as instrumentalists join together to make music. But since none can sing this tune perfectly, a further strand needs to be woven: that of the Spirit who makes up “our defects with his sweet art.”

“Three parts”: most chords have only three different notes that are repeated and multiplied at different octaves in different voices or instruments. Herbert’s identification of all music as but “three parts vied and all multiplied” recalls the Trinity, and how this relationship is played out in each of us. As a result, our cacophony becomes euphony as we are harmonized according to the interplay of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Just as chords are fundamentally composed of triads, Herbert sees the worship of his heart and lute as incomplete without the aid of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit makes “up our defects with his sweet art”.

Notes from an article by the Rev. Canon Patrick Comerford, Dublin, Ireland. Used with permission.

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