Dear Friends in Christ,
This week we celebrate the Spirit, "through whom and in whom the people of God are created and re-created". I love the image of the Spirit working in and through us and when I have faith conversations with friends it seems like the two things they can get behind and feel good about are the Spirit and the Lutheran message of Grace. In many respects this blows my mind because these are two ideas that really require a tremendous amount of faith but, at least in my encounters, this is what seems to stick with folks. For the literalists, Pentecost "the Fiftieth (day)" is a prominent feast in the Christian liturgical year commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the remaining eleven Apostles of Christ (Judas had hanged himself), included in the 12 Disciples in the Upper Room, after the Resurrection of Jesus. The feast is also called Whit Sunday, Whitsun, or Whit, especially in the United Kingdom, where the following Monday was traditionally a holiday. Pentecost is celebrated seven weeks (50 days) after Easter Sunday, hence its name. Pentecost falls on the tenth day after Ascension Thursday and is sometimes described as the "Birthday of the Church."
This week it's all about Spirit themed hymns-the Spirit coming down to help us serve, the spirit working through us to love each other, trusting in the power of the Spirit and pleading with the Spirit. However, as Christians, our Hymn of the Day (The Church's One Foundation—AURELIA) reminds us what is at the center of the Church: Jesus. The hymn was written as a direct response to some teaching, considered unorthodox at the time, by John William Colenso, first Bishop of Natal, which created schism within the church in South Africa. This topic is alluded to within the third verse of the text "Though with a scornful wonder men see her sore oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed." When Bishop Colenso was deposed for his teachings, he appealed to the higher ecclesiastical authorities in England. It was then that Samuel Stone became involved in the debate. It inspired him to write a set of hymns based on the Apostles' Creed in 1866. He titled it, Lyra Fidelium; Twelve Hymns on the Twelve Articles of the Apostles' Creed. "The Church's One Foundation" is based on the ninth article, "The holy Catholic Church; The Communion of Saints." The hymn also served as inspiration for Rudyard Kipling's 1896 poem, Hymn Before Action. The hymn is also used as the inspiration for the titles of several science fiction novels in the Safehold series by David Weber.
In honor of Memorial Day we will sing "This Is My Song" FINLANDIA as a congregation for our Offertory Hymn. The tune is recognizable by many for three important reasons: it is used in this country for patriotic celebrations, classical music lovers because it is from composer jean Sibelius' Op. 26 symphonic poem, and most especially in Europe and Finland because the piece was composed for the Press Celebrations of 1899, a covert protest against increasing censorship from the Russian Empire, as the last of seven pieces, each performed as an accompaniment to a tableau depicting episodes from Finnish history.
A recurrent joke within Finland at this time was the renaming of Finlandia at various musical concerts so as to avoid Russian censorship. Titles under which the piece masqueraded were numerous, a famously flippant example being “Happy Feelings at the awakening of Finnish Spring.” Most of the piece is taken up with rousing and turbulent music, evoking the national struggle of the Finnish people.
But towards the end, a calm comes over the orchestra, and the serenely melodic Finlandia Hymn is heard. Often incorrectly cited as a traditional folk melody, the Hymn section is of Sibelius's own creation. Sibelius later reworked the Finlandia Hymn into a stand-alone piece. This hymn, with words written in 1941 by Veikko Antero Koskenniemi, is one of the most important national songs of Finland (though Maamme is the national anthem). With different words, it is also sung as a Christian hymn (Be Still, My Soul), and was the national anthem of the short-lived African state of Biafra (Land of the Rising Sun).
The text of Finlandia is shared by two American poets, Lloyd Stone and Georgia Harkness. Both are incredible writers but Harkness is of particular important because she was one of the first significant American female theologians and was important in the movement to gain ordination for women in American Methodism. A professor of applied theology at Garrett Biblical Institute (1939–1950) and the Pacific School of Religion (1950–1961), she was the first women to obtain full professorship in a U.S. theological seminary, and became a leading figure in the modern ecumenical movement. Harkness had an affinity for ministry through poetry and the arts. Her theological interests centered around the influence of the ecumenical church, eschatology, applied theological thought and a desire for all persons to understand the Christian faith. She made clear a distaste for the doctrine of original sin, saying that "the sooner it disappears, the better it is for theology."
As a side note, many of you might remember that my goal for this church year was for us to 'experience' all 547 tunes in the ELW. This could be by singing the hymn in church or hearing it as a prelude/postlude. As of May 20th we have sung or heard 164 of them leaving only 383 more to go! We may need to start having 'Piano Hymn Lounge Music' during coffee hour.......
Have a wonderful and blessed Memorial Holiday weekend.