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One Equal Music 7

Written by Philippa White, posted on Sunday, May 24, 2020

Music manuscriptSunday between Ascension and Pentecost: The Lord is King

The Lord is King, Henry Aldrich (1648-1710)

Soundcloud icon The Lord is King 

This Sunday is the last Sunday of Eastertide. Like Lent, Eastertide finishes with a shift of gear: the celebration of the risen Jesus present with his disciples culminates with the return of Jesus to the Father, the Ascension, which we celebrated on Thursday. The nine days between Ascension and Pentecost, in which this Sunday falls, are kept as a time of prayer and praise as we wait for Pentecost, the celebration of the Holy Spirit.

The music I’ve chosen for this Sunday looks back to Ascension: it is a setting of Psalm 93, a psalm which praises God as the Lord and the King: mighty, eternal, and dwelling on high. It’s another of the psalm settings by Henry Aldrich (1648-1710) who was Dean of Christ Church from 1689 until his death, recorded in 2019 by the Cathedral Singers of Christ Church as part of ongoing research into Aldrich’s life and choral legacy.

The text of Psalm 93, in the translation by Coverdale used in the Book of Common Prayer and set by Aldrich, is as follows.

1The Lord is King; he has put on splendid apparel;

the Lord has put on his apparel and girded himself with strength.
2He has made the whole world so sure that it cannot be moved;
3Ever since the world began, your throne has been established;
you are from everlasting.
4The waters have lifted up, O Lord, the waters have lifted up their voice;
the waters have lifted up their pounding waves.
5Mightier than the sound of many waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea,
mightier is the Lord who dwells on high.
6Your testimonies are very sure,
and holiness adorns your house, O Lord, for ever and for evermore.

Aldrich has set this triumphant, regal text to music that is cheerful and joyous, but not bombastic: most of it is sung by a solo soprano voice, accompanied by a chamber organ. Rather than a coronation anthem for God, the mood of much classic music for Ascension, the tone of this piece is human rejoicing that God is king, and a king who is powerful, trustworthy and good. It’s a psalm that the disciples might have sung in the days after Jesus’ Ascension as they waited in prayer and praise in the Temple (Luke 24: 52-53); rejoicing in God’s greatness and kingship, in God’s mighty power and great glory, in God’s holiness and faithfulness.

To the first disciples, God’s glory was revealed above all in Jesus, demonstrated in the Resurrection, completed in the Ascension, and would come upon them like tongues of flame and rushing wind in the coming of the Spirit in Pentecost. For us, as we recall those experiences in these moments of the liturgical year and in this particular time when we cannot meet together to celebrate them with our usual liturgies, perhaps above all God’s glory is revealed in our shared faithfulness, and our shared commitment to rejoice, to praise, and to pray, in every season of our lives.