Sunday, January 17, 2010

Proclaimed the Present Lord

One of the gospel passages that often comes around during the season of Epiphany is the story of Jesus turning water into wine during a wedding celebration at Cana, told in John 2:1-11. Many churches will hear that lesson today.

There are a number of hymns that mention Cana, but most of them are in praise of the institution of marriage. However, the wedding itself was certainly not the point of the story (which took place at what we would call the reception, anyway). John lays it out pretty clearly at the end of the passage: Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Nothing there about marriage. It's part of the continuing Epiphany story, Christ revealing his divine nature to the world.

The author of this text did get the point.
Hyde Wyndham Beaton was ordained in the Church of England and served mainly rural parishes. In 1863 he co-edited The Parish Hymn Book, which contained this hymn.

Glory to thee, O Christ,
Who by thy mighty power
Didst manifest thy glory forth
In Cana’s marriage hour.

Thou spakest: it was done:
Obedient to thy word,
The water redd'ning into wine
Proclaimed the present Lord.

Blest were the guests who saw
That wondrous mystery,
The great beginning of thy works
That kindled faith in thee.

And bless├Ęd they who know
Thine unseen presence true,
When in the promise of thy grace
Thou makest all things new.

For by thy loving hand
Thy people still are fed;
Thine is the cup of blessing here
And thine the heav'nly bread.

O may that grace be ours,
Ever in thee to live,
And drink of those refreshing streams,
Which thou alone canst give.

So, led from strength to strength,
Grant us, O Christ, to see
The promised supper of the Lamb,
Thy great Epiphany.

Hyde W. Beaton, 1863; alt.
Louis Bourgeois, 1551
adapt. William Crotch, 1836

A hymn with seven stanzas seems long to some, but they're short ones. And I like each of them for one reason or another, so I didn't see any to leave out. You could also sing this to that most popular of Short Meter tunes, ST. THOMAS, but that seems just a little too jaunty to me in this case.

Louis Bourgeois was the compiler of the Genevan Psalter where this tune first appeared, and was also the probable composer of a more famous tune in that collection, that we know as OLD HUNDREDTH (matched, of course, with that psalm). Composer William Crotch altered this tune a bit, probably reharmonizing it, nearly three hundred years later. Crotch's most well-known piece, perhaps a bit out of fashion these days, is the Epiphany anthem Lo, star-led chiefs, a chorus from his oratorio Palestine (1812).

P.S. The illustration above is a portion of The Wedding at Cana, painted by the seventeenth century artist Mattia Preti. (click to enlarge)


Dorothy said...

What a lovely, lovely hymn, C.W.S.! I agree...each one of the stanzas has something in particular to recommend it. I wouldn't want to miss any of them.

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