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Music for the Easter Vigil

God has brought His Israel into joy from sadness!   At the Easter Vigil, we hear the account of Our Lord’s deliverance of the Israelites (Exodus 14).  The Church is God’s people Israel.  God’s people being saved from the oppression of Pharaoh and the Egyptians foreshows God’s people being saved from oppression of the devil and death.  God “led them with unmoistened foot, Through the Red Sea waters,” just as He saved us through His Son’s death on the cross.  Now, baptized into Him, we are buried with Him in His death and raised to new life with Him in His Resurrection! “Alleluia! Now we cry, To our King immortal, Who triumphant burst the bars, Of the tomb’s dark portal.”  This is the focus of the HYMN OF THE DAY “Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain” (487).

This ancient Greek hymn is by John of Damascus (c. 675/696—749/754).  He spent the majority of his life as a priest in the monastery of St. Sabas, between the Dead Sea and Jerusalem.  He wrote a number of theological works and canons.  A canon is a Greek liturgical form of a hymn, originating in the seventh century.  John is credited with producing a book of chants called the Ocotechos.  “Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain” is based on the first ode of the canon for “St. Thomas Sunday” (Second Sunday of Easter).

The introduction is by Hermann Schroeder (1904-1984), who taught at Rheinische Musikschule in Cologne, the Cologne Musikhochschule, and was organist at the cathedral in Trent.

Now let the heavens be joyful, let earth its song begin!   Another hymn at the Easter Vigil, “The Day of Resurrection” (478), is also by John of Damascus based on his most well-known canon, “The Golden Canon for Easter.”  The translation is by John Mason Neale (1818-1866) from his 1862 Hymns of the Easter Church.  This hymn proclaims the Old Testament connection to Our Lord’s Resurrection in the Passover: “The Passover of gladness, the Passover of God, From death to life eternal, From sin’s dominion free.”  God’s angel passed over the houses of the Israelites marked with the blood of the Lamb.  As Christians, death passes over us because we are marked with the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. “Our Christ has brought us over with hymns of victory.”  This is our hope and our joy this night as we anticipate the great celebration of Christ’s resurrection tomorrow: “Now let the heav’ns be joyful, Let earth its song begin:” Alleluia! Christ is risen!

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