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Music for the Nativity of St. John the Baptizer (June 24)

The Greater One he named   The HYMN OF THE DAY, “When All the World Was Cursed” (346), sings of the life and work of St. John the Baptizer, whose birth we commemorate today.

As the last and greatest prophet, we remember both the unique circumstances of his birth to Zachariah and Elizabeth, as well as his martyrdom (August 29).  John’s fulfillment of his role in the line of the Law (like Moses, stanza 1) and the Prophets (like Elijah, stanza 2) is confirmed.

Beyond the lineage of the Law and the Prophets, the message of John’s preaching, as recorded in St. John 1, is proclaimed: “Behold the Lamb of God, That bears the world’s transgression, Whose sacrifice removes the devil’s dread oppression.” John testifies of Jesus: “Who takes away our sin, Who for our peace and joy, Will full atonement win” (stanza 3).

The author, Johann Gottfried Olearius (1635-1711), after studying at Leipzig, was ordained as assistant pastor under his father in Halle. He later served as pastor and professor of theology at Arnstadt.

The PRELUDE is a partita of this tune by Belgian composer Flor Peeters (1903-1986).  Listen to how the composer varies the tune in each of the five movements, and how registrations on the organ present the same tune in different ways.

Washing in the waters, Jesus, the Holy   During the distribution of the Lord’s Supper, a plainsong setting of another hymn about St. John the Baptizer’s life and work is sung by the kantor.  The hymn is by Paul the Deacon from the eighth century:

Let the example of Saint John remind us, Ere we can meetly sing his deeds of wonder, Hearts must be chastened, and the bonds that bind us, Broken asunder!

Lo! A swift angel, from the skies descending, Tells to his father what shall be his naming; All his life’s greatness to its bitter ending Duly proclaiming.

But when he doubted what the angel told him, Came to him dumbness to confirm the story; At John’s appearing, healed again behold him, Chanting John’s glory!

Oh, what a splendor and a revelation Came to each mother, at his joyful leaping, Greeting his Monarch, King of every nation, In the womb sleeping.

Often had prophets in the distant ages Sung to announce the Daystar and to name Him; But as the Savior, last of all the sages, John did proclaim Him.

Than John Baptizer, none of all Eve’s daughters Ever bore a greater, whether high or lowly: He was thought worthy, washing in the waters, Jesus, the Holy.

The introduction to “On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry” is by Kenneth T. Kosche (b. 1947), who served as professor of music at Concordia University Wisconsin.

The introduction to “When All the World Was Cursed” is by Thomas Gieschen (1931-2006), who served as professor of music at Concordia University Chicago.

The introduction to “Hark! The Sound of Holy Voices” is by Otto Abel (1905-1977).

The lessons are Isaiah 40.1-5 and St. Luke 1.57-80.

The hymns are 344 On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry; 346 When All the World Was Cursed; 518 By All Your Saints in Warfare; 347 Comfort, Comfort, Ye My People; TLH 471 Hark! The Sound of Holy Voices.

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