Thursday, January 29, 2015

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence - Edward Bairstow (adapted from Habakkuk 2:20)

Let all mortal flesh keep silence
and stand with fear and trembling,
and lift itself above all earthly thought.

For the King of kings and Lord of lords, Christ our God,
cometh forth to be our oblation,
and to be given for Food to the faithful.

Before Him come the choirs of angels
with every principality and power;
the Cherubim with many eyes, and winged Seraphim,
who veil their faces as they shout exultingly the hymn:

This text is from an anthem written by Sir Edward Bairstow, adapted from the text of Habakkuk 2:20.  It's a text of Christ's coming, the history of which you can read about here.  Celebrating the coming of Christ as celebrating the coming of the offering which will liberate us seems a bit morbid, but the whole thing is a grand procession which will literally shake the earth into silence.

What thing captures for me is the "fear" of God that's a central part of much Christianity, particularly Old Testament texts.  The awesome power of God leaves us silent and trembling.  Divine creatures with many eyes, with wings, come and shout praises of the coming of the King of kings and Lord of lords.  It's terrifying and beautiful.  I imagine that the writers of these texts must have felt that the world was beautiful, often overwhelmingly so, but terrifying in equal measure.  That is the fear of God, to me.  It's to stand "with fear and trembling."  Despite this fear, we are being nourished by Christ's body (the offering) and are serenaded by a choir of angels.  It's a hard concept to grasp, but the piece of music which accompanies this text does so quite well.

Listen and enjoy.

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