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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Songstories 15: Thy Kingdom Come (NALR, 1984)

As it gets toward the end of the church year, certain songs bubble up from the repertoire that get sung less often during the rest of the year. The gospels of the last few Sundays of Ordinary Time, beginning about the 31st or 32nd Sunday through Christ the King (34th), are taken from the last chapters of the gospels before the passion of the Lord. This year, for instance, the gospel for November 3, the story of Zacchaeus, and the gospel for November 10, the Sadduccees and the resurrection, are  from chapters 19 and 20 of Luke, and "sandwich" the stories of Palm Sunday and the cleansing of the temple. The gospel of Christ the King this year is a section of Luke's passion narrative, the story about Jesus and the two insurrectionists as they hang on their crosses. The first Sunday of Advent, too, takes its gospel in all three lectionary years from this late part of the synoptic narrative before turning backward, the second Sunday, through the ministry of John the Baptist and the beginning of Jesus's preaching ministry to the gospel overtures that we call the "infancy narratives" in the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke.

With autumn in the northern hemisphere in full windy and frosty rustle, we naturally seem to turn our thoughts to final things. The church helps us along in this, with the celebrations of All Saints (from which Halloween derives its name) and All Souls at the beginning of November, along with the previously mentioned arc of the salvation narrative in the Sunday gospels. But "final" is a deep metaphor, isn't it? And if we see the arrival of the reign of God and the "second coming" of the Lord with eyes of faith rooted in the here-and-now, we might then begin to hear "final" as meaning something other than "in the distant future," but rather something like next year's harvest, buried in the rime of the present. Not so much temporally distant, but ultimate in meaning and depth. The kingdom of heaven, in our poetic parlance, is not far off, but in the very words of Jesus, at hand. Finding it is a matter of turning in another direction.

So we surface songs from the repertoire (or, on occasion, write new ones) that explore this mystery. Songs like "For All the Saints," "We Shall Rise Again," "The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns," "Soon and Very Soon," and "I Am the Bread of Life" are sung these weeks. I wrote a few months ago about a song I wrote based on the last chapters of Revelation, with the tune "Shenandoah" (SHANADORE), called "New Jerusalem," which we sing in my parish. Predictably, many of these are songs from the Easter and funeral repertoires, because something about death and hope in resurrection brings the "ultimate" meaning of things into the tangible present.

Terry and I were talking yesterday afternoon about my song "Thy Kingdom Come," which is one of the songs that has been part of this season's repertoire for three decades in churches where I have served (well, that is a total of two.) We were talking about it because I happened to be whistling the Stephen Foster song "Some Folks," which I said influenced both the tune and the form of "Thy Kingdom Come" when I wrote it some 35 years ago. Like the Foster song, "Thy Kingdom Come" has a call-and-response verse (twice as long as Foster's) and a refrain set to a lilting cut-time melody that is easily interpreted as swing. Terry said that the opening melodic line is beholden to "I Got Plenty of Nothin'" from Porgy and Bess, but if that is the case, then Gershwin was also influenced by "Some Folks"! This is the Robert Shaw Chorale version of "Some Folks":

I always liked the text of "Thy Kingdom Come," which tried to get at different manifestations of the reign of God in the world, in creating and sustaining the cosmos (verse 1); in the encounter with active word of God (verse 2); in salvation from sin, told with an Arthurian metaphor whose reach may have exceeded its grasp (verse 3); in healing (verse 5); and in the joy of the parousia (verse 5). In each case, a cantor or choir section sings the "call" and the assembly sings the response, "O Lord, thy kingdom come."
1. O you who taught the mud to dream (O Lord, thy kingdom come)
And made the world with life to teem (O Lord...)
Did spin like tops the stars in space (R.)
And guide their paths with an ageless grace (R.)
2. Like seed and rain your word goes out (R.)
In gardens of the heart to sprout.
The blooms that grow there shall remain,
Their scent the sign of your holy reign.
3. From hearts of stone, O Lord, you drew
The sword of sin that passed them through,
And won your kingship with the sword
That cut you down, O precious Lord.
4. And every heart that's sick with sin
The healer king has come to win
The wounded spirit he shall dress
With balms of love and tenderness.
5. And when the skies you break at last
Thy kingdom come to take at last
Then shall there be a joyful noise
Thy kingdom praise you with one voice.

The first line of that first stanza, "O you who taught the mud to dream," is one of which I'm really proud, and it's certainly gotten its share of comments from people over the years. Mostly it makes them smile, occasionally, it's a puzzlement, but it's obviously, I hope, a reference to evolution in the schema of creation. The refrain attempts to incarnate the "joyful hope" we pray so much about in these weeks and the weeks of Advent, making explicit in song what we say so often in words at the end of the eucharistic prayer.
We wait in joy, we wait in joy.
We wait in joy, like flowers wait the sun.
We wait in joy, we wait in joy,
We wait in joy and the Spirit.
Lord, thy kingdom come.
We recorded "Thy Kingdom Come" on our first album, You Alone, in 1984, and re-recorded it in 2000 on the CD Change Our Hearts, on which we tried to make more definitive recordings of our older songs that were anthologized but whose original recordings were out of print. Here's a clip I've posted to SoundCloud. Right below it, a link to the page at OCP and an iTunes link, if you like it and don't already have it. I regret, of course, that it's not available in Gather any longer, but thanks to licensing, it's not so hard to do songs like this on a Sunday worship aid.

Thy Kingdom Come page at OCP. Click here.

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