Saturday, January 21, 2017

Mormon Tabernacle Choir – "Onward, Christian Soldiers" (2015)

We are not divided
All one body we

(Not exactly.)

Yesterday, Donald John Trump became the 45th President of the United States.

The television networks provided saturation coverage of almost every detail of the day – from the swearing-in ceremony, to Trump’s inaugural remarks, to the inaugural parade, to the inaugural balls.

The Trumps entering St. John's
But television cameras were not allowed inside historic St. John’s Episcopal Church today for the 8:30 Inauguration Day prayer service, which was attended by the President-elect and Vice President-elect (and their families), the new Cabinet’s members, other special guests, and a few St. John’s parishioners (including several members of my family).  

The Vice President-elect tweeted from St. John's
St. John’s – which is located directly across Lafayette Square from the White House – open for business in 1816.

Here's a drawing of St. John's as it looked when it was new.  In the background is the White House, which had been torched by the British in 1814:

St. John's in 1816
Every American President since James Madison has worshipped there, and every President since Ronald Reagan has attended a special Inauguration Day service there.

Pew 54 at St. John's is reserved for
the President and his family
The St. John’s service had no particular political significance, but it was part of a historic day, and I believe the details of the service should be made part of the historical record of our country’s 58th Inauguration Day.  So here’s a summary of what took place at St. John’s yesterday morning.

The Reagans at St. John's in 1981
The service opened with an organ performance of Aaron Copland’s well-known “Fanfare for the Common Man.”

Next was a choral prelude that consisted of three pieces from Jake Heggie’s “Sing Out, Mr. President” – the entire work consists of choral settings of quotes from 16 Presidents – and Stephen Paulus’s “Hymn for America.”

The processional hymn was the familiar “God Of Our Fathers.”

St. John's as it looks today
Next was an Old Testament reading – Isaiah 26:1-8 – read by Pastor Jentezen Franklin of the Free Chapel Worship Center, a multi-site church based in Gainesville, GA:

On that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: We have a strong city; he sets up victory like walls and bulwarks.  Open the gates, so that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace – in peace because they trust in you.  Trust in the Lord forever, for in the Lord God you have an everlasting rock.  For he has brought low the inhabitants of the height; the lofty city he lays low.  He lays it low to the ground, casts it to the dust.  The foot tramples it, the feet of the poor, the steps of the needy.  The way of the righteous is level; O Just one, you make smooth the path of the righteous.  In the path of thy judgments, O Lord, we wait for you; your name and your renown are the soul’s desire.

Pastor Mark Burns with former
President Carter at St. John's 
Next, Pastor Mark Burns of the Harvest Praise & Worship Center of Easley, SC, led the congregation in a reading of Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd; 
I shall not be in want.  
He makes me lie down in green pastures 
and leads me beside still waters.  
He revives my soul 
and guides me along right pathways 
for his Name's sake.  
Though I walk through the valley 
of the shadow of death, 
I shall fear no evil; 
for you are with me; 
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.  
You spread a table before me 
in the presence of those 
who trouble me;  
you have anointed my head with oil, 
and my cup is running over.  
Surely your goodness and mercy 
shall follow me all the days of my life, 
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

During the service
After St. John’s Choir sang “Zion’s Walls” (an old revival song that was arranged by Aaron Copland), Jerry L. Falwell, Jr., the President of Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA, read Matthew 6:5-13:

And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.  But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  Pray then in this way: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come.  Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.”

The great altar window at St. John's
depicts the Last Supper
Next, Dr. Jay Strack, the President of there Student Leadership University in Orlando, read Philippians 4:4-9:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be known to everyone.  The Lord is near.  Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

The congregation then sang “Be Thou My Vision.”

Two St. John's kneelers
Dr. Robert Jeffress, Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, delivered a homily titled “When God Chooses a Leader,” which was followed by the singing of the hymn, “Here I Am, Lord.”

After prayers by St. John’s rector, The Rev. Dr. Luis León, the congregation said “The Lord’s Prayer.”

My daughter took this picture of the
Trumps and their family inside St. John's
The Vice-President-elect was blessed by Dr. James Dobson, an evangelical author and the President of Family Talk.  the President-elect was then blessed by the Rev. James Robison, a televangelist who is also President of Life Outreach International, an international relief organization.

Finally, the congregation sang “Onward, Christian Soldiers.”

The Trumps departing St. John's
*     *     *     *     *

The words to “Onward, Christian Soldiers” were written in 1865 by Sabine Baring-Gould, an Anglican priest who was also a prolific author.  But the hymn did not become popular until composer Arthur Sullivan – best-known for his operatic collaborations with W. S. Gilbert – wrote a new tune for it in 1871.  

Arthur Sullivan
There’s no hymn that’s more familiar to me.  It was a staple in my church when I was a child, and I learned to play a showy, over-the-top arrangement of the hymn for solo piano when I was a teenager – much to the delight of my mother, my grandmother, and my Arkansas aunts.

“Onward, Christian Soldiers” is viewed as too militaristic by politically correct types, and there have been efforts to remove it from the hymnals of several mainstream Protestant denominations – including the Episcopal Church.  But rank and file Episcopal churchgoers spoke out – just as American voters spoke out last November 8 – and “Onward, Christian Soldiers” was restored to the Episcopal hymnal.  (FYI, it’s hymn 562.)

Here’s the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing “Onward, Christian Soldiers”:

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