Saturday, March 17, 2012

St John's, Joel Martinson, and John 3:16

Tomorrow's readings, for Lent 4, feature that great verse from John's gospel: God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  These words have inspired countless sign-wavers in football stadiums the world over.  Before that, these words inspired countless and gifted composers, and the results of their inspiration were devastatingly beautiful.

One of those settings was frequently sung at St John's Episcopal School in Dallas, where I attended from second through seventh grade.  Unfortunately, I was in second through seventh grade at the time, and so lacked the wherewithal to know - or care - who composed it.   All I knew is that heaven broke open and the angels leaned in when my friends gathered to sing it.  Without knowing the composer, however, I faced a real problem: would I ever hear it again?

As an aside, this dilemma reminds me in a superficial way of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us of in the opening of his classic Life Together.  Namely, that it is not to be taken for granted that Christians have the gift of worship with other Christians.  I am unalterably marked for the better by those six years of daily chapel and Friday Eucharists and the blessing of gifts lifted up, blessed, and received.  I often remark that Wednesdays in Lent are among my favorite days of the year, and I think this is because they most closely resemble the daily, communal commitment and gift of life together that I knew in those childhood years.

To end the suspense, after years of dead-ends, I did some expert google sleuthing today and at long last discovered the composer's name: Joel Martinson.  Fittingly, the only performance I could find of the piece comes from the vantage point of a pew, at a junior choir concert.  

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