I’m not normally a fan of Ralph Vaughan Williams, him being one of those notoriously blaring, dissonant, Romantic-Modern transition composers; but I find that some of his work can be wondrous, especially where the English background shines through. Today we sang Today We Are Called To Be Disciples of the Lord, a hymn based on one of Vaughan William’s English country song arrangements, and it was one of those rare blends of words and music that simply reaches out of the hymnbook pages and seizes heart and mind to shake the Spirit into you. (Ironically, Vaughan Williams himself was an agnostic. The words to this hymn were added in 1985.)
The structure of the hymn is fairly straightforward: quarter notes and half notes with a 4/4 signature. A small change happens, however, towards the end of the third verse of each stanza: a rest, followed by words briefly speeding into a descending series of eighth notes, breaking the steady rhythm for a measure, as if to drum those words into the soul more pointedly before resuming the flow of music.
Today was a full day for the choir: rehearsal and worship in the morning, followed by more rehearsals, a choir-appreciation lunch (great fun, that), even more rehearsals with a brass ensemble and two visiting choral groups, and then a Christmas Candlelight Carol Service. The day was full of music and fellowship, but all said and done, the singing of this hymn was the high point of my day, and it got me thinking about things.
Today We All Are Called To Be Disciples of the Lord
Text: H. Kenn Carmichael, 1985
Music: English Country Songs, 1893, arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906
Today we all are called to be disciples of the Lord / To help to set the captive free, make plowshare out of sword / To feed the hungry, quench their thirst, make love and peace our fast / To serve the poor and homeless first, our ease and comfort last.
God made the world and at its birth ordained our human race / To live as stewards of the earth, responding to God’s grace / But we are vain and sadly proud; we sow not peace but strife / Our discord spreads a deadly cloud that threatens all of life.
Pray justice may come rolling down as in a mighty stream / With righteousness in field and town to cleanse us and redeem / For God is longing to restore an earth where conflicts cease / A world that was created for a harmony of peace.
May we in service to our God act out the living Word / And walk the road the saints have trod till all have seen and heard / As stewards of the earth may we give thanks in one accord / To God who calls us all to be disciples of the Lord.