Three weeks ago two of my roommates and I attended a choral service for the first week in Advent at the Anglican Cathedral in downtown Orlando. I will confess up front my love for Anglican church music and for good choral music in general. Following the service one roommate and I discussed how many people dismiss traditional choral and organ music as old and irrelevant when, in fact, they are reacting more against the quality of the music than the content of it. (The same could be said for those who dismiss praise bands and pop-style vocal ensembles. I’ll grant that it is often frustrating to try to find high quality congregational music of any genre in many churches today.)
The service was sung extremely well by a well-prepared choir and the Advent readings were spoken with reverence and awe (to steal a phrase from our RTS librarian). A majority of the singing was done by the choir from the choir loft in the rear of the nave. While I have some pretty well-developed views on the role of the choir and the role of the congregation in corporate worship (which I will write on in the future), the use of the choir was not a distraction. It truly felt that we in the congregation were participating in their song as we prayerfully read the words (and translations) provided in the Order of Worship.
Despite all of this wonderful music and ceremony, the most moving portions of the service for me were when the congregation rose and added our voices to the choir in several hymns. I will probably remember for years the feeling of the final verses of “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending”. The organ played with full ranks, the room being thick with incense (in fact, there was more smoke in that cathedral than in a circa-1970s biker bar with Waylon Jennings playing on the jukebox!), the congregation sang the melody and the choir added the harmony as we sang and prayed for the return of the Lord. It was a powerful, powerful moment for me as I was in the thick of studying and writing on Revelation and considering this year’s Advent in light of the future return of Christ.
Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favoured sinners slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending,
Swell the triumph of His train:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
God appears on earth to reign.
John Cennick and Charles Wesley’s hymn instantly became one of my favorites. It captures the glory and the majesty of the return of Christ in a way that I haven’t often seen. It reminds us that in the midst of our Christmas celebrations and songs of Mary and her baby, shepherds and angels, kings and stars, we still await the final consummation of all things. Christmas approaches but so does the return of Christ. As we celebrate his first coming, let us also look for his second coming in glory; we are another Advent season closer.
“Yea, Amen! let all adore Thee,
High on Thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory,
Claim the kingdom for Thine own;
O come quickly! O come quickly! O come quickly!
Alleluia! Come, Lord, come!”
If you don’t have a recording of “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending” (to the tune Helmsley), consider shelling out the 99¢ (for American readers) that it would cost to purchase the hymn on iTunes.