Sunday, May 5th 2:30 – 3:45 pm “Telling the Easter story through the ages”

The Sepulcher – A Liturgical Easter Play for the 10th century

Music for Trumpet and Organ from the Baroque 18th century

Easter Anthems by St. Paul’s Choir:

Dum transisset sabbatum, by John Taverner, from the 15th century

Ye choirs of new Jerusalem, by C. V. Stanford, from the 20th century

Christ the Lord is risen again, by Sam Mullooly, from the 21st century

Our rector’s sermon last Sunday considered the retelling of the resurrection story of Jesus as recorded in the gospels of John, Luke, Mark, and Matthew. Each of these slightly different accounts feature one standard element, the arrival of women at the empty tomb and the presence of an angel:

Angel: Whom do you seek?

Women: The crucified, Jesus of Nazareth.

Angel: He is not here; he is risen as he foretold.

The central panel above the baptistry altar in our church beautifully illustrates this scene. And it was this scene and dialogue that became part of the Easter Day services in Benedictine monasteries around the early 900s in France and England. Members of the monastic choirs would act out the roles of the women and the angel before a chapel altar representing Christ’s tomb. Over time, the play became more elaborate; Peter and John running to the tomb, and Mary Magdalen in conversation with a gardener who is really the risen savior. The play was known as “The Visitation to the Sepulcher” Visitatio Sepulchri.

Some parishioners may remember The Reverend Canon Dr. Steven Peay, a past dean of Nashotah House, who taught some adult courses and occasionally preached and celebrated here at St. Paul’s. Earlier in his life, Dr. Peay had been a Benedictine monk. During a conversation at lunch, I told Dr. Peay that when I was in residence at the Royal School of Church Music in Croydon, England, I had the opportunity to attend a performance of the Easter Play at Winchester Cathedral. It was performed in Latin with very simple plainsong chant. He suggested that I might consider writing original music for it adding the organ for drama and with the text in English rather than the original Latin. From his vast library, he provided the book that contained the Visitatio Sepulchri texts and instructions for performance. I finished the music for it 2 years later and it was performed in 2017.

Instead of singing evensong the first Sunday of May, we will celebrate the Easter story with my reconstruction of this medieval Easter play performed by members of St. Paul’s Choir. Since the actual play is only 20 minutes long, we will begin the program with festival music for trumpet and organ, concluding with two Easter anthems by the full choir. A reception will follow.

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