Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening
into the house and gate of heaven,
to enter into that gate and dwell in that house,
where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light;
no noise nor silence, but one equal music;
no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession;
no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity;
in the habitations of thy glory and dominion,
world without end.
(after John Donne 1571-1631)
In the midst of life we are in death: of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, 0 Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased?
Yet, 0 Lord God most holy, 0 Lord most mighty, 0 holy and most merciful Saviour, deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death.
Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts; shut not thy merciful ears to our prayer; but spare us, Lord most holy, 0 God most mighty, 0 holy and merciful Saviour, thou most worthy judge eternal, suffer us not, at our last hour, for any pains of death, to fall from thee.
Almightie God, we geve thee hertie thankes for this thy servaunte, whom thou haste delyvered from the miseries of this wretched world, from the body of death and all temptacion. And, as we trust, hast brought his soule whiche he committed into thy holye handes, into sure consolacion and reste: Graunte, we beseche thee, that at the daye of judgement his soule and all the soules of thy electe, departed out of this lyfe, may with us and we with them, fully receive thy promisses, and be made perfite altogether thorow the glorious resurreccion of thy sonne Jesus Christ our Lorde.
(BCP, 1549 version)
Take him, earth, for cherishing,
to thy tender breast receive him.
Body of a man I bring thee,
noble even in its ruin.
Once was this a spirit's dwelling,
by the breath of God created.
High the heart that here was beating,
Christ the prince of all its living.
Guard him well, the dead I give thee,
not unmindful of his creature
shall he ask it: he who made it
symbol of his mystery.
Comes the hour God hath appointed
to fulfil the hope of men,
then must thou, in very fashion,
what I give, return again.
Not though ancient time decaying
wear away these bones to sand,
ashes that a man might measure
in the hollow of his hand:
Not though wandering winds and idle,
drifting through the empty sky,
scatter dust was nerve and sinew,
is it given to man to die.
Once again the shining road
leads to ample Paradise;
open are the woods again,
that the serpent lost for men
Take, O take him, mighty leader,
take again thy servant's soul.
Grave his name, and pour the fragrant
balm upon the icy stone.
(Prudentius, Tr. Helen Waddell.) Howells' setting of this text was part of the repertoire of my first tour with Selwyn College Chapel Choir, to Scotland, in 2004.