Sunday, April 05, 2009

Palm Sunday and Holy Week

Now begins the week of all weeks. The week that for most of my life meant nothing beyond my seeing the words "Good Friday" on my Hallmark calendar and wondering what it meant, because growing up where I did, this simply wasn't a part of life.

Now it has become my favorite week of the year (including, of course, the Sunday of next week.)

This morning's service included the responsive reading of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, in which the congregation reads aloud the part of the crowd that shouted for his death, and of the soldiers who taunted him. It is always very hard for me to say those words. It is bad enough to imagine having been one of the people who said and did what they did.

And it is worse to remember, not imagine, the times and ways in which I have betrayed the very One I have praised, just as the crowd helped to kill the one they had praised when he rode into the city and they waved their palm braches and shouted, "Hosanna!"

And it is painful to realize, not imagine, that I am likely to do it again.

Wednesday night my chorus will sing the Responsaries for the Office of Tenebrae, by Healey Willan. It will be dark, as in the photo above. This is our third year to sing this music, and every time, even in rehearsals, it brings tears to my eyes.

The music is simple, with mostly quarter, half, and whole notes, staying within a normal pitch range for every part. No virtuosity on display here. It's all about the text. Here are some excerpts, the parts that always "get me:"

My soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death:
tarry here and watch with me:
now shall ye see the multitude come about me:
Ye shall flee and I go to be sacrificed for you:
Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
Ye shall flee and I go to be sacrificed for you.

O my choicest vine,
I, even I have planted thee;
How art thou turned to bitterness,
that thou shouldest crucify me,
and let Barabbas go?
I fenced thee,
and gathered out the stones from thee,
and built a tower in the midst of thee....
O my choicest vine,
I, even I have planted thee:
How art thou turned to bitterness,
that thou shouldest crucify me,
and let Barabbas go?

Sometimes I wonder, and of course I can't really know the answer, but I wonder how people who are really familiar with the Christian story can think it is a purely human invention. Or perhaps what I really wonder is whether I could possibly see it that way, and that's what I can't know the answer to.

The longer I live and come to know human beings, the more unlikely I find it. That kind of love, the tenderness expressed in scripture toward people who repeatedly betray, forsake, deny, and even abuse the Lover, is not normal.

You see a sad parody of it in people who are treated badly but have no power to leave a relationship, who are in some way addicted to another person and depend on the relationship for their own identity. This gets called "love," but it isn't the same thing at all.

You see another distortion of it in people who in less dramatic circumstances, simply can't say "no" to others because they don't have the ego strength for it, or they have gotten the idea that love means never saying no.

But that isn't at all what is going on in the Christian narrative, or the Jewish one, for that matter. (The Tenebrae texts are taken from the book of Jeremiah as well as the gospels.)

I don't have time to go further with this right now. Will try again later in the week to finish the thoughts.

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