Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Holy Week

In honor of it being Holy Week, I thought I'd include some great pieces from J. S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion. There are many things I loved gaining from my St. John's education, and a familiarity with this piece is certainly in the top tier.
Holy Week, in case you don't know, is what Christians call the week leading up to Easter. The Sunday before Easter is called Palm Sunday because it was the day that Jesus and his disciples entered Jerusalem. Jesus entered on a donkey and the people of Jerusalem were really excited to see him. They waved palms before him and treated him as a victor coming into town. Thursday is known as Maundy Thursday (and I'll have to get back to you on why the adjective "maundy"). It was the night of the Last Supper (the last meal--a Passover seder--Jesus ate with his disciples before He was crucified). Friday is called Good Friday, the day of the crucifixion. It is called good because Jesus died for our good and He died to save us and make us good before the Father. I don't know if Saturday has a name. And then there is Easter Sunday, where Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his followers.
Holy Week (culminating in Good Friday) is a time to ponder the unthinkably huge sacrifice that Jesus made in dying for us. This selection from the St. Matthew Passion (which musically illuminates Holy Week as describe in the gospel of St. Matthew) 12. Aria - Soprano is a good one to think on. Tragic. It is very beautifully sung on the YouTube video. I encourage you to listen to it.
Here are the words (in German and then in translation)

Blute nur, du liebes Herz!
Ach! Ein Kind, das du erzogen,
Das an deiner Brust gesogen,
Droht den Pfleger zu ermorder,
Denn es ist zur Schlange worden.

Bleed on, dear heart.
Ah, a child that thou raised,
That sucked at thy breast,
Threatens to murder its guardian,
For it has become a serpent.

Briefly I shall reflect on this. This aria comes right after a recitative where Judas agrees to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. This aria is speaking of him when it says, "a child that thou raised...threatens to murder its guardian." But I think that saying can go for all of us. We were all made in God's image, and all of us have turned away. As Handel lyricized in his Christmas oratorio Messiah "All we like sheep have gone astray." We have all bitten the hand that fed us. This is a very potent image for me, having nursed a child. It is impossible to imagine how heartbreaking it would be for Ruby, whom I am raising and whom I nursed, to plot my betrayal and murder as she grows up. But that is what Judas did, and that's what we all do. God gives us life; we don't create it for ourselves. We can hasten its end, and we can conceive, but we can't will anything into existence and make it so. God has given us suck, as it were, and we turn our backs and hate Him the first chance we get. We reject Him, we say nasty things about Him, we mock Him, we question His authority. We are rebellious kids, and not just rebellious in a "what a snotty little brat," kind of way. We're rebellious in a "I'm going to kill you," kind of way. The serpent imagery is also interesting, given the serpent's treachery in the Garden of Eden. A child becoming a snake, ready to strike at its parent? Horrible image, but if I examine my heart, I have to admit that I act in would-be-murderous ways (especially given Jesus's warning that to hate someone is to commit murder in your heart.) I have had times of resenting God, hating things that He has commanded. Who am I to do that? A child He has raised thinking dark thoughts against the most forbearing of parents? Kyrie eleison, Lord, have mercy.
The song itself has a very melancholy and haunting beauty to it. It is very well sung by the soprano in the video.

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