Wednesday, March 30, 2005

holy week

I am not sure that I was bone tired on Sunday afternoon. A bit numb, perhaps. Slightly raspy voiced. Thankful for the quiet of the day, wet and gray.

A re-cap: Thursday -- "Not Maunday- Maundy (MAWN-DEE)," said someone at rehearsal. It is the commemoration of the first communion, a stop on the road to Easter. The priests and participants in our Journey in Faith program wash the feet of those who want to participate. The church is warm and quiet. And then the tone changes. We reach the time to strip the altar. Last year, as the choir chanted a psalm, the acoloytes moved as if it were a contest. They had it stripped in a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, as the lights were dimmed even more, the choir ended in enough dark so that words couldn't be seen. This year, the stripping took place at a dignified pace, and the light dimming was more -- thoughtful? All walked out in silence.

Friday -- I ended up taking off Friday and Monday. This was a relief, then to not juggle work and choir. For the first time, I sang with the choir during the Good Friday service. The Passion was intoned or chanted by choir section leaders. Partner sang the words of Jesus. A tenor was the evangelist/narrator. And a soprano and counter-tenor sang the crowd and other voices. More recitative than chant, it had an other-worldly, baroque quality to it, another opportunity to hear text in a new light, and so to hear it.

Saturday evening -- With holy week coming much earlier in the calendar year, the evening light outside was darker than usual, and the temps were colder. We gathered in the cloister garden. A blazing fire started by flint -- wouldn't a little lighter fluid and a match work as well? -- and then the Paschal Candle is lit and from that light, we light each other's candles and enter into the dark church. Music is sung without accompaniment. Long readings -- the speech major in me has so little patience at taking such wonderful texts and reading them without emphasis and strong voice. The priests baptized infants among continuing hand-held candle light. And then we declare that Christ is risen, lights are turned on, and the service continues full of bell-ringing, and the organ finds its voice. We celebrate. There is a traditional quiche and fruit supper in the parish hall.

Sunday -- At 7:30 am, the choir gathers and starts warm-ups. At both the vigil and Sunday morning, we sing Richard Webster's anthem, "The Dawning," with text by George Herbert. There are brass and timpani players. We sing the Handel "Zadok" set to Easter text. And after communion, we and the congregation sing the "Hallelujah Chorus." We do this twice, at two full services.

I am not sure what the congregation felt as we sang, but there is an immense awe felt in singing these words in the midst of worship. At the first service, I forget that one shouldn't sing so vigorously Wesley's "Jesus Christ is Risen Today" during the processional if one is to sing other, more difficult music later. How can one whisper such words, at such a moment. At the beginning of the second service, I was more cautious.

So we re-tell the story, pray and celebrate.

Here's Herbert's poem:


Wake, sad heart, whom sorrow ever drowns ;
Take up thine eyes, which feed on earth ;
Unfold thy forehead, gathered into frowns ;
Thy Saviour comes, and with Him mirth :
Awake, awake,
And with a thankful heart His comforts take.
But thou dost still lament, and pine, and crie,
And feel His death, but not His victorie.

Arise, sad heart ; if thou dost not withstand,
Christ's resurrection thine may be ;
Do not by hanging down break from the hand
Which, as it riseth, raiseth thee :
Arise, Arise;
And with His burial linen drie thine eyes.
Christ left His grave-clothes, that we might, when grief
Draws tears or blood, not want a handkerchief.


Rob said...

Love your description, Don.

I am sure it is a real blessing to your church to have you singing in the choir. Your passion for it comes through loud and clear.

Rob said...

Very sorry about the multiple posts. I had a message saying the site was down, so I retried a couple more times and, well, you see the result!

Don said...

That's ok, Rob. I've done this before, too. No problem.

I was a reluctant participant in joining the choir, but I've gotten much from the experience, on many levels. I'm grateful for the opportunity.