After today, one image more. It was chosen at the start of this journey. But today’s image was found just moments ago. I had considered an Iona cross, one of the ancient stone crosses that tower over visitors to Iona Abbey. But then I found this crucifix, more appropriate to Good Friday than the empty crosses of Iona.

This stunning figure hangs over the chancel of St. Nicholas’ Church in BeDSC00924.JPGrlin, Germany, the church where Johann Crüger became the cantor in 1622. Crüger composed the tunes we sing for the hymns “Ah, Holy Jesus” and “Now Thank We All Our God,” among others. At the Maundy Thursday service I led last night at a small, hardly-surviving church, we tried our best to sing “Ah, Holy Jesus,” but the little electronic organ and the aging voices couldn’t convey the lament of the tune, making it sound more pitiful than the composer could have imagined.

We had heard how Jesus kneeled at the feet of his friends, and washed their feet at that last supper, even the feet of Judas one assumes, since surely John’s gospel would have told us otherwise. We then broke bread, shared the cup, and prayed together. “Ah, holy Jesus,” we sang at the end, “how have you offended, That mortal judgment has on you descended? By foes derided, by your own rejected, O most afflicted!”

Our struggling voices betrayed the sad beauty of Crüger’s song of lament, and we could hardly attend to Johann Heermann’s text: “Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon you? It is my treason, Lord, that has undone You. ‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied you; I crucified you.”

By hymn’s end, we were just glad the ordeal of singing had ended. Now, the morning after, I realize that maybe our mournful musical whimper may have been more appropriate to the text than that of a performance of some grand cathedral organ and professional choir. That there is sorrow and passion in the composer’s music cannot be denied. The power of his composition might move us emotionally, even to tears, even without any knowledge of that text. But I will say this about our singing last night: if we twelve in the chapel truly identified with the twelve in the upper room, if we owned the text about treason and denial, the sound of our weak singing could not have been more appropriate.

The well-known verses of Matthew 25 about the day of judgment when sheep and goats are separated according to those who see and minister to Jesus in the “least of those” and the ones who don’t — those verses might well be amplified beyond Jesus’ first century vision. “When did we see you hungry…thirsty…a stranger…naked…sick…in prison?”
That was the query in Matthew’s text. But let’s imagine a further inquisition: When did we see you fleeing violence? When did we see your child a refugee? When did we turn our hearts from girls kidnapped in some African village we’d never heard of? When did we see you aged and abused? When did we gather nails, wood, and…

“Inasmuch as you did it…” Oh. We know the rest. And we are complicit. ‘Twas us, Lord. Or, to make it more precise, linked most closely to the hymn text, “I it was denied you; I crucified you.” My DNA is on the hammer.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Well, we know on the surface what it is we do, because just look at him hanging there. But deep down, we don’t have a clue about Love Incarnate dying. Not yet.

It is only Friday.

 

 

Advertisements