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On Good Friday - Issue #41

Editor's note: For Good Friday, I thought I would send a special edition of 'clips and comments.' I'l
The Path Before Us
On Good Friday - Issue #41
By Matthew Lee Anderson • Issue #41 • View online
Editor’s note: For Good Friday, I thought I would send a special edition of ‘clips and comments.’ I’ll be taking Monday off in honour of Easter. Full service will resume on Wednesday.
On the 'Bright Sadness’ of Lent–and Good Friday
I wrote this for The Other Journal.
We might expect that the resurrection of Jesus Christ would have us escape the minor key, but Johann Sebastian Bach does not think it so. At the heart of the second half of his magisterial Mass in B Minor, Bach rings in the resurrection with all the happy triumph he can muster and that we can imagine. The haunting, driving “Crucifixus” fades into a mournful silence, as Christ is laid in the grave, and then “Et Resurrexit” punctuates the stillness with the full symphony and choir’s triumphal announcement of Christ’s resurrection. The moment conveys exultation and unmitigated joy. Yet even as he follows the creed’s progression to Christ’s ascension into heaven, Bach carries us back into the key of B minor, the key that has marked the sorrow and the grief of humanity within a world of sin.
The motif Bach uses to render the ascension here is a livelier, even happier iteration of the melancholic yearning that he evokes to characterize the ascension in the first half of the mass (“Qui Sedes ad Dextram Patris”), but both dwell in the same minor key. There is nothing of the schlocky joy of “Hail Thee Festival Day,” the English hymn often sung on Ascension Day, in Bach’s theology. For Bach, the ascension requires that we affirm Christ’s lordship over the world even within the ongoing reality of sin and sorrow. We might say that Bach understood what many of us have forgotten: Christ’s departure from the world frees the Christian to be sad.
It is perhaps unusual to reflect on Christ’s ascension in the final days of Lent. Yet the Mass in B Minor’s depiction of the ascension of Jesus Christ comes near to distilling the peculiar combination of mourning and joy that make Lent such a remarkable season. In his book on the Lenten journey, Alexander Schmemann described the “atmosphere” of Lent as a “bright sadness.” The experience is easier felt than described. Within the penitential mourning that the Lenten season evokes, the “state of anxiety which has virtually become our second nature … disappear[s] somewhere and we begin to feel free, light, and happy.” We confront in Lent the “sadness of my exile, of the waste I have made of my life; the brightness of God’s presence and forgiveness, the joy of the recovered desire for God, the peace of the recovered home.” The experience is forged within us liturgically for Schmemann, but its emergence is available to all who take the season with due seriousness.1
Another way to relate this combination of light and darkness is to say that Lent looks forward. If this were not the case, the contrition we learn through Lent would not be permeated by the gladness of knowing the finality of God’s victory over our sins. It is the knowledge that Christ is risen that empowers the joy of repentance. At the heart of Christian contrition lies the expectation of God’s coming in Christ Jesus, an expectation that simultaneously inculcates gladness for the forgiveness of our sins upon the cross and sorrow for our needing such forgiveness in the first place.

This is an exceptional version of a classic Gospel hymn.
This is an exceptional version of a classic Gospel hymn.
Good Friday, by George Herbert
O My chief good,
How shall I measure out thy bloud?
How shall I count what thee befell,
And each grief tell?

Shall I thy woes
Number according to thy foes?
Or, since one starre show’d thy first breath,
Shall all thy death?

Or shall each leaf,
Which falls in Autumn, score a grief?
Or can not leaves, but fruit, be signe
Of the true vine?

Then let each houre
Of my whole life one grief devoure;
That thy distresse through all may runne,
And be my sunne.

Or rather let
My severall sinnes their sorrows get;
That as each beast his cure doth know,
Each sinne may so.

Since bloud is fittest, Lord, to write
Thy sorrows in, and bloudie fight;
My heart hath store, write there, where in
One box doth lie both ink and sinne:

That when sinne spies so many foes,
Thy whips, thy nails, thy wounds, thy woes,
All come to lodge there, sinne may say,
No room for me, and flie away.

Sinne being gone, oh fill the place,
And keep possession with thy grace;
Lest sinne take courage and return,
And all the writings blot or burn.
""Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world . . .", from Roualt's *Miserere*
""Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world . . .", from Roualt's *Miserere*
On related, if distinct, matters:
Bach Johannes Passion St John Passion BWV 245 John Eliot Gardiner
Bach Johannes Passion St John Passion BWV 245 John Eliot Gardiner
I’ll be listening to the above recording today. John Eliot Gardiner is the world’s leading interpreter of the Baroque period. His Mass in B Minor is so good it has practically ruined every other version for me.
I also plan on glancing at this interesting-looking paper on a liturgical interpretation of the Passion. Andreas Lowe has a very good brief introduction to the Passion. I’d love to read his book at some point when I know the score better–and when I save up enough money for it. Musically informed, theologically-sensitive criticism is hard for a dilettante like me to find.
John Donne, Crucifying
By miracles exceeding power of man, 
He faith in some, envy in some begat,  
For, what weak spirits admire, ambitious hate :  
In both affections many to Him ran.  
But O ! the worst are most, they will and can,  
Alas ! and do, unto th’ Immaculate,  
Whose creature Fate is, now prescribe a fate,  
Measuring self-life’s infinity to span,  
Nay to an inch.  Lo ! where condemned He  
Bears His own cross, with pain, yet by and by  
When it bears him, He must bear more and die.  
Now Thou art lifted up, draw me to Thee,  
And at Thy death giving such liberal dole,  
Moist with one drop of Thy blood my dry soul.
The Penultimate Word
In the words of [Isaiah 53], verse 15: ‘He shall astonish many nations; kings shall shut their mouths at him.’ This is said of the suffering righteous of the old covenant. But for this to happen he must open his own mouth and say something. How does he do this? How can he? How can Jesus Christ speak in this form? If His passion is the form of His action here and now, is He not by definition a mute and silent Witness?…'He shall not cry, nor lift up….’ (43:2, and 53:7). But what will happen if this is so? What a contrast there is between the wordiness and noisiness of humanity and the Church of Jesus Christ in their tireless and inexhaustible attempts at self-communication and self-expression in their various more or less legitimate and urgent affairs, and Jesus Christ as the Proclaimer of the reconciliation accomplished in Him, and therefore as the Crucified! What a power of words on the one side, and what impotence on the other! For where all others, ourselves included, have the desire and the breath to speak with as much force, articulation and circumstantiality as possible, the only way in which He can and will present His cause is by means of the sigh on the cross which comes down through the centuries. What a Prophet this is, what a Witness, what a Word which is so very different from all human words whether temporal or spiritual, irreligious or religious, which is not in any sense one of the voices which may be heard in their common concert.“ – Karl Barth
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