Friday, April 22, 2011

Holy Week: Tenebrae

"It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, because the sun was obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said 'Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit!' Having said this, He breathed His last." Luke 23:44-46

"And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. The tombs were opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen sleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many." Matthew 27:50-53

"Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying 'It is done.' And there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder; and there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great and so mighty an earthquake." Revelation 16:17-18

A few years ago, in the weeks before Easter, I played a set of sonatas at my church, piano transcriptions from an orchestral work by Joseph Haydn, "The Seven Last Words of Our Redeemer on the Cross." For the Tenebrae service on Maundy Thursday, I played the seventh sonata, inspired from the Latin Vulgate of the first passage above: In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum. The piece is slow and somber, and the end of the movement fades away on a series of quietly repeated major chords. Then, out of nowhere, attaca subito: "attack suddenly," without pause.

This is perhaps the most physically demanding pieces of music I have ever played. From a majestic Largo we are launched abruptly into a movement marked Presto e con tutta la forza: "as fast as possible, with all your strength." But however terrifying this piece is at a technical level, it was even more demanding emotionally; for this is the fearsome Il Terremoto. Yes, you read that right: it is, literally, a musical earthquake.

The previous movement, the last of the seven sonatas, gave us a musical representation of Christ's last moments of life. We witness the heart-rending silence of His final breath. But suddenly the very stones cry out at His silence (Luke 19:40), and we witness the earth-rending revolt of the rocks themselves.

This is what we commemorate in the Tenebrae services of Holy Week; this is why we celebrate Good Friday.  For we worship a God who conquered death, and our God stoops to conquer. "But we preach Christ crucified" (1 Cor. 1:23). We worship the God Who Died.

No comments:

Post a Comment