Sunday, April 11, 2010


I'm still musing over some Easter leftovers. Not really leftovers, actually, but things from Easter that are still turning over in my heart. Things waiting to be fully digested.

One of them comes from our Easter afternoon concert. Each year now we have a Vespers/Concert performed by Kairos, the choral group that are Artists in Residence at the monastery. They practice here every Saturday morning and we've gotten to know many of them.

Kairos rehearsing on Holy Saturday 2010 under the direction of Edward Lundergan

Br Scott has been a member for a number of years and Br Andrew has is now singing with them. They perform here, to large crowds, five or six times a year. And every Easter afternoon we have a Vespers service at which they sing the Bach Easter Cantata.

It is always jammed. We always have to turn people away because our Church won't hold any more. It is always magnificent, and gets better with each year. And... it's the last thing we do on Easter day, so after it's finished we have nothing to do but shout 'Alleluia' and relax. So the Cantata has lots of wonderful overtones for us, and it's one of the things we look forward to.

It lingers with me, but it's really not the Cantata that has held my attention for all these days. It's the small piece that began the Vespers, the Handel setting of "Since By Man Came Death" that I've been replaying in my mind. Many of you will know it. I certainly do. I've sung it and heard it sung probably hundreds of times. You could have put me up there in the middle of the Kairos group and I could have sung the tenor part with no trouble, completely from memory. It holds no surprises for me.

But it did. This year it stunned me. If you know it, you know that it begins very quietly, rising out of silence and sung a capella, softly and intensely, the music expressing a depth of lamentation: "Since By Man Came Death... Since By Man Came Death..." And then silence for a moment, a moment of gathering tension. Then a deep note from the Bass and the Organ and a shout of beauty and joy with the orchestra and the chorus completely filling the church with sound: "By Man Came Also the Resurrection of the Dead."

Then it does it again. Softly and deeply, almost unbearably: "For as in Adam All Die... For as in Adam all die..." Silence. Boom! "Even So in Christ Shall All Be Made Alive.... Even So in Christ Shall All Be Made Alive... Shall All, Shall All Be Made Alive."

I've heard it over and over, but this year I really got it. I was helped, certainly, by the splendid performance that Kairos gave to this piece. But I suspect that the more important part was that something was waiting inside me to be touched. Holy Week and the Easter celebration had dredged up that tension, that ambiguity, that conflict between the human situation and the divine promise and released a joy in me that was hard to contain. I cried. My body moved in pace with the tempo. I smiled from ear to ear (some of the Kairos people told me afterward that they couldn't help noticing the smile). It was really my Easter moment, when the straining and the weeping and the hoping are answered by God's promise and Christ's reality - when it all bursts forth. "Oh yes, this is what it's all about. And I see it. I hear it. I FEEL it."

The other thing I'm keeping company with is something much quieter, just a deep, old companionship that has been with me all my life with my friend the Moon. I've known the heavens since I was a little boy. I began studying astronomy in my teens and even before that I was subscribing to one of the journals, which I still receive every month, and I still read in Cosmology. I'm fascinated by our universe and what is being discovered by it. And I always know where the major constellations are and what the phase of the moon is. It's part of who I am.

So I'm one of those people for whom the connection between the moon and Easter is intuitive. I forget that so many people have no idea that the date of Easter is determined by when the full Moon happens: "The first Sunday after the first full Moon after the Spring Equinox." (there are a few complications in there, especially in the difference in the reckoning between Eastern and Western Christians, but that's basically it.)

So the Moon is an essential part of my Holy Week. I'm always up in the middle of the night for the Maundy Thursday Watch and I always go outside on my way to or from the Watch to be with the Moon. If it's cloudy, I go anyway to spot the moon behind the clouds, or at least to see it lighting up the clouds as it shines behind them.

This year the 3/4 Moon was in the heavens, right where I could see it, all during the Easter Vigil on Sunday morning. It provided light for getting around in darkened buildings and it kept us company in the southwestern sky as we read the Scriptures and told the old stories and sang the hymns and the Litany of the Saints. And as the Sun rose, it faded away, yielding to the joy of Easter Day.

So those are my two mementos of this year's Easter: the silent companionship of the Earth's Satellite, giving a cosmic dimension to our celebration, and the burst of beauty given to us by one of the human race's greatest musicians. These two provide the context in which I've been remembering our Holy Week and holding the Mystery we have been celebrating.

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