Good Friday services usually leave me cold. Here we remember a broken, bloody Christ just executed by Roman authorities (with the blessing of their Jewish subjects). It is solemn. Why go on?
But in last night's service music and text flowed together. Out of the darkness and silence prior to the service, a string ensemble played the Bach "double" violin concerto, the slow movement. Then Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" from Cantata #147.
Striking of the hour. Silence. From a contralto in the front of the church we heard Vivaldi's "Domine Deus" from Gloria. The choir sang antiphonally, with the words: "O Lord, Lamb of God, son of the Father, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us."
Handel's "He was despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" from Messiah quoted Isaiah 53: 3 . Hans Leo Hassler's melody accompanied Bernard of Clairvaux's "O Sacred Head Now Wounded." Line upon line of classic Christian texts from the invocation to the benediction transformed a dreary setting into one of expectation and hope. It was a feast of beauty, christened by the truth of God, surrounded by his goodness.
We heard the music, saw the black-draped cross, managed to be quiet in the spaces between without feeling the necessity to chat. At the end, choir and orchestra sang Mozart's "Ave verum." Its stark reminder of the events of the last 24 hours of Jesus' life filled the room:
Hail, true Body,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Truly suffered, immolated
On the Cross for man,
Whose pierced side
Flowed with water and blood,
Let it be for us a foretaste [of heaven]
In the trial of death.
Everyone filed out in silence. It seemed eerily quiet in the interior of the church. We had, after all, just remembered a loved one's tragic death. But He surrounded us with such beauty, such truth, such goodness, we were the better.