A few (somewhat unconventional) music suggestions for Holy Week and Easter

Introduction

It's important to remember that the first Holy Week was not upbeat, chocolatey, nor an occasion for spring fashion. The disciples did not want to be in Jerusalem. They knew the dangers for Jesus, and for themselves, since both the Temple elite and the Roman rulers were lying in wait for an opportunity to nab Jesus.

It was Passover season, recollecting the Hebrew freedom march out of Egypt; thus nationalist sentiment ran hot. Rome always brought in extra security forces during this period. The crowd that welcomed Jesus waved palm branches—symbols of victory which, then as now, implied military engagement. And they shouted "Hosanna"—"God save us!"—not so much for heaven but from Rome's colonization. Both the palms and the hosannas had an undercurrent of insurrection. Given Jesus' notoriety, many hoped—or feared—he was there to ignite a violent insurgency against Roman tyranny and Temple collaboration. Palm Sunday was a dangerous provocation, which Jesus struggled to clarify in Maundy Thursday's footwashing. As the disciples feared, the authorities arrested, tortured, and lynched Jesus by crucifixion, a form of capital punishment reserved for political subversives. The disciples went into hiding. No one had an inkling of what came next.

Palm Sunday

§ Watch this short (3:49) video from 1940 of Arab Christians marking Palm Sunday by marching from Bethphage, down the Mount of Olives, through the Kidron Valley, and then climb again to reach Jerusalem. This is the trek Jesus made on his final entry into Jerusalem, where crowds formed a processional line waving palm fronds.

§ “O’er all the way green palms and blossoms gay Are strewn this day in festive preparation, Where Jesus comes, to wipe our tears away, E’en now the throng to welcome Him prepare.” —translated lyrics of Jean-Baptiste Faure’s “Les Rameaux (The Palms)” sung by Enrico Caruso

§ “Hosanna son of David: / Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord, King of Israel: / Hosanna in the highest. / O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: / His mercy endures for ever. / Thou art my God and I will praise thee; thou art my God, I will exalt thee.” —“Hosanna filio David,” Chœur grégorien de Paris

Holy Monday

§ “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world / have mercy on us / Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world / grant us peace.” —translated text for “Adagio for Strings,” Samuel Barber

§ “Your only Son no sin to hide / But You have sent Him from Your side / To walk upon this guilty sod / And to become the Lamb of God.” —“Lamb of God,” Eden’s Bridge

§ “Hold on jus’ a little while longer / Hold on jus’ a little while longer / Hold on jus’ a little while longer / Everything will be all right.” —traditional Negro spiritual, performed by Bobby McFerrin & The Kumba Singers

§ “Ah! Turn me not away, / Receive me tho' unworthy; / Hear Thou my cry, / Behold, Lord, my distress! / Answer me from thy throne.” —“O Divine Redeemer” by Charles Gounod, performed by Jessye Norman

Holy Tuesday

§ “My Spirit seeks you early in the night watches, for Your commandments are a light on the earth. . . . Behold, the Bridegroom is coming in the middle of the night. And blessed is the servant He shall find awake and watching.” —“Behold the Bridegroom (Arabic)”

§ “God Almighty here I am / Am I where I ought to be / I’ve begun to soon descend / Like the sun into the sea / And I thank my lucky stars / From here to eternity / For the artist that you are / And the man you made of me.” —Kris Kristofferson, “Feeling Mortal

§ “What Wondrous Love Is This.” —Currie Burris, hammer dulcimer

§ “O God, full of compassion, Who dwells on high, grant true rest upon the wings of the Shechinah, in the exalted spheres of the holy and pure, who shine as the resplendence of the firmament, to the souls of Victims of September 11th who [have] gone to their eternal home; may their place of rest be in Gan Eden.” —translated lyrics of Jewish Cantor Azi Schwartz singing “prayer for the dead” at Ground Zero in New York City

Left: Linocut art ©Julie Lonneman

Holy Wednesday

§ “To love the right, / yet do so wrong. / To be the weak, / yet burn to be so strong.” —“Sinner’s Prayer,” B.B. King and Ray Charles.

§ “Oh, sinnerman, where you gonna run to?” Nina Simone

§ “All the pain that you have known  / All the violence in your soul  / All the 'wrong' things you have done  / I will take from you when I come.” —Sinéad O'Connor, “This Is to Mother You

§ “I have no place / And I have no country / I have no home / With my fingers I make the fire / And with my heart I sing for you / The ropes of my heart cries.” —translated  lyrics to “Nací en Palestina” (“I Was Born In Palestine”), Emel Mathlouthi

§ “Once I stood in the night with my head bowed low / In darkness as black as the sea / In my heart felt alone and I cried oh Lord / Don't hide your face from me.” —Merle Haggard, “Where No One Stands Alone

Maundy Thursday

§ “And am I born to die / To lay this body down / And as my trembling spirit fly / Unto a world unknown.” —“Idumea (Am I Born to Die),” Doc Watson and Gaither Carlton

Right: Pope Francis shocked conservatives by washing the feet of women, Muslims and Orthodox Christians at a prison in Rome, during the annual Maundy Thursday ritual. In the past, the pope has only washed the feet of other priests.

§ “O all you who walk by on the road, pay attention and see: / if there be any sorrow like my sorrow. / Pay attention, all people, and look at my sorrow: / if there be any sorrow like my sorrow.” —translated lyrics to "Tenebrae Responsories – 14 – O vos omnes," Tomas Luis de Victoria (1548-1611) performed by The Sixteen

§ “Where charity and love are, God is there. / Love of Christ has gathered us into one. / Let us rejoice in Him and be glad. / Let us fear, and let us love the living God. / And from a sincere heart let us love one.” —“Ubi Caritas,” Holy Thursday (Solesmes Monks) Gregorian chant

§ “After the supper was over and the table had been cleared away / When the last bottle was empty, there was nothing much left to say / Jesus started humming an old tune, everybody fell right in / They sang the last song, the last song.” —Kate Campbell, “The Last Song

Tenebrae

§ “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” —“How long, Lord?” translated lyrics from “Eela Mata Ya Rabbou,” hymn adapted from Psalm 13 of lament over the Israeli massacres of Palestinian protestors in the Gaza Strip, performed by Fairouz

§ “Remember when we saw / the unloved daughter or son / abandoned and undone / remember when we watched / a city burning down / the sound of hate so loud / We want to know where you were / we want to know where you are / we want to know what you do / God you seem so far away.” —“Remember When,” The Many

§ “Nocturne in C Sharp Minor (No. 20).” —Frédéric Chopin, performed by Christian Li and Gordon Back

§ "They Have Taken the One I Love." —Lévon Minassian, remembering the Armenian Genocide, which began in April 1915, taking the lives of an estimated 1.5 ethnic Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and its successor state, Turkey

§ “This world is so profane, / I can hear the earth screaming,  / screaming in pain. / Everywhere; / There is not compassion left in us. / Why is it that so much pain is caused? / and so much injustice is done in the name of God? / Why have children stopped dreaming? / and why is it that mothers won't stop crying; / I just ask myself how can God look at us.” —translated lyrics of “¿Porque?” (“Why?”), Yasmin Levy

§ “No food on my table / And no shoes to go on my feet / My children cry for mercy / They got no place to call your own / Hard times, hard times.” —John Lee Hooker, “No Shoes

§ “Lament for the Forgotten II.” Oleksa Lozowchuk

Good Friday

§ “On this day is crucified on the Cross / He who suspended the earth upon waters / A crown of spines crowns / The King of angels / He was dressed in a purple robe of mockery / He who adorns the heavens with clouds.” —translation of “The Passion,” performed by Fairouz

§ “Old Rugged Cross.” —Zane King, steel guitar

§ “The right-hand thief cried out saying: Remember me, O my Lord, remember me, O my savior, remember, me, O my King, when you come into Your Kingdom. The Lord answered him in a lowly voice saying: This day you will be with Me in Paradise.” —“Golgatha,” ancient Coptic hymn performed by Logos Music

§ “Stay With Me.” —Jacques Berthier, Taizé community of France

§ “Go to Dark Gethsemane.” —The Celebration Choir

§ “Dido’s Lament.” —“When I am laid in earth” aria from Henry Purcell’s opera “Dido and Aeneas,” performed by Alison Moyet

§ “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?—Annie Moses Band

§ “Crucifixus,”— J.S. Bach, performed by Collegium Vocale Gent

§ “When Jesus came to town, the working folks around, / Believed what he did say; / The bankers and the preachers they nailed him on a cross, / And they laid Jesus Christ in his grave. / Poor working people, they follered him around, / Sung and shouted gay; / Cops and the soldiers, they nailed him in the air, / And they nailed Jesus Christ in his grave.” —Woody Guthrie, “Jesus Christ

Holy Saturday (Easter Vigil)

§ “What language shall I borrow  / to thank thee, dearest friend,  / for this thy dying sorrow,  / thy pity without end?  / O make me thine forever;  / and should I fainting be,  / Lord, let me never, never  / outlive my love for thee.” —Darrell Adams, “O Sacred Head Now Wounded

§ “Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)?—Mahalia Jackson

§ “Hear me Jesus / Hide me in thy wounds / That I may never leave thy side / From all the evil that surrounds me / Defend me and when the call of death arrives / Bid me come to thee.” —Mary Lou Williams, “Anima Christi

§ “We all see through different eyes / Blinded by each other’s lies / Truth be told we’re all the same / A mother lies awake at night / Not a trace of hope in sight / She’s asking god who to blame / She’s on her knees and screams his name / No luck from above God knows it’s not easy to love.” —Eli Yacinthe, “Easy to Love

§ “We hunt your face and long to trust that your hid mouth will say again / let there be light, a clear new day. / But when we thirst in this dry night, / we drink from hot wells poisoned with the blood of children. / And when we strain to hear a steady homing beam, / our ears are balked by stifled moans / Till our few atoms blow to dust or form again in wiser lives / or find your face and hear our name in your calm voice the end of night if dark may end. / Wellspring gold of dark and day, be here, be now.” —James Taylor, “New Hymn

§ “Lento e Largo.” —second movement of Henryk Górecki’s Third Symphony, Opus 36 (“Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”), second movement
        “No, Mother, do not weep, / Most chaste Queen of Heaven / Support me always.” This is the opening line to the Polish prayer to the Virgin Mary. The prayer was inscribed on wall 3 of cell no. 3 in the basement of "Palace," the Nazi German Gestapo's headquarters in Zadopane, Poland. Beneath is the signature of Helena Wanda Blazusiakówna, and the words "18 years old, imprisoned since 26 September 1944."

Easter

§ “Ain’t No Grave (Can Hold My Body Down).” —A Southern Gospel Revival & Jamie Wilson

§ “The Angel Cried, Christ Has Risen.” —Russian Orthodox Chant for Easter

§ “The angel up on the tombstone / Said He has risen, just as He said / Quickly now, go tell his disciples / That Jesus Christ is no longer dead.” —Keith Green, “Easter Song

§ “Good News From the Graveyard." —Southern Raised

§ “The shackles are undone / The bullets quit the gun / The heat that's in the sun / Will keep us when there's none / The rule has been disproved / The stone it has been moved / The grave is now a groove / All debts are removed / Oh can't you see what love has done?” —“Window in the Skies,” U2

§ “People, what have you done? / Locked him in his golden cage, golden cage / Made him bend to your religion / Him resurrected from the grave, from the grave / He is the God of nothing / If that's all that you can see / You are the God of everything / He's inside you and me.” —“My God,” Jethro Tull

§ “The kingdom of this world; / is become the kingdom of our Lord, / and of His Christ / and of His Christ / And He shall reign forever and ever.” —Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus from Messiah, performed by VOCES8 (cf. Revelation 11:15)

§ “Easter Dance.” —Irish dance and fiddle

Eastertide

§ “I was there when they crucified my Lord / I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword / I threw the dice when they pierced his side / But I've seen love conquer the great divide / When love comes to town I'm gonna catch that train / When love comes to town I'm gonna catch that flame / Maybe I was wrong to ever let you down / But I did what I did before love came to town.” —“When Love Comes to Town,” U2 and B.B. King

§ “In the morning when I rise, / Give me Jesus.” —“Give Me Jesus,” Vince Gill

§ “Let's talk about Chi town / Let's talk about Gaza / Let's talk about, let's talk about Israel / 'Cause right now it is real / Let's talk about, let's talk Nigeria / In a mass hysteria, yeah / Our souls are brought together so that we could love each other / We are here / We are here for all of us / We are here for all of us / That's why we are here, why we are here / We are here.” —Alicia Keys, “We Are Here

§ “There are people who want to live in peace / Don’t give up, keep dreaming / Of peace and prosperity / When will the walls of fear melt / When will I return from exile / And my gates will open / To what is truly good.” —translated lyrics of “Prayer of the Mothers,”Yael Deckelbaum & The Mothers, a 14-member ensemble of Jewish, Arab and Christian women

§ “Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes / Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies / Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee / In life, in death, o Lord, abide with me / Abide with me, abide with me.” —“Abide With Me,” instrumental by Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane

§ “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross.” —in Russian, performed by Simon Khorolskiy; violnist Katie Gayduchik

§ “What a Wonderful World.” —Playing for Change

§ —Matisyahu with the Israel social music movement Koolulam in Haifa, Israel, leading 3000 people singing “One Day” in three languages

Postscript

For Jesus’ disciples and followers, Easter morning had no orchestra-backed choir singing the Hallelujah chorus, no flowered cross, no spring fashion, no easter egg hunt. The disciples’ hopes were crushed, and they huddled behind closed doors in fear of sharing Jesus’ fate. After all this time, they (and we) still didn’t understand the true nature of messiahship.

Unfortunately, spiritual formation often begins in bitter disillusionment and confusion. Some disciples wanted to run for the hills—think of the road to Emmaus story. Some surely chose to withdraw into quietism, as if spirituality is a kind of levitation above, and segregation from, history’s agonized drama.

It would take multiple resurrection appearances to restore the nerve and clarify the vision of that early community, which began to sense that salvation was not from the world but for it. Significantly, the community completely reimagined their economic relations as reflections of their spiritual bonds. (See Acts 2 and 4.)

Eastertide’s vigilance would lead to Pentecostal power, which ensued, as Clarence Jordan wrote, to becoming a “demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God”; or as Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned, an enfleshed movement whose eyes were on the prize of The Beloved Community where the demands of justice and the prerequisites of peace are mediated by the work of mercy.

Resurrection’s promise couples Creation’s delight with history’s redemption in anticipation of that great day establishing a “new heaven and a new earth,” when all tears will be dried and death will be no more (cf. Revelation 21). For the community of faith, practiced resurrection points to God’s rainbow covenant (cf. Genesis 9) with the day when “all flesh shall see the salvation of our God” (Luke 3:6) and mercy trumps vengeance.

For this reason the community of faith—living precariously amid history’s violent surges, with pain abounding and affliction seemingly without end—proclaims its insurrectionary witness and prays its incendiary prayer, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.”

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—compiled by Ken Sehested, March 2021, prayerandpolitiks.org