On Good Friday in Summertown, the Clarendon Quartet performed Josef Haydn’s, Seven Last Words of Jesus on the Cross. In 1783, the Cathedral of Cadiz in Spain commissioned the great composer Joseph Haydn to write a musical setting for these sayings.
Ours was a performance of brilliant musicality as well as profound theological depth. Each movement was interspersed by reflections and silence. Various people have asked me to reproduce the poems and meditations which I have happily compiled below.
The triduum at St Michael’s was a remarkably powerful offering of our faith in Jesus Christ. The holy days and services of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday would have graced any church or cathedral in the land thanks to the beauty of the music, the insight of the sermons, the drama of the liturgy. My one remaining desire is that more people come to experience Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. I hope this blog might inspire a surge of interest for more people to attend next year!
THE FIRST WORD: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Luke 23:34
Blessed Lord, who in thy forgiving love
didst pray for those who nailed thee to the cross,
and hast taught us to forgive one another as thou hast forgiven us:
Take from us all bitterness and resentment towards our fellows,
and give us the spirit of mutual forgiveness and gracious love;
that so, in perfect charity,
we may be partakers of thy everlasting kingdom;
for thy name and mercy’s sake.
Salisbury Book of Occasional Offices
THE SECOND WORD: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43
One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house began to tremble and you felt the old tug
at your ankles. “Mend my life!” each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do, though the wind pried with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations, though their melancholy was terrible.
It was already late enough, and a wild night, and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little, as you left their voices behind, the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds, and there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own,
that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world,
determined to do the only thing you could do—determined to save
the only life you could save.
THE THIRD WORD: “Woman, behold your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” John 19:26-27
In an instant a child can disappear
Instead of walking with you, he’s just not there.
Steps get retraced back from where
You came and find him turning over questions
with teachers, surprised by concern,
Didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house?
Who reproves a child making sense
of father from Father- you take his words to heart.
After some years, your boy becomes
a man selecting the right companions. Who is it
that draws to him people like a bucket
of water pulling from a well? A crowd gathers
curious, you round up your boys
who mutter, He must be out of his mind, and
try to take charge, still not getting
what season he is now entering. Instead of access
you hear him ask, Who are my mother
and brothers, you see him motioning to the crowd,
continuing to assert his godliness in
declaring those obedient, mother and brothers.
Who knew the road would lead here:
a hill, a cross, a crown. You watch as they drive nails
into the hands you used to hold as he
learned how to walk – hands that learned his father’s
trade – hands that knew how to save
water and turn it into wine. You’ve always taken
his words to heart, not comprehending
this day would come. And even if your boy wanted
none of this would be undone.
Your God, your son looks on you weeping and loves
You, utters, Dear woman behold your son,
as he motions to his friend and to him, Here is your mother.
Taking care of those he cherishes because
He knows how this ends, that it is near, soon to dawn
It is finished as the rest of the story begins.
THE FOURTH WORD: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34
The darkness fought, compelled the sun to flee,
And like a conquering army swiftly trod
Across the land, blind fear this despot’s rod.
The noon-day dark illumined tyranny.
Still worse, abandonment by Deity
Brought black despair more deadly than the blood
That ran off with his life. “My God, my God,”
Cried Jesus, “why have you forsaken me?”
The silence thundered. Heaven’s quiet reigned
Supreme, a shocking, deafening, haunting swell.
Because from answering Jesus, God refrained,
I shall not cry, as he, this cry from hell.
The cry of desolation, black as night,
Shines forth across the world as brilliant light.
D A Carson
THE FIFTH WORD: “I thirst.” John 19:28
I do not know where the
words come from. They are like
water that gushes from a spigot.
I don’t question their existence. Only quickly place the
bucket of my heart underneath praying my confession.
And as I try to catch it I Hope that the drops will fall where they should.
In or outside the cup of my heart, dependent on a fate I do not control.
I have a thirst that lives within me, always with me.
And I must live with it every day. And with my commitment to be authentic.
This is an adventure that began with my cavernous need.
If it is true that God suffers with us in our grief, then I am grateful for the comfort of his companionship.
Even for this longing, a thirst that lives ever within.
Always thirsty. I don’t question the
Water’s existence. Only quickly place the
Bucket of my heart underneath praying.
THE SIXTH WORD: “It is finished”. John 19:30
In a Country Church
To one kneeling down no word came,
Only the wind’s song, saddening the lips
Of the grave saints, rigid in glass;
Or the dry whisper of unseen wings,
Bats not angels, in the high roof.
Was he balked by silence? He kneeled long
And saw love in a dark crown
Of thorns blazing, and a winter tree
Golden with fruit of a man’s body.
THE SEVENTH WORD: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Luke 23:46
A Better Resurrection
I have no wit, no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numbed too much for hopes or fears;
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but dimmed with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf:
O Jesus, quicken me!
My life is like a faded leaf,
My harvest dwindled to a husk;
Truly my life is void and brief
And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see:
Yet rise it shall,–the sap of Spring;
O Jesus, rise in me!
My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perished thing,
Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him my King:
O Jesus, drink of me!
Christina Georgina Rossetti
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