Holy Saturday (Artful Devotion)

Entombment of Christ (Armenia)
“The Entombment of Christ,” from an Armenian Gospel-book, 1437. MS Or. 2668, fol. 5v, British Library, London.

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

—Matthew 27:57–61

After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

—John 19:38–42

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MUSIC: “Tagh for the Funeral of the Lord” by Tigran Mansurian, 1998–2004 | Performed by Kim Kashkashian (viola) and Robyn Schulkowsky (percussion), on Neharo’t, 2009

The tagh is an ancient genre of Armenian monodic music—that is, lamentation over another’s death. “The characteristics of the tagh are its expansiveness of form and volume, its free melodic style, the existence of instrumental passages and richness of rhythm” [source].

“Tagh for the Funeral of the Lord” is the second piece in contemporary Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian’s suite “Three Medieval Taghs for Viola and Percussion” (the other two are for the Crucifixion and for the Resurrection). On YouTube you can find a January 27, 2019, performance by violist Kim Kashkashian and (different from the earlier album recording) percussionist Jonathan Hepfer as part of the Lark Musical Society’s Dilijan Chamber Music Series is Los Angeles. The funeral tagh starts at 4:23:

Note: Sometimes this piece is called Tagh “to” or “of” the Funeral of the Lord.

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The Entombment painting above is from a fifteenth-century Gospel-book copied and illuminated at the Monastery of St. George in Armenia by the priest Awetik. At the center, Christ’s body lies with his head tilted toward the viewer but wrapped, like the rest of him, in a white shroud. Joseph of Arimathea cradles Christ’s head and Nicodemus straightens his legs as the two situate his body in the grave. Two of the Marys stand by, grieving.

The vast swatch of dark blue across the top half of the painting indicates the deep darkness of the cave and accentuates the feeling of emptiness and loss. The figures form a middle band, below which are two more large color fields: brown and green, the colors of the earth.

The inertness is striking, as is the complete hiddenness of God the Son under his burial clothes.


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Holy Saturday, cycle A, click here.

Good Friday (Artful Devotion)

Gil, Kim Young_Crucifixion
Kim Young Gil (Korean, 1940–2008), Crucifixion, before 1991. India ink and coloring on rice paper. Sourced from “The Bible Through Asian Eyes” (p. 175) and posted with permission of the artist’s estate.

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

—Isaiah 53:1–12

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SONG: “He Was Wounded for Our Transgressions” | Words by Thomas O. Chisholm, 1941 | Music by Merrill Dunlop, 1941 | Performed by Shane Clark, on Deep Blue Hymns, 2017 | CCLI #7068347

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In Kim Young Gil’s Crucifixion, the torso, arms, and legs are eliminated, focusing attention on Christ’s face and his four nailed extremities. Kim’s use of light and shade creates a compelling contrast: Christ is both illuminated, as if by a divine spotlight, and in darkness, such that even those light rays from above bear tinges of black. The bright-red color of the Passion, of blood, dominates the image.

I scanned this image from the wonderful book The Bible Through Asian Eyes, edited by Masao Takenaka and Ron O’Grady of the Asian Christian Art Association (AACA) and published by Pace in Auckland in 1991. A short write-up on the facing page describes how the painted print, made in the seventies or eighties, came to be: One day Kim, who was working as a schoolteacher in Korea, invited a self-isolating, troublemaking student to his studio. He asked him to remove his shoes and then proceeded to cover them with black ink, and had him step onto a clean sheet of paper. He did the same with the boy’s hands. Those foot- and handprints form the basis of this Crucifixion image, which, when Kim showed it to the class, led the other students to see this former bully of theirs in a new light and start warming to him, and vice versa. The student later spoke of that surprising art collaboration as a turning point in his life and the beginning of his Christian experience.

I noticed a strong similarity between this and the terracotta cross sculpture of Hyo-sook Kim that appeared on the cover of the June 1988 issue of the AACA’s Image journal. The man who manages Kim Young Gil’s website, James Yun, told me, after asking Kim’s widow, that Kim did not know this other artist, so the two either arrived at this concept independently or one was inspired by having seen an image by the other.

Kim, Hyo-sook_Cross
Hyo-sook Kim, Cross, ca. 1988. Terracotta, 50 × 45 cm.

Hyo-sook Kim wrote that she intended for the hands to look like wings, alluding to the resurrection. The lotus, which bursts upward from the wrists, can also be read as a resurrection symbol, as the plant takes root in the mud, but its stem grows up through murky waters and its flower blooms on the surface, having risen above the mire. In Buddhist iconography the lotus symbolizes purity or spiritual perfection.


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Good Friday, cycle A, click here.

Holy Wednesday (Artful Devotion)

Ratgeb, Jorg_Last Supper (detail)
Attributed to Jörg Ratgeb (German, ca. 1480–1526), The Last Supper (detail), 1505–10. Oil on panel, 38 7/10 × 36 in. (98.5 × 91.5 cm). Boijmans van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Even my close friend in whom I trusted,
who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.
But you, O LORD, be gracious to me,
and raise me up . . .

—Psalm 41:9–10

“. . . the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. . . .”

After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke.

One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?”

Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.

Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor.

So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

—John 13:18b–19, 21–30

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SONG: “Judas Song (Psalm 41​:​9​–10)” by Matt Grimsley (words adapted from the Trinity Psalter) | Performed by the Green Carpet Players, on Morning to Evening (2014)

 

ORCHESTRAL REPRISE: “Judas Song, Pt. 2: The Betrayer” by Amy Porter, based on a melody by Matt Grimsley | Performed by the Green Carpet Players, on Morning to Evening (2014)

 

The Green Carpet Players is the recording alias of the musicians of Redeemer Church of Knoxville. Since they released this second album in 2014, chief musician Matt Grimsley, who wrote “Judas Song,” has become the founding pastor of Resurrection Presbyterian Church in Madison, Wisconsin, and Amy Porter is now worship director at Church of the Redeemer in Maryville, Tennessee.

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Ratgeb, Jorg_Last Supper
Attributed to Jörg Ratgeb (German, ca. 1480–1526), The Last Supper, 1505–10. Oil on panel, 38 7/10 × 36 in. (98.5 × 91.5 cm). Boijmans van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam, Netherlands.

In Jörg Ratgeb’s Last Supper, the disciples have laid aside their pilgrim’s staffs and have sat down to a Passover meal of roast lamb, bread, and wine. Jesus, having just announced that one of them would betray him, looks across the table at Judas, the group’s treasurer—who wears not one but two purses! Jesus tenderly and regretfully feeds Judas an unleavened wafer, indicating that he’s the one. The others seem not to notice—groups of two discuss among themselves who the traitor might be; one disciple guzzles down more wine from a tubed bottle, while another pours more from a jug; John’s asleep to Christ’s left, and to his right Peter stares blankly into space, knife in hand (foreshadowing his cutting off the ear of one of Jesus’s arresters later that night); and one crass disciple turns his head to shoot snot out his nose.

Jesus has just washed all their feet, as indicated by the water basin and towel in the foreground—a stunning act of humility. (We will visit that episode in tomorrow’s Gospel reading.) His supremest act of humility is but a day away. It’s alluded to by the poster at the left of a snake lifted up on a staff (see John 3:14–15), as well as by the monstrance (a receptacle for the consecrated Eucharistic host) that two angels raise above Jesus’s head, proclaiming his impending sacrifice.

The sweet, generative nature of this sacrifice is underscored by the lily-of-the-valley that’s strewn all over the floor and table, as the flower is connected with the advent of spring and the promise of new life.


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Wednesday of Holy Week, cycle A, click here.

Holy Tuesday (Artful Devotion)

Cox, John Rogers_Wheat Field
John Rogers Cox (American, 1915–1990), Wheat Field, ca. 1943. Oil on Masonite, 16 × 20 in. The John and Susan Horseman Collection of American Art, St. Louis, Missouri.

And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”

Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”

Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?”

So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.

—John 12:23–36

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SONG: “Glorify” by Joe Kurtz and Josh Compton, on Last Days by The Brothers of Abriem Harp (2015)

Read my comments on this Bible passage and song at https://artandtheology.org/2018/03/24/album-review-last-days-by-the-brothers-of-abriem-harp/.


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Tuesday of Holy Week, cycle A, click here.

Holy Monday (Artful Devotion)

Supper at Bethany (Vaux Passional)
Illumination from the Vaux Passional, England, ca. 1503–4. Peniarth MS 482D, fol. 15v, National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth. [see full page]

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone; she intended to keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.

—John 12:1–11

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SONG: “Said Judas to Mary” by Sydney Carter, 1964 | Performed by ValLimar Jansen and the choir of Christ the King Church, Kingston, Rhode Island, 2015

View the lyrics and sheet music at www.hopepublishing.com.


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Monday of Holy Week, cycle A, click here.

Album Review: Last Days by the Brothers of Abriem Harp

Released in 2015, the album Last Days by the Brothers of Abriem Harp features twelve original indie-folk songs for Holy Week that tell the story of Christ’s passion, from the thundering voice of the Father affirming the Son but also presaging judgment, to the glorification of Christ in the Resurrection. One of its major draws is its quiet, understated conveyance of the week’s drama through several different voices: Jesus, of course, but also Mary, Peter, Judas, and other unnamed disciples who reflect on the events they witness, especially in light of their past histories with Christ.

Last Days album cover

Approaching Jesus’s last days primarily through the lens of story—plot, character, mood, etc.—rather than the lens of doctrine makes the listening experience more immersive. That’s not to say theology is absent from the album; it’s very much there. But it is not heavy-handed or abstruse, and neither is it reduced to clichés.

The songs are written and sung by Joe Kurtz (pseudonym: Abriem Harp) and Josh Compton (Josh Harp), with Matt Kurtz (Matthew Harp) on percussion and John Finley (Hezekiah Harp) playing many of the other instruments. On the band’s Facebook page they describe themselves as “Gospel-shoutin’ melody makers from the Rust Belt,” and among their musical influences are field recordings, the Sacred Harp tradition, and mountain music.

In the video below, the Brothers have set the entire album to altered footage from Vie et Passion du Christ (Life and Passion of the Christ), a forty-four-minute silent film released in France in 1903. The album is also available for streaming and purchase at https://harpfamilyrecordings.bandcamp.com/album/last-days.

Here’s a rundown of the songs.

1. “Glorify”

 

A voice arose, a voice arose
A voice arose, a voice
It sounded like thunder, pounded like thunder (×4)

It said, “I’ve glorified it, and again I’ll glorify it”
Yeah, “I’ve glorified it, and again I’ll glorify it” (×3)

This is an unconventional starting point for the passion narrative, which typically begins with Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. Instead, the Brothers have chosen a lesser-known episode from John’s Gospel, which occurs just after the triumphal entry—and what a beautiful passage to highlight. (I actually was not familiar with the references in the song and had to look them up—a great example of how the arts can stimulate renewed engagement with the Bible!)

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. . . .

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”

Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”

Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

John 12:23–24, 27–33

“It’s time.” That’s essentially what Jesus is saying. And then in the middle of this discourse with the disciples, Jesus gets real with the Father. “I’m scared! But what can I do? This is my destiny; I can’t avoid it.” And then, his words of acceptance, of surrender: “Father, glorify your name.” It’s unclear whether this prayer was audible to the disciples or was expressed merely internally. Whatever the case, the Father’s response was heard by all—though some attributed it to natural phenomena, or to an angel.

As this passage clarifies, the “it” in the song is the Father’s name: God says that he has glorified it in the past, and he will glorify it again, when Christ is lifted up for the salvation of the world.

John uses the words glory and glorified a lot in his Gospel, especially in relation to Christ’s passion. In John 13:31, after the Last Supper, where Jesus has just identified Judas as his future betrayer, Jesus says, “Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” Later that night, in Gethsemane, Jesus prays, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you. . . . I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:1, 4–5).

The opening song on Last Days, therefore, though just three allusive lines, repeated, is packed with meaning, much of it concentrated in that dense word glorify, a word that orients the whole album. Much like the opening sequence of a movie sets the movie’s tone and hints at what you’re in for, so do opening songs on albums, and this one is somewhat portentous, leaving us wondering, “How will God’s name be glorified?”; it also gives the Father a speaking role and thus situates him as a main character in the story.   Continue reading “Album Review: Last Days by the Brothers of Abriem Harp”