Lent, Day 40 (In the Grave)

I am counted with them that go down into the pit: I am as a man that hath no strength:

Free among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, whom thou rememberest no more: and they are cut off from thy hand.

Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps.

Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves. Selah.

Thou hast put away mine acquaintance far from me; thou hast made me an abomination unto them: I am shut up, and I cannot come forth.

. . .

Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise and praise thee? Selah.

Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? or thy faithfulness in destruction?

Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? and thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

—Psalm 88:4–8, 10–12 (KJV)

LOOK: Playa Studies by Craig Goodworth (HT)

Goodworth, Craig_Playa Studies
Craig Goodworth (American, 1977–), Playa Studies, 2017. Site-specific land-based artwork, Great Basin Desert, Oregon. Photograph by the artist.

Craig Goodworth’s practice encompasses installation, poetry, drawing, research, teaching, and farm labor. He holds master’s degrees in fine art, sustainable communities, and divinity, and his interests include land, place, religion, mysticism, and folk traditions.

During a four-week residency in the Great Basin Desert in Oregon, he made a series of land-based artworks called Playa Studies, which he documented through photographs. (A playa is an area of flat, dried-up land.) The shape of this one evokes a grave.

LISTEN: “Aestimatus sum” (I am counted . . .) by Tomás Luis de Victoria, 1585 | Performed by Ars Nova Copenhagen, dir. Paul Hillier, 2017

Aestimatus sum cum descendentibus in lacum,
factus sum sicut homo sine adjutorio, inter mortuos liber.
    Versus: Posuerunt me in lacu inferiori, in tenebrosis et in umbra mortis.
Factus sum sicut homo sine adjutorio, inter mortuos liber.

English translation:

I am counted with them that go down into the pit:
I am as a man that hath no strength: free among the dead.
    Verse: They have laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps.
I am as a man that hath no strength: free among the dead.

This is the eighth responsory for Holy Saturday. Tomás Luis de Victoria [previously] of Spain, one of the principal composers of the late Renaissance, set it to music in 1585. It’s the penultimate motet (a multivoiced musical composition sung without instrumental accompaniment) in a set of eighteen by Victoria, titled Tenebrae Responsories.

The text is taken from Psalm 87:5–7 of the Latin Vulgate (Psalm 88:4–6 in the King James Version and most modern translations). The most depressing psalm in the Psalter, Psalm 88 ends not on a note of hope but with the lament that “darkness has become my only companion.” (Hello darkness, my old friend.)

While the psalmist spoke in metaphors of death, Jesus went there literally. After suffering much affliction, he descended “into the pit” of the earth—his grave. He knew emotional and spiritual darkness, and now he was surrounded by the physical reality. The Light had gone out. The Word was made silent.

Imagine what Jesus’s followers must have felt the day after the Crucifixion. Grief, devastation, loneliness, bewilderment, hopelessness. They were left bereft of their Lord’s presence.

On Holy Saturday, we sit in the pocket of that grief, that loss.

N. T. Wright says, “We cannot be Easter people if we are not first Good Friday people and then Holy Saturday people. Don’t expect even a still, small voice. Stay still yourself, and let the quietness and darkness of the day be your only companions.”

Lent, Day 39 (“Simeron Kremate”)

LOOK: Crucifixion by Natalya Rusetska

Rusetska, Natalya_Crucifixion
Natalya Rusetska (Ukrainian, 1984–), Crucifixion, 2013. Egg tempera on gessoed board, 20 × 13.5 cm.

LISTEN: “Σήμερον Κρεμάται” (Simeron Kremate), an antiphon for Great and Holy Friday, in plagal second mode, from the Greek Orthodox Church

>> Chanted in English by Vassilis Hadjinicolaou:

[Greek]
Σήμερον κρεμᾶται ἐπὶ ξύλου, ὁ ἐν ὕδασι τὴν γῆν κρεμάσας.
Στέφανον ἐξ ἀκανθῶν περιτίθεται, ὁ τῶν Ἀγγέλων Βασιλεύς.
Ψευδῆ πορφύραν περιβάλλεται, ὁ περιβάλλων τὸν οὐρανὸν ἐν νεφέλαις.
Ῥάπισμα κατεδέξατο, ὁ ἐν Ἰορδάνῃ ἐλευθερώσας τὸν Ἀδάμ.
Ἥλοις προσηλώθη, ὁ Νυμφίος τῆς Ἐκκλησίας.
Λόγχῃ ἐκεντήθη, ὁ Υἱὸς τῆς Παρθένου.
Προσκυνοῦμέν σου τὰ Πάθη Χριστέ.
Προσκυνοῦμέν σου τὰ Πάθη Χριστέ.
Προσκυνοῦμέν σου τὰ Πάθη Χριστέ.
Δεῖξον ἡμῖν, καὶ τὴν ἔνδοξόν σου Ἀνάστασιν.

[Transliterated Greek]
Símeron kremátai epí xýlou, o en ýdasi tín gín kremásas.
Stéfanon ex akanthón peritíthetai, o tón Angélon Vasiléfs.
Psevdí porfýran periválletai, o perivállon tón ouranón en nefélais.
Rápisma katedéxato, o en Iordáni eleftherósas tón Adám.
Ílois prosilóthi, o Nymfíos tís Ekklisías.
Lónchi ekentíthi, o Yiós tís Parthénou.
Proskynoúmén sou tá Páthi Christé.
Proskynoúmén sou tá Páthi Christé.
Proskynoúmén sou tá Páthi Christé.
Deíxon imín, kaí tín éndoxón sou Anástasin.

[English translation]
Today he who hung the earth upon the waters is hung on the tree.
The King of the angels is decked with a crown of thorns.
He who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery.
He who freed Adam in the Jordan is slapped on the face.
The Bridegroom of the church is affixed to the cross with nails.
The Son of the virgin is pierced by a spear.
We worship thy passion, O Christ.

We worship thy passion, O Christ.
We worship thy passion, O Christ.
Show us also thy glorious resurrection.

This is the fifteenth antiphon (short hymn) from the Matins service of Great and Holy Friday (as the day is called in the Orthodox tradition), celebrated on Thursday evening.

>> Arranged by Fr. Seraphim Dedes, chanted by Paul Barnes, 2019:

(An abbreviated version appears as “Byzantine Chant II: Simeron Kremate” on Barnes’s 2021 album Illumination; see my Holy Week Playlist.)

Paul Barnes is both a pianist and a Greek Orthodox chanter. Here he chants the “Simeron Kremate,” starting out in Greek and then using the following English translation:

Today he who suspended the earth on the waters is suspended on a cross. (×3)
The King of the angels wears a crown of thorns.
He who wraps the sky in clouds is wrapped in a fake purple robe.
He who freed Adam in the Jordan accepts to be slapped.
The Bridegroom of the church is fixed with nails to the cross.
The Son of the virgin is pierced with a spear.
We worship your passion, O Christ. (×3)
Show us also your glorious resurrection.

Seven of his piano majors from the Glenn Korff School of Music provide the ison (drone note).

>> Simeron Kremate, a solo keyboard work by Victoria Bond based on the Greek Orthodox chant, performed by Paul Barnes, 2019:

Paul Barnes and composer Victoria Bond are longtime collaborators. He introduced her to the “Simeron Kremate” chant, and she built a piano composition around its five-note melody. Struck by its similar melodic contour, she incorporated the Jewish Passover chant “Tal” (Dew), a prayer that life-sustaining dew would water the land. This prayer is traditionally chanted on the first morning of Passover (which is tomorrow; the festival begins this evening). Bond, who is Jewish, notes the thematic resonance between the two chants as well: (in my own words) the one a request for fruitfulness and refreshment, the other a lament for the death of the One whose death bears fruit and brings life. She describes the musical elements of the composition as follows:

The work opens with the traditional apichima of the plagal of the second mode which aurally establishes the musical atmosphere of the mode. Victoria follows this with a Jewish style cantillation (based on the cantillation of the great cantor Yosele Rosenblatt) which leads to the first statement of the “Simeron” chant. These opening notes are then developed in multiple ways before the intimate entry of the “Tal” melody. The work concludes with a ‘tranquillo’ passage of rare beauty ingeniously combining both themes. The work ends tentatively and unresolved as the opening notes of the chant dissipate into eternity.

Lent, Day 37 (Blood and Tears)

Anyone who cries at night, the stars and the constellations cry with him.

Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 104b

LOOK: Blood and Tears by Hélène Mugot

Mugot, Hélène_Blood and Tears
Hélène Mugot (French, 1953–), Du sang et des larmes (Blood and Tears), 2004. Triptych of 300 crystal drops and 200 red glass drops, 350 × 900 cm. Exhibition view from Icare encore at the Mandet Museum, Riom, France, October 22, 2011–January 22, 2012. (Foreground: Pour la gloire… [For the Glory…], 2011.)

Mugot, Hélène_Blood and Tears

When Jesus went out to the garden of Gethsemane to pray the night of his arrest, he pled with the Father to let the cup of suffering pass. Luke says he sweated drops of blood (22:44). He was in agony. He probably dreaded the physical torture he knew was coming, and maybe even more his disciples’ abandoning him. Perhaps he wept for the mother and friends he would leave behind in this next phase of ministry—or, with a mixture of grief and frustration, for the world’s failure to see who he truly was.

Hélène Mugot’s Du sang et des larmes, which translates to Blood and Tears, is an installation of glass pieces made to look like bodily fluids. They hang on the wall in the shape of a three-paneled altarpiece—blood in the center, tears on the wings. The globular forms catch the light from the room and shine.

When Du sang et des larmes was exhibited at the Mandet Museum in 2011, it was part of a larger show of Mugot’s work. On the floor in front of it was her Pour la gloire… (For the Glory…), a menacingly large braided wreath of thick, knotted, blackened vines whose stumps are dotted with red wax of the type used to seal wine bottles—both bandage and wound here, Mugot says. The piece is meant to evoke Jesus’s crown of thorns.

Mugot, Helene_For the Glory
Hélène Mugot (French, 1953–), Pour la gloire… (For the Glory…), 2011. Old vines and red sealing wax, outside diameter 275 cm, height 50 cm. Exhibited at the Mandet Museum, Riom, France, 2011. Photo: Patrick André.

In 2013 Du sang et des larmes joined the collection of the Musée du Hiéron in Paray-le-Monial, France, a museum of Christian art from the Middle Ages to today. There it is staged as the backsplash to a seventeenth-century Virgin and Child statuette carved in wood, thus prompting us to read Christ’s infancy in light of his passion, and vice versa—the Incarnation as a total event, spanning birth to death. (Cue Simeon’s “A sword will pierce your soul . . .”)

Mugot, Hélène_Blood and Tears (with Virgin and Child)
Virgin and Child, 17th century; Du sang et des larmes by Hélène Mugot. Collection of the Musée du Hiéron, Paray-le-Monial, France. Photo: Jean-Pierre Gobillot.

To fit the space, the number of droplets and overall size changed slightly from the piece’s first few installations: at the Hiéron there are 311 crystal drops and 267 red glass drops, and the dimensions are 420 × 650 cm.

LISTEN: “Flow, My Tears” by Toivo Tulev, 2007 | Text based on a 1600 air by John Dowland and the Improperia (aka, the Reproaches), a series of antiphons and responses expressing the remonstrance of Jesus Christ with his people | Performed by the Latvian Radio Choir, dir. Kaspars Putniņš, on Tulev: Magnificat, 2018

Flow, my tears,
fall from your springs,
flow my tears, fall from your . . .
Flow my tears,
fall from your springs,
fall, fall, fall,
flow, flow, my tears, flow.

Down, vain lights,
shine no more,
no nights are dark enough,
no lights,
shine no more,
flow no more,
no more.
Flow down, vain lights,
shine no more,
shine you no more.

I led you in a pillar of cloud
but you led me to . . .
I gave you saving water,
but you gave me gall
and you gave vinegar.
My people, what have I done to you?
What have I done to you? Answer me.
How have I offended you, you, you?
I opened the sea before you,
I opened the sea,
but you opened my side with a spear.

Flow, flow, flow down.
Rain, drop down,
cover the ground,
drop down, my blood,
flow, flow down,
drop down,
drop down, drop,
flow, flow, flow,
shine, flow, flow, shine!
Flow, my blood, flow,
flow, drop, flow down.

My blood spills from your wounds,
drop, drop, drop,
your wounds,
flow, flow, flow down,
flow, shine, drop, flow.
Flow my tears, fall from your springs,
flow, my blood.
My blood, my blood spills from your wounds,
my wounds,
my blood,
flow, blood, flow, flow,
shine!
Spills from your wounds
my blood, shine!
My wounds, my wounds,
drop down, shine!
From your, from my wounds,
shine!
Flow, drop down,
shine!
Flow, shine!
My, your blood,
shine!

My blood,
flow, shine, flow,
shine! shine!
Fall, shine, fall, shine,
fall from your . . .
flow, fall . . .
Shine!
Shine! [source]

Toivo Tulev is an Estonian composer born in 1958. In this choral composition for twelve solo voices, he has combined words from a secular Renaissance lute song and the Christian Holy Week liturgy. It’s ponderous and grating, capturing well Jesus’s psychological affliction.

While in the first half the speaker, Jesus, wishes for light to “shine no more” so that he be left alone in darkness, that imperative eventually evolves into the affirmative: “Shine!” Blood: shine! Tears: shine! Tulev’s clever manipulation of his lyrical source material creates allusions to the glory, the illumination, that is to come. Paradoxically, when the sun is eclipsed from noon to three on the day of crucifixion, God’s love shines brighter than ever.

One line that stands out to me is “My blood spills from your wounds.” Who is the “your”? Earlier Jesus is talking to his people, but I interpret a shift here to God the Father as the addressee. Even though he sees through to the other side, he, too, is tremendously pained by what is unfolding—his only Son, killed. It’s as if Jesus’s wounds are his own (much like any parent would tell you, when their child is suffering). The unity of these two persons of the Godhead in the poetry of this song is really beautiful. Their heart is one.

Lent, Day 36 (Last Supper)

While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

—Matthew 26:26–28 (cf. Mark 14:22–24; Luke 22:17–20)

The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

—1 Corinthians 11:23b–26

LOOK: The Last Supper III by Bruce Onobrakpeya

Onobrakpeya, Bruce_Last Supper III
Bruce Onobrakpeya (Nigerian, 1932–), The Last Supper III. Lino engraving on rice paper, 58 × 62 3/4 in. (147 × 195 cm). Edition 1/15.

A pioneer of modern African art, Bruce Onobrakpeya is an internationally renowned Nigerian printmaker, painter, and sculptor of Urhobo heritage. He was raised Christian and has fulfilled several commissions on Christian themes, especially from 1967 to 1981. (I wrote about his Stations of the Cross series of colored linocut prints on my old blog.) His work also explores Urhobo traditional religion, culture, and history and the modern world of Nigeria.

In Onobrakpeya’s Last Supper III, Jesus sits at the head of an oblong table with his twelve disciples, making eye contact with the viewer. The food and drink are highly stylized, but the men appear to be breaking bread. The background features the Ibiebe alphabet, a script of ideographic geometric and curvilinear glyphs that Onobrakpeya developed.

LISTEN: “Take, Eat” by Josh Garrels, on Chrysaline (2019)

Take, eat
This is my body
Broken for your healing
This is my blood
Shed for remission
And forgiveness of your sin

Do this to remember what I’ve done for you
Do this to remember me

Lent, Day 35 (Anointing at Bethany)

LOOK: Mary Magdalen by Eric Gill

Gill, Eric_Mary Magdalen
Eric Gill (British, 1882–1940), Mary Magdalen, 1926. Wood engraving on paper, 6.3 × 6.3 cm. Tate Gallery, London.

(Related post: https://artandtheology.org/2020/04/05/holy-monday-artful-devotion/)

LISTEN: Adagio in G minor for violin, strings, and organ | Attributed to Tomaso Albioni, 18th century, but possibly entirely by Albioni biographer Remo Giazotto, 1958 | Performed by the Budapest Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra

Today is the second day of Holy Week, the final week of Jesus’s life. One event that takes place during this period, on Wednesday, is a woman’s anointing Jesus with oil. All four Gospel writers include the story, with variations (and Luke places it earlier in Jesus’s ministry). Love, hospitality, sacrifice, and honor are key themes. The woman is unnamed in the Synoptic Gospels, but John identifies her as Mary Magdalene. Praising her initiative, Jesus clarifies to those gathered that she anoints him in preparation for his burial (Matt. 26:12; Mark 14:8; John 12:7). It was a solemn act.

In addition, scholars have pointed out the deliberate allusions to the coronation ceremonies of Israel’s kings. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, in In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins, writes,

Since the prophet in the Old Testament anointed the head of the Jewish king, the anointing of Jesus’ head must have been understood immediately as the prophetic recognition of Jesus, the Anointed, the Messiah, the Christ. According to the tradition it was a woman who named Jesus by and through her prophetic sign-action. It was politically a dangerous story. (xiv)

Richard A. Horsley says that when the woman anointed Jesus, she was “literally ‘messiah-ing’ or ‘christ-ing’ him” (Hearing the Whole Story: The Politics of Plot in Mark’s Gospel, 207).

Sometimes it was a priest who anointed the new king, so the act could be read as not only prophetic but also sacramental. That is, Mary serving here as prophet and priest.

Someone, I forget who, once noted that Jesus would have gone to the cross with this aromatic fragrance still on him. The smell would have lingered with his sweat and blood and was perhaps a comfort to him in his hours of deepest distress, reminding him of the loving devotion of one of his disciples. It was also a proclamation to all the actors and bystanders, as he moved up Golgotha’s hill and was crucified, that he is indeed the Anointed One of God.

Palm Sunday

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever!

Let Israel say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”

. . .

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
    that I may enter through them
    and give thanks to the LORD.

This is the gate of the LORD;
    the righteous shall enter through it.

I thank you that you have answered me
    and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the LORD’s doing;
    it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the LORD has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O LORD!
    O LORD, we beseech you, give us success!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD.
    We bless you from the house of the LORD.
The LORD is God,
    and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
    up to the horns of the altar.

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
    you are my God, I will extol you.

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.

—Psalm 118:1–2, 19–29

 The crowds that went ahead of [Jesus] and that followed were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!
    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

—Matthew 21:9

LOOK: Palm Sunday, Home Depot Parking Lot by Gary Bergel

Bergel, Gary_Palm Sunday, Home Depot Parking Lot
Gary Bergel (American, 1943–), Palm Sunday, Home Depot Parking Lot. Digital photograph. Part of the traveling CIVA exhibition Again & Again.

LISTEN: “Blessed Is the One (Psalm 118)” by Tim Coons of Giants & Pilgrims | Performed by Tim Coons (guitar, vocals) and Craig Basarich (trumpet), 2020

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord (×4)

Hosanna (×4)

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord (×4)

Hosanna (×4)

Hosanna (×4)

“Christ’s Bloody Sweat” by Robert Southwell

Boeve, Edgar G._Phoenix, Death
Edgar G. Boevé (American, 1929–2019), Phoenix, Death, ca. 1980. Oil and acrylic on tea chest paper. Photo: Victoria Emily Jones, at the Center Art Gallery, Calvin University, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2015.

Fat soil, full spring, sweet olive, grape of bliss,
That yields, that streams, that pours, that doth distill;
Untilled, undrawn, unstamped, untouched of press,
Dear fruit, clear brooks, fair oil, sweet wine at will!
Thus Christ prevents, unforced, in shedding blood,
The whips, the thorns, the nails, the spear, and rood.

He pelican’s, he phoenix’, fate doth prove,
Whom flames consume, whom streams enforce to die:
How burneth blood, how bleedeth burning love?
Can one in flame and stream both bathe and fry?
How could he join a phoenix’ fiery pains,
In fainting pelican’s still bleeding veins?

Elias once, to prove God’s sovereign power,
By prayer procured a fire of wondrous force
That blood and wood and water did devour,
Yea stones and dust beyond all nature’s course:
Such fire is love, that, fed with gory blood,
Doth burn no less than in the driest wood.

O sacred fire! come, show thy force on me,
That sacrifice to Christ I may return:
If withered wood for fuel fittest be,
If stones and dust, if flesh and blood will burn,
I withered am, and stony to all good,
A sack of dust, a mass of flesh and blood.

Note: I modernized the spellings of this poem for readability, but there is a beauty to the early modern English; see the original here.

Robert Southwell (ca. 1561–1595) was an English Catholic priest and poet living during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Educated at Jesuit colleges in France and Italy, he returned to his native England as a missionary in 1586. But he suffered persecution under the country’s Protestant regime, and had to conduct his ministry in concealment. In his early thirties he was caught celebrating the Mass and was subsequently imprisoned, tortured, and hanged for treason. None of his English poems was published in his lifetime, but many of them circulated as manuscripts. He probably wrote this one sometime during his three years in the Tower of London, awaiting execution.

“Christ’s Bloody Sweat” opens with a reflection on Christ’s agony in the garden of Gethsemane the night before the Crucifixion, when “in his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground” (Luke 22:44). This bloody sweat may be a figure of speech Luke uses to convey the intensity of the moment, or it may be an actual condition called hematidrosis, in which capillary blood vessels that feed the sweat glands rupture, causing them to exude blood—something that can occur in rare cases when a person is under extreme physical or emotional stress.

In the first stanza of the poem, “Southwell introduces various fluids that represent the creative effusions of Christ’s love, with an extravagant reiteration of images that emphasises the extravagance of that love,” writes the Rev. Patrick Comerford in his commentary on the poem.

Fat soil, full spring, sweet olive, grape of bliss,
That yields, that streams, that pours, that doth distill;
Untilled, undrawn, unstamped, untouched of press,
Dear fruit, clear brooks, fair oil, sweet wine at will!
Thus Christ prevents, unforced, in shedding blood,
The whips, the thorns, the nails, the spear, and rood.

Southwell describes Christ as rich, fertile soil that yields sweet fruit; a spring of living water; an olive from which consecrated oil is distilled (for the anointing of the newly baptized and newly ordained); and a grape that yields fine wine. It may help you to read each phrase vertically down the first four lines: “Fat soil that yields, untilled, dear fruit”; “full spring that streams, undrawn, clear brooks”; “sweet olive that pours, unstamped, fair oil”; “grape of bliss that doth distill, untouched of press, sweet wine at will!”

“Prevent” in this context means to go before. In other words, even before Jesus is captured by the Roman soldiers, tortured, and led to Calvary to be crucified, he sheds his blood in Gethsemane. Without any physical forces acting upon him. “Rood” is an archaic word for the cross.

Stanza 2 references two birds of lore that were popular symbols of Christ: the pelican and the phoenix.

He pelican’s, he phoenix’, fate doth prove,
Whom flames consume, whom streams enforce to die:
How burneth blood, how bleedeth burning love?
Can one in flame and stream both bathe and fry?
How could he join a phoenix’ fiery pains,
In fainting pelican’s still bleeding veins?

The pelican was said (by Epiphanius, Augustine, and other church fathers) to revive or feed her young with her own blood; she would peck at her breast until she died so that her little ones might have life. The phoenix is a fantastical bird from classical mythology that burns itself to ashes on a funeral pyre ignited by the sun but then rises up out of those ashes, renewed.

Southwell ponders how Christ can be both pelican and phoenix. Did he bleed to death (losing streams of blood), or did he die by burning? The image in line 10 is quite gruesome: Christ simultaneously is “bathe[d]” in blood and fries in flames. The fire is, of course, metaphoric. But it becomes here, along with the blood, an emblem of divine love. A love that bleeds and burns, and that is all-consuming.

The fire and blood imagery continues in stanza 3, where Southwell refers to the famous contest on Mount Carmel between Elijah (a prophet of Yahweh) and the prophets of Baal (see 1 Kings 18).

Elias once, to prove God’s sovereign power,
By prayer procured a fire of wondrous force
That blood and wood and water did devour,
Yea stones and dust beyond all nature’s course:
Such fire is love, that, fed with gory blood,
Doth burn no less than in the driest wood.

To prove the supremacy of the God of Israel over Baal, Elijah issues a challenge. He and Baal’s prophets would each prepare a bull for sacrifice and lay it on a stone altar but light no fire. They would then pray each to their own god and see which god answers by sending fire from heaven to consume their sacrifice. The prophets of Baal accept the challenge, but no fire comes to light their altar, despite their most fervent entreaties. Elijah, to increase the stakes, even soaks his bull and the wood it lies on in water, three times over—and still fire comes from above, devouring, as Southwell writes, “blood and wood and water . . . [and] stones and dust beyond all nature’s course.”

God’s love is like that fire, Southwell says. The implication, I think, is that on the cross, the love of the Son (who gives himself as a sacrifice) and the love of the Father (who accepts the sacrifice) meet. (I know there are varying interpretations of the nature of the atonement and the role of the Father in the Crucifixion, but I’m simply trying to interpret Southwell here.)

In the poem’s final stanza, Southwell considers how he ought to respond to divine love as expressed in Christ’s passion.

O sacred fire! come, show thy force on me,
That sacrifice to Christ I may return:
If withered wood for fuel fittest be,
If stones and dust, if flesh and blood will burn,
I withered am, and stony to all good,
A sack of dust, a mass of flesh and blood.

He calls on God to accept, in return, his sacrifice—of praise and thanksgiving and obedience (Heb. 13:15–16; Ps. 50:23) and of his very self (Rom. 12:1–2). He probably had his martyrdom in mind. He acknowledges that he is but a withered, soggy, stony-hearted “sack of dust” but prays that God would make him fit to receive and broadcast the fire of love from on high.

Holy Saturday: Keening

All four canonical Gospel accounts of the retrieval of Jesus’s body from the cross and its entombment are very matter-of-fact. There is no mention of grieving. The focus is on the roles of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, though Matthew and Mark mention two Marys being present (Matt. 27:61; Mark 15:47), and Luke refers generically to “the women who had come with him from Galilee” (Luke 23:55). Mark and Luke also mention the women preparing and, after the Sabbath, returning with burial spices (Mark 16:1; Luke 23:56–24:1).

Leave it to the artists, poets, and composers to inject some emotion into these undeniably wrenching moments! Of carrying the corpse of a loved one, cleaning it, dressing it, and saying goodbye as it’s put into the earth. There is an enormous number of paintings, sculptures, music, and literary texts composed over the centuries to aid Christians in meditating on the dead Christ and vicariously lamenting with those present, especially the Virgin Mary.

After Mary and the others laid Jesus to rest on Friday, their mourning continued, I’m sure, into Saturday. They were utterly bereft.

LOOK: Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, 1577–1640), The Entombment, ca. 1612. Oil on canvas, 51 5/8 × 51 1/4 in. (131.1 × 130.2 cm). J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

The Flemish Baroque artist Peter Paul Rubens painted scenes of the lamentation of Christ many times. I saw this one in person at the Getty a few years ago, and it really drew me in. It shows Saint John and the Virgin Mary supporting Jesus’s body as they lay him down onto a stone slab. Mary Magdalene weeps from behind, and another, older Mary, the mother of James the Younger and Joseph (Matt. 27:56; Mark 15:40), gingerly lifts his wounded hand, fixing her sorrow there.

Rubens does not shy away from the ugliness of death, showing Jesus’s eyes rolled back in his head, his lips blue, and blood caked in his hair and dried up around the gaping laceration in his side. His whole body is pale with death, his skin green-tinged, in contrast to John’s ruddy complexion; his mother wears the same deathly pallor. Her eyes are red and puffy, and she looks up to the heavens as if to question why, or to petition God for strength.

The wheat that Jesus lies on alludes to the straw he was bedded in as a newborn and to the bread of the Eucharist on the altar. Christ’s body is given as a holy offering for the sins of the world.

LISTEN: “Song of Keening” by Áine Minogue, on Celtic Lamentations: Healing Music for Twelve Months and a Day (2005)

Áine Minogue is an award-winning Irish harpist, singer, arranger, and composer, now living in the Boston area. She plays and sings a mix of traditional tunes and original songs, most with Gaelic lyrics. “Song of Keening” wasn’t written explicitly for Holy Week, but it is a funeral lament that uses non-word utterances to express grief. Minogue writes,

In old Ireland, the practice of keening provided a physical and emotional release for those who grieved. Sometimes, keening was a direct emotional response to loss, practiced by both men and women, though particularly by women who had lost young children—a common occurrence in the past, when child mortality rates were significantly higher.

However, often a professional keener was hired by a family as a way of honoring the dead. These professional mourners were always women, and their keening was more stylized, taking the form of an improvisation based on particular structures and handed-down phrases. Though practiced in diverse cultures from Ireland to Greece, keening was generally frowned upon by church authorities, and treated with disdain by those who embraced the trappings of modernity. The practice now has virtually died out.

This piece is improvised in the old style, using old structures and vocables.

Professional mourners (moirologists) were used in ancient Israel too, at least by those wealthy enough to afford them. There’s no indication that any were present at the death of Jesus. In art history the chief mourners at Jesus’s crucifixion and burial are his mother, Mary; John, to whose care Mary was entrusted; Mary Magdalene; and Jesus’s other female followers.

This song appears on the Art & Theology Holy Week Playlist.

Good Friday, Part 2: My God, My God

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.

—Matthew 27:45–50 (emphasis added; cf. Mark 15:33–37)

According to the ESV Study Bible, “Jesus’s call to God in Aramaic (’Eli, ’Eli) sounds similar to the Hebrew name for Elijah (’Eliyahu), which the bystanders misunderstand as a summons to the prophet.” A minority opinion among scholars is that, instead, the bystanders deliberately twist Jesus’s words to further mock him. It was a common expectation of Jews during Jesus’s time that Elijah would return as a precursor to the great day of the Lord (see Mal. 4:5).

What Jesus was in fact citing was Psalm 22, a lament of David, which opens with this searing cry of dereliction: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” A series of raw and wrenching poetic descriptions of suffering and pleas for deliverance, the psalm is nevertheless punctuated with reflections on God’s holiness, faithfulness, and care. Verse 22 (“I will tell of your name . . .”) marks a clear turn in which the speaker moves into a hope that is triumphant.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
    enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
    they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him;
    let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
    you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
On you was I cast from my birth,
    and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Be not far from me,
    for trouble is near,
    and there is none to help.

Many bulls encompass me;
    strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
    like a ravening and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
    it is melted within my breast;
my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
    you lay me in the dust of death.

For dogs encompass me;
    a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
they divide my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.

But you, O LORD, do not be far off!
    O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
    my precious life from the power of the dog!
    Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the LORD, praise him!
    All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
    and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he has not despised or abhorred
    the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
    but has heard, when he cried to him.

From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
    my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
    those who seek him shall praise the LORD!
    May your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth shall remember
    and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations
    shall worship before you.
For kingship belongs to the LORD,
    and he rules over the nations.

All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
    before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
    even the one who could not keep himself alive.
Posterity shall serve him;
    it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
    they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
    that he has done it.

—Psalm 22

Ever since the early church, Christians have interpreted this psalm messianically, as there are many clear parallels to Christ’s passion, which the Gospel writers were well aware of.

To read a new poetic interpretation of Psalm 22 by Andy Patton, visit The Rabbit Room. For an unpacking of the significance of Jesus’s quotation of this psalm, which addresses a common misinterpretation, see the Christianity Today article “He’s Calling for Elijah! Why We Still Mishear Jesus” by Dr. Al Hsu.

LOOK: Enrico Pinardi (American, 1934–2021), Crucifixion with Thorns, 2002. Oil on canvas.

Pinardi, Enrico_Crucifixion

I corresponded with the artist of this painting a few years ago after having found a black-and-white photo of it in the book The Crucifixion in American Art by Robert Henkes (2003). He granted me permission to reproduce the image on my blog, said he didn’t have a color photo. (“The image is kinda black, white, and blue,” he clarified.) I haven’t gotten around to posting it until now. I wish I had thought to ask about its location; I’m assuming it’s in a private collection somewhere, probably in the United States. After searching for Pinardi online the other week to see what he’s been up to, I found that he died January 30 due to complications from COVID-19.

Crucifixion with Thorns captures something of the horror of Christ’s felt abandonment on the cross. In the throes of death, he opens his mouth in a primal wail—the “loud voice” Matthew and Mark speak of, the “God, why?” He is becoming frayed, unraveled. A thicket of thorns tears through his body—or perhaps that is the cross-post (Pinardi’s expressionistic style deliberately makes it difficult to distinguish between the two). He is pierced.

He is also blindfolded. Luke 22:64 says that Jesus’s captors blindfolded him prior to his appearance before the Sanhedrin, striking him and asking him mockingly to identify, if he’s the Son of God, who it was who struck him. Though his eyes were not covered while he hung on the cross, the artist’s choice to cover them here amplifies the sense of his being in the dark, cut off, and also serves to identify him with other victims of political torture.

LISTEN: “My God, My God, Parts 1 & 2” | Metrical translation of Psalm 22:1–22 by the Committee of the United Presbyterian Church, 1912 | Music by Vito Aiuto of The Welcome Wagon, on Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, 2012

The following text was written by committee (with the input of nine Presbyterian denominations) and first published in Pittsburgh in The Psalter: With Responsive Readings (1912), paired with an older tune by Lowell Mason. It covers two-thirds of Psalm 22, omitting the last nine verses—or rather, if you want to look at it this way, compacting them into four lines, as they contain a lot of repetition. I’ve noted in a separate column which verses of the biblical psalm each line of the song corresponds to.

My God, my God, I cry to Thee;
O why hast Thou forsaken Me?
Afar from Me, Thou dost not heed,
Though day and night for help I plead.

But Thou art holy in Thy ways,
Enthroned upon Thy people’s praise;
Our fathers put their trust in Thee,
Believed, and Thou didst set them free.

They cried and, trusting in Thy Name,
Were saved, and were not put to shame;
But in the dust My honor lies,
While all reproach and all despise.

My words a cause for scorn they make,
The lip they curl, the head they shake,
And, mocking, bid Me trust the Lord
Till He salvation shall afford.

My trust on Thee I learned to rest
When I was on My mother’s breast;
From birth Thou art My God alone,
Thy care My life has ever known.

O let Thy strength and presence cheer,
For trouble and distress are near;
Be Thou not far away from Me,
I have no source of help but Thee.

Unnumbered foes would do Me wrong;
They press about Me, fierce and strong;
Like beasts of prey their rage they vent;
My courage fails, My strength is spent.

Down unto death Thou leadest Me,
Consumed by thirst and agony;
With cruel hate and anger fierce
My helpless hands and feet they pierce.

While on My wasted form they stare,
The garments torn from Me they share,
My shame and sorrow heeding not,
And for My robe they cast the lot.

O Lord, afar no longer stay;
O Thou My helper, haste, I pray;
From death and evil set Me free;
I live, for Thou didst answer Me.

I live and will declare Thy fame
Where brethren gather in Thy Name;
Where all Thy faithful people meet,
I will Thy worthy praise repeat.
v. 1

v. 2


v. 3

v. 4


v. 5

v. 6


v. 7

v. 8


v. 9

v. 10


v. 11




v. 12

v. 13
v. 14

v. 15

v. 16


v. 17
v. 18



v. 19

vv. 20–21a
v. 21b

v. 22

One hundred years later, the Rev. Vito Aiuto wrote a new melody for this metrical translation, his only modifications to the text being to substitute out the archaic pronouns (e.g., Thee, Thou) and verb forms (e.g., hast, dost), unless needed to retain the rhyme scheme or meter. He and his wife, Monique, perform the song on their second full-length album along with a team of other musicians, listed here. Sufjan Stevens is among those in the seven-person choir that wails and sings echoes in the first half.

The song opens with a metallic screeching sound, harsh and grating. There are tensions and dissonances in the music, but at verse 5 (around 4:07) a tonal shift happens, as groping in the dark gives way to greater clarity and confidence. The pain is still there, but, like the psalm on which it’s based, it stretches toward hope.

A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, Aiuto is one of the founders of Resurrection Brooklyn, a church network of five Presbyterian (EPC) congregations serving the borough. He has been the lead pastor of Resurrection Williamsburg since it began in May 2005. I had the pleasure of hearing him preach in person at CIVA’s 2019 conference.

I’ve featured retuned hymns by The Welcome Wagon twice before on the blog; see Artful Devotion posts “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed” (for the Baptism of the Lord) and “The Strife Is Over” (for Easter).

“My God, My God, Parts 1 & 2” by The Welcome Wagon appears on the Art & Theology Holy Week Playlist.