He Went On Ahead (Artful Devotion)

Jesus Entering Jerusalem by Nathan Simpson
Nathan Simpson, Jesus Entering Jerusalem, 1999. Oil on canvas.

And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem . . .

—Luke 19:28

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SONG: “My Lord” by Hiram Ring, on Home (2013)

 

This Sunday marks the start of Passion Week, with Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, where he is greeted by palm branches and Hosannas. By Thursday, though, these shouts of praise will devolve into “Is it I?,” “I do not know him,” and “Crucify him!”

In a series of simple verses, Hiram Ring’s blues-inflected song “My Lord” moves from Jesus’s triumphal entry to his agony in the garden (where he drinks heavily the bitter draft of suffering) to his crucifixion. The final two verses shift then to his resurrection and his exaltation in heaven.

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Agony in the Garden by Nathan Simpson
Nathan Simpson, Agony in the Garden, 1999. Oil on canvas.
Resurrection by Nathan Simpson
Nathan Simpson, Large Resurrection, 1999. Oil on canvas.

I’m compelled by the Gospel narrative paintings of contemporary Australian artist Nathan Simpson. These are a few I saved from his website a while ago before it went under construction. In Simpson’s Agony in the Garden, Christ’s anguish is palpable. The image combines the Gethsemane narrative with all the suffering that lies ahead, culminating in death. A row of olive trees forms the horizontal beam of a cross, while a rooster (alluding to Peter’s betrayal) forms the vertical; Christ’s head, with swollen eyes and gaping mouth (“My God, my God . . .”), is the point of intersection.

Simpson’s Resurrection painting, by contrast, shows a Christ who’s victorious over death, his face serene. The artist plays with the popular “tree of life” motif, fusing Christ’s body into this flowering, bird-filled plant. An arborescent Christ! See how the nail wound in his left foot is also the tree’s hollow.

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In their latest blog post, SALT Project suggests a simple at-home Holy Week ritual for families that I really like: a Tenebrae Wreath (tenebrae means “shadows”).

Imagine . . . a sort of Advent Wreath in reverse: four candles in a circle with a Paschal candle in the middle, extinguished one by one. Sunday night: beginning with only the Paschal candle lit, read Luke’s story of Palm Sunday, and then light all four candles in joy, hope, and thanksgiving. Thursday night: read Luke’s story of the Last Supper, and extinguish one candle; then read Luke’s story of Gethsemane, and extinguish a second. Friday night: read Luke’s story of Peter’s denials and desertion, and extinguish a third candle; then read Luke’s story of Jesus’ suffering, and extinguish the fourth; and then finally, read Luke’s story of Jesus’ death, and extinguish the Paschal candle. Saturday, the wreath remains unlit and bare, perhaps shrouded with cloth. And Sunday morning, the shroud is gone and all candles are lit, with a few more candles added—along with some flowers and Easter sweets! Read Luke’s story of the empty tomb, and sing your favorite Easter hymn (or two).


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 Palm Sunday and the Liturgy of the Passion, cycle C, click here and here.

Hail to the King (Artful Devotion)

Entry into Jerusalem by Julia Stankova
Julia Stankova (Bulgarian, 1954–), The Entry into Jerusalem, before 2002. Tempera, gouache, watercolors, and lacquer technique on wood, 40 × 22 cm.

The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

—John 12:12–15

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SONG: “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” | Music: Traditional Hebrew folk tune | Words: Sophie Conty and Naomi Batya (stage name: Nomi Yah), 1974 | Performed by Glenn Tompkins, 2011 | CCLI #23952

This Hebrew folk melody, with its gradually increasing tempo, is in the tradition of the Israeli hora, or round dance. In 1974 two Christian gal pals, Sophie Conty and Naomi Batya, put their own words to it when they were only thirteen. Since then the song has been published in at least sixteen hymnals. I learned about it two Palm Sundays ago when we sang it at my church. Tying it to that particular liturgical occasion was, I think, a really insightful choice on the part of the music leader. The beats are evocative of a clopping donkey, and the quickening pace builds tension, as when Christ approached the swell of praises in Jerusalem that preceded his doom.

It was hard to search for recordings of “King of Kings” because the title is such a common one. I’ve found that it is often performed by children’s choirs (replete with side steps and hand motions!), and the rock band Petra covered it in the late eighties. I chose to feature this solo accordion arrangement because it best captures the flavor of the song. Even without a vocalist, it’s easy to follow along:

King of Kings and Lord of Lords
Glory, hallelujah
King of Kings and Lord of Lords
Glory, hallelujah

Jesus, Prince of Peace
Glory, hallelujah
Jesus, Prince of Peace
Glory, hallelujah


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 Palm Sunday, cycle B, click here.