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Three Reflections: "Live and Move and . . . " "Pass Away" and "Hands"

First Reflection: Live and Move and . . .

Bach was not much older than a boy when he wrote the funeral music we will soon hear. We do not know whose funeral it was and yet it is clearly music for every funeral, for yours, for mine. Drawing on a wealth of Scripture, Bach celebrates life in the midst of death. He celebrates that in God we live and move and have our being. We do so when we are being nursed at our mother’s breast, when we take a seat on the first school bus, when we graduate for the first and second and third times, when we marry, when we parent, when we take each new job, and even when we breathe our final breath.

Listen to Bach’s Actus Tragicus and you will hear him declare that life is a gift from God to be celebrated even in death. In this relatively short piece of music, Bach invites Christians to remember their own story. It is a story in which tragedy is ever present and suffering is not reserved for the foul at heart, a story in which the sign of the community is an instrument of death-dealing, a cross, and yet a story in which even human violence cannot overcome God’s intention that we live and move and have our being as children of a loving and life-giving God.

Listen to Bach’s words beneath his words, Bach’s music beneath his music. Listen and live.

Second Reflection: Passing

After four decades of leading worship during Holy Week, I still find myself somewhat surprised at how many people, faithful people, take a pass on Holy Week. Life serves up enough reminders of our mortality on every newscast that we hardly need a week of reminders. We already know the outline of the Holy Week story. We know that Jesus was betrayed, denied, tortured, executed, but enough already. Enough!

So, why should it be a surprise at how many people go from waving palm branches and shouting, Hosanna as we will do next Sunday to singing, Alleluia! He is risen. He is risen, indeed on Easter morning? For, he is risen! He is risen, indeed! Why, of all weeks of the year, is Holy Week one never to leapfrog over?

Even at age 22, though, Bach knew why. He knew the danger of skipping Holy Week, pretending that our sorrow is insignificant in light of God’s promise of new life, that our grief is simply a brief and passing phase on the rapid road to joy.

Late in her life, poet Mary Oliver, also knew why. I carry her poem, Heavy, with me every Holy Week and for every other week in which sorrow and loss refuse to take a backseat, refuse to be ignored.

She writes:

That time

I thought I could not

go any closer to grief

without dying

I went closer,

and I did not die.

Surely God

had his hand in this,

as well as friends.

Still, I was bent,

and my laughter,

as the poet said,

was nowhere to be found.

Then said my friend Daniel

(brave even among lions),

“It is not the weight you carry

but how you carry it—

books, bricks, grief—

it’s all in the way

you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,

put it down.”

So I went practicing.

Have you noticed?

Have you heard

the laughter

that comes, now and again,

out of my startled mouth?

How I linger

to admire, admire, admire

the things of this world

that are kind, and maybe

also troubled—

roses in the wind,

The sea geese on the steep waves,

a love

to which there is no reply?

Holy Week is finally about “a love to which there is no reply,” a love so immense, so tender, so all-encompassing that Bach could finally do no other than to put it to music, ironically, to music that unlike all else will never “pass away.”

Third Reflection: Hands

Your hands knit me together in my mother’s womb

Your hands held me tight when her water broke

And clapped for joy when I took my first step

Your hands waved gladly when I started my first job

Your hands guided my hands and my lover’s hands

And never let me doubt that love knows no season

Your hands fell softly on my chest when I could barely breathe

Your hands stroked my forehead with a blessed balm

And held me tight when I fell into the abyss

Your hands lifted me out of the land of no-living

Your hands molded new life out of no-life

And led me into the land of the living

Your hands

Your hands

Your hands

(a poem by Gary W. Charles)

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