Tuesday (today): Although the story about Jesus weeping for Jerusalem precedes Palm Sunday, I'm putting When Jesus Wept, by the early American composer William Billings, on this day. I wish I could link to a performance of it by the Women's Quartet from my old church -- they had a beautiful a cappella arrangement. Failing that, the best I could come up with was this one which is the accompaniment to a dance. I lack the dance gene, both in performing it and watching it, but maybe some of you will be able to appreciate it. This version mixes "When Jesus Wept" with Lewis Allen's "Strange Fruit" ( the Billie Holiday song about lynching). It's very powerful. The words for "When Jesus Wept" are:
When Jesus groaned, a trembling fear seized all the guilty world around.
Wednesday: Did you know that Wednesday in Holy Week is sometimes called "Spy Wednesday" because it is thought that that was the day Judas Iscariot conspired to betray Jesus? Now, I'm a Trinitarian Universalist. (I don't think that's an official denomination at this point, but I could be wrong). So, I think that somehow, Judas found redemption too. Thus for today I choose the old altar call hymn, Just As I Am, which reminds us that we don't have to perfect ourselves -- "Just as I am, thou wilt receive, Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve."
Maundy Thursday: When I was in college I used to go to Hillel dinners on occasion. I was interested in Judaism and also, the food was great! During and after dinner, zemirot were sung: special hymns that are typically sung at table. Matthew's Gospel makes reference to Jesus and the disciples singing a hymn before they went out to the Mount of Olives. Kate Campbell has written and performed The Last Song, which imagines Jesus leading a song in which the disciples join. Listen and imagine.
Good Friday: Well, given that I've purposely eliminated classical music, there are still two pretty obvious choices for this day. One is called "Crucifixion" on the Marian Anderson recording I have, although it's more often referred to as "He Never Said a Mumbalin' Word." However, I couldn't find a rendition to link to. Seek out that CD, Marian Anderson Spirituals -- it is beautiful.
So, then there is the spiritual without which many people I know cannot imagine Holy Week. Whether it's sung on Thursday by churches with no Good Friday service, on Friday, or, as at Up the Hill UMC, by women climbing Tower Hill for the Easter Sunrise Service, we need to hear or sing "Were You There?" In this video, a young and tortured-seeming Johnny Cash sings it with the Carter Family.
Holy Saturday: I don't really associate any particular song with this day, but as I imagine the disciples and how they were feeling, I think they needed balm for their souls. So here is one of my favorites, "There Is a Balm in Gilead," sung by the immortal Paul Robeson.
Easter Vigil: I have never done this. It's not really in the Congregational tradition! But I found this while looking for hymns -- part of the Easter Vigil at St. Gregory of Nyssa, a unique (as far as I know) Episcopal church in San Francisco. Cordeliaknits is taking a confirmation class there as part of their exploration of other faiths and denominations. This is very different from anything I'm used to, and I'm not sure if I could do it regularly, but it is plainly worship.
Easter Sunrise: Supposedly, when The New Century Hymnal was being prepared, this gospel song (not a hymn, as it is not addressed to God) received the most votes both for and against its inclusion. Wisely, the committee included it and added the story behind it; it is meant to convey the feelings of Mary Magdalene on the morning of the Resurrection. Yes, by now you may have guessed, it's "In the Garden." The version I most often sing along to is by Tennessee Ernie Ford, bless his little pea-pickin' heart, but that one has a rather annoying chorus singing backup. Mahalia Jackson needed no backup singers.
The Big Easter Service: Well, there are three hymns that I would always want to sing at this service. Now and again I get my wish, and I can usually depend on at least one. Also, since Easter lasts till Pentecost, there are several more opportunities to sing The Day of Resurrection and Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain. And, if you attend a mainline Protestant church that doesn't sing Christ the Lord Is Risen Today on Easter Sunday, I'd like to know about it, and I'd be very surprised!
I would like to hear your thoughts on my selections, and to wish all those who observe it a blessed Holy Week and a joyous Easter.