Saturday, March 17, 2012

Music Notes for March 18

        Today’s first reading is the thrilling conclusion of the books of Chronicles, which recap the genealogies of Genesis and then narrate a history of the kings of Israel and Judah. This is the backdrop against which the lives of the prophets unfold (the “messengers” which the kings failed to heed). Some of the kings were reformers who were able to fend off the influence of their pagan neighbors. Others were weak and corrupt and gave in to foreign influence.  In the end, Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews were exiled to Babylon for 70 years. Their liberator was King Cyrus of Persia, who defeated the Babylonians. We last heard about Cyrus in the liturgy of October 16, when Isaiah makes clear that even gentiles have a role to play in God’s plan.
       Psalm 137 is one of the great laments of the Babylonian exile. It is one of the better-known psalms because it was set to music in Godspell as “On the Willows,” though a footnote in my Bible assures me that they were aspens!  Perhaps we can reflect on the sense in which we as Christians live as exiles in an increasingly worldly culture in which many feel alienated. How can we sing the Lord’s songs in a foreign land?  Do we hold up to scrutiny the underlying assumptions of our economy, our politics, our entertainment?  Here again, resurrection – the return to Jerusalem – is preceded by death. Since we are “God’s work of art,” as St. Paul tells the Ephesians, God is only too ready to provide a second chance, and not because of any project of ours. John 3:16 is probably the most famous gospel passage of all, but those who love to quote it stop too soon: “God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world.” How often do we hear words of condemnation and judgment from politicians and preachers?
       Perhaps we should pray that St. Patrick drive the snakes from our country!  Three of our hymns this weekend use Irish tunes. “Lord of All Hopefulness” also alludes to Jesus’ presumed training under Joseph’s tutelage: “[his] strong hands were skilled at the plane and the lathe.” At our 11:30 celebration, the choir will sing Sir John Stainer’s setting of “God So Loved the World,” from his oratorio The Crucifixion, and a setting of the Irish blessing as a special benediction on the occasion of Fr. Fifagrowicz’ 50th jubilee and 75th birthday.