Ride on

Ride on, ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die.
O Christ, your triumphs now begin
o’er captive death and conquered sin.

HeFullSizeRendernry Hart Milman wrote those words in 1827 and these are the words that we will sing tonight, at Evensong. Not the hymn tune that most of us know (we’ll sing that in the morning), but an arrangement by English composer Grayston Ives. It starts quietly, almost distantly, and beautifully. It builds, chord upon chord, darkness in the organ beneath and above the singing, and then finishes with a sense of pause, of watchfulness. You can almost see the dust-streaked, ragged figure at the head of the loud procession in a moment of stillness, contemplating in silence the inevitable culmination of his journey to Jerusalem…

This is the journey that we will all go on this week. This week will take us through that triumphal entry, with the riotous celebration of an oppressed people welcoming their liberator, and we will watch the crowd turning against him, whipped up by those powerful enough to want the removal of a voice of integrity. During the service of Tenebrae we will be present to the slow dying of hope, as each light in the cathedral is removed one by one, leaving us in darkness as we sing the story of arrest, betrayal, trial and execution. On Maundy Thursday our Mass will take us to the night of Jesus’ arrest, betrayed by one who he loved, who was supposed to love him. We will remember his long, solitary hours in the garden, surrounded by sleeping friends who could not possibly  understand, and we will remember too that the Creator of the universe knows intimately what it is to be lonely. And then on Friday we will mourn the brutal death of the Source of love in the world, the unjust victim of a vicious judicial killing. And we will leave the cathedral on Friday, in silence, and we will wait through the bleakness of Holy Saturday to see what happens next.

Ride on, ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die.
Bow your meek head to mortal pain;
then take, O Christ, your power and reign.

Because we do know the end of the story: that the triumph is not the entry into Jerusalem which we celebrate today, but the triumph over death and darkness which we will rejoice in on Easter Day. The end of the story is the dawning of light after a long night of darkness; it is the brightness of hope and the knowledge of new life that we will sing on Easter Day. This week, we sing the knowledge that the Creator of the universe became one of us, lived the brightness and darkness of human life, knew the joy of friendship and the utter bleakness of the complete absence of hope. We sing the darkness of death and the joy of resurrection; we sing hope’s strengthening and the knowledge that the power and reign that Milman speaks of is one of love, and of a force of life that subsumes and defeats death.

Holy week is an exhausting, exhilarating journey, and most choristers will spend Easter Monday recovering. But before that, we will spend the week singing the deepest, most human story ever told. It’s an incredible ride.

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