Music for Sunday, 29th April: Easter 5, Year B

The readings for this week are:

Baruch 3:9-15, 32-4:4 or Genesis 22:1-18
Acts 8:26-40
Psalm 22:25-31
1 John 4:7-21
John 15:1-8

It’s still Easter, so you still need that reading from Acts as the first or second reading; but now there’s an option on the first reading, so it could be either Baruch or Genesis.

The reading from Baruch is a sort of hymn in praise of wisdom, and associating wisdom with the commandments of God.

Genesis is the command to sacrifice Isaac, and Abraham’s obedience until God calls the whole thing off and sends a ram instead. To say that this is one of the more difficult texts in the Hebrew Scriptures is something of an understatement: the expectation that Abraham, in his faithfulness, should be willing to sacrifice his son; the idea that God would ask such a thing, even if it was only a test; and there isn’t much in there about how poor Isaac feels about the whole thing, or his obedience to his father. One Christian interpretation is that the ram is an allegory for Christ — the Lamb of God — who dies so that we don’t have to.

That Lamb is central to the reading from Acts, too, in which Phillip meets an Ethiopian eunuch (don’t let anyone tell you gender was binary in the ancient world) who asks him about a passage from Isaiah: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth.” The eunuch asks to be baptized, and Phillip is happy to oblige.

Psalm 22 is appropriate to a set of readings where we are hearing about sacrifice — this is the psalm that Jesus was quoting when he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” from the cross. The portion of it for today is rather more cheerful than that, though, detailing that all who seek him shall praise the Lord, all the ends of the earth, all the families of the nations, even the dead.

1 John is still exploring the idea that God is love, and what that means for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” This idea of abiding in love, dwelling in love, is very beautiful.

The Gospel reading is Jesus talking about being the True Vine. He talks about pruning: pruning of dead, fruitless branches, but also of the live ones to make them bear more fruit. And then this language of abiding returns: “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”

What music, then? The Lord as sheep rather than shepherd is worth exploring, and the Agnus Dei is an obvious text, so have a look at Mass settings. Ramona Luengen has a lovely Missa Brevis for SSAA a cappella, which you can purchase and listen to on Soundcloud; the Agnus Dei begins at about 3:43:

Jocelyn Hagen has a setting of Blake’s The Divine Image which I think might also be suitable, particularly for the last couplet:
“Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell,
There God is dwelling too.”

The language, being Blake, is simple and straightforward, if slightly antiquated — but the idea that “all must love the human form, In heathen, Turk, or Jew” is certainly relevant to the idea that we should love our brothers and sisters, and is also a good mirror to the psalm’s proclamation that all the nations of the earth will worship God. I’m not really doing Blake’s text justice, here, but this is not a poetry blog! The work is for treble choir, SSATB, piano and oboe, and you can see a perusal score and order a download or hardcopy at Jocelyn Hagen’s website; I couldn’t find a recording online.

Of course, when talking about God as love, Ubi caritas is always appropriate. I mentioned two settings in my post for Maundy Thursday but I’m sure there are many more by women! For example, there’s a lively SATB+divisi version by Emily Feld which you can listen to and purchase via MusicSpoke, or listen to on Soundcloud:

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