Pathways through Lent

Lent in a Minor Key

by Barbara Van Woerkom

The Fifth Saturday of Lent

Jeremiah 31:27-34 Psalms 42, 43, 137, 144 Romans 11:25-36 John 11:28-44 or 12:37-50

I welcome the Lenten season each year because it gives me the opportunity to contemplate the immense sacrifice Christ made for us. It’s also a time when the music we sing and listen to is, much to my joy, set in a minor key. Now, I’m not a depressed person, but I revel in the music of melancholy⎯music that sounds sorrowful yet is so pleasingly beautiful. I find that such music lends itself to deeper emotions and feelings than we may be aware of or even want to awaken. It can enhance our contemplation and our understanding of sorrow.

It also gives great joy and peace. John Dowland, the Elizabethan composer and a contemporary of William Shakespeare, was a master of melancholy. He said that “pleasant are the teares which Musicke weepes, neither are teares shed alwayes in sorrowe, but sometime in joy and gladnesse.” There’s no doubt that the exuberant joy that Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus brings is a wonderful experience. But the final chorus of Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” is achingly magnificent and so appropriate for Lent, with the last note ending in a major key of hope and peace. I’m grateful for these moments in our calendar when music can bring us closer to an understanding of the suffering and magnificent sacrifice of the Lamb of God.

(Final Chorus of St Matthew Passion by J.S. Bach. Performed by Malmö Chamber Choir and orchestra on April 8, 2009, in Lund Cathedral, Sweden. Conducted by prof. Dan-Olof Stenlund.)

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