Arguments for Easter: Join in the music of Christ's Passion: In the third of our series of articles for Holy Week, the Provost of Portsmouth, the Very Rev David Stancliffe, argues that music is the art which best expresses the drama of belief.

OF ALL the arts, it is music that moves us most profoundly: while a painting or a play invites us to be spectators, music does more. For the composed score is not the music: indeed, unless a score falls into the hands of performers, it remains alone. But if it becomes ours, and yields itself, to paraphrase St John, it bears much fruit.

It is our creative participation in bringing that dead score to life - of sharing the responsibility of continuing composition even - which attracts us, then forms us, and gives music its springing life and power. But even with a score and a player, there is still an ingredient missing: the instrument, the means by which we transform the notation on the page before us into living sounds.

A few years ago, it was reported that a cello by Antonio Stradivarius had been sold for a record pounds 275,000. Not a lot of money, I reflected, when compared with the prices for a Duccio or Tintoretto, let alone a Van Gogh. But then a cello is not for hanging on a museum wall: a cello is for playing; and cello players, unlike football players, cannot be bought, not even for ready money.

But if you are going to get good music from your cello it needs to be in good order: the fragile, wafer-thin belly can only withstand the pressure of the taut strings if its curves are just right: if the belly is too solid, the sound will be dull and lifeless; if the strings are too slack, there can be no music; too thin or too tight and wood or strings will snap.

It is George Herbert in his poem 'Easter' who explicitly compares such a fragile stringed instrument to the suffering Christ on the Cross:

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part With all thy art. The cross taught all wood to resound his name Who bore the same. His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key Is best to celebrate this most high day.

Herbert's point is that the instrument yields up what it has to give - its music - by its tension, its passion; and that likewise the Passion of God - the stretched body, lifted high on the wood of the Cross - is what discloses His music, His love, and draws us to Him.

As at the heart of music-making there is this tension of wood and strings, of vibrating reeds or vocal chords, so at the heart of the Christian Gospel lies the mystery of redemptive suffering - the claim that we are most fully ourselves as God is most fully Himself in that moment, poised between tragedy and triumph, which we call the Passion of Christ.

Paradoxically, it is in that moment, as the Christ is stretched on the Cross, that we hear the echo of the angelic song. It is in that knife-edge moment between total collapse and soaring music that we are offered our opportunities for change, for growth, for redemption.

This is the heavenly music for which the prophets of the Old Testament longed when they spoke of the day when God's law would no longer be a lifeless score, set in unyielding tablets of stone, but a living and fragile song in the heart of God's people, as they learned to tune their stumbling sounds to His music, to the sweet song of love as yet unknown.

But in the prophetic age that fragile music remained a haunting dream; there was no player: How shall we sing the Lord's song: in a strange land? As for our harps, we hanged them up: upon the trees that are therein.

They did not really believe that His music could be theirs, and that is why, when Jesus began to teach his disciples about the suffering and death he could see ahead, his disciples - and Peter in particular - would have none of it. Success in their terms meant your calling the tune, not surrendering yourself to the will of others, or even of God. But Jesus's message is a simple one. The disciples are called to be instruments of God's Passion, letting his music resound beyond the limits of their known world.

It is a lesson his disciples could not learn in the abstract: nor can we. For us, it is not enough to hear the longing of the Old Testament prophets; not enough to listen to the words of Jesus: like the players of any score, the music must become ours, if others are to hear the harmony and be caught up in it. For it is the paradoxical, topsy-turvy nature of the Gospel of God that it requires, like any music, you and me to bring it to life.

How can this be done? First, by embracing, not avoiding suffering. Modern medicine and the anodyne availability of bread and circuses conspire together to provide ways of avoiding, of softening the experience; of anaesthetising us against 'the sharpness of death'. But Christ did not avoid suffering; he embraced it and was transfigured by it, and his experience must be ours if it is his music that we are to play, and not our own.

Second, by rehearsal. As any musician will tell you, there can be no music, no performance that can win over hearts and minds, without rehearsal.

And a rehearsal - although this may sound strange - is what we are engaged on in the act of eucharistic worship.

It is a rehearsal first and foremost because here we are learning to make a whole of our individual lines: we, though we are many, are constantly being made one body in Christ. Second, it is a rehearsal, a recalling, a going over of the score - of God's saving acts: as we move through the eucharistic liturgy, we experience it for ourselves.

And third, we need to have passion ourselves - a longing, a desire to put ourselves whole-heartedly and without reserve at the disposal of God. For at the heart of the Passion of Christ is not so much his sufferings - they are but the consequence of his passion - but his total self-giving.

How do we enter it? That dynamic community of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, into which the Christian is baptised, is the pattern of self-giving life into which the Christian community is absorbed. As we lose ourselves in this life, rehearsing weekly, daily, the pattern of the eucharistic offering in broken bread and poured-out wine, and as we find ourselves as a result increasingly open and less defensive, we come to realise what living the divine life might mean.

It is just this - this ability to be taken out of ourselves, lifted beyond where we could get under our own steam, and welded together in perfect harmony - that music-making offers us: if anyone asks you to explain the mystery of the Trinity to them, then get them to sing in a choir with you. It is through participating in performing what a composer has written that we complement exactly the divine action of the liturgy in which we are engaged in Holy Week. Here too we are taken out of ourselvesand welded together in perfect harmony.

The Passion of Christ is a living instrument, whose music - the love of God - is ready to sound today.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need
Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Its use is always wrong and, despite CIA justifications post 9/11, the information obtained from it is invariably tainted, argues Patrick Cockburn