One of the treasures of Washington is the National Cathedral. Earlier this evening Candice, Andrew, Claire and I gathered together in the Cathedral’s St. Joseph of Arimathea Chapel for the moving and beautiful Good Friday meditation.
There is no more appropriate place to spend Good Friday than the vault-like chapel deep in the heart of the Cathedral named for Joseph of Arimathea, the rich man who went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus in order to provide a proper burial in his own new tomb. The stone and wood space is made for the chants, solo cello, and Taize music of this service. The sounds have a special resonance that envelops the soul.
Cathedral Musical Director Michael McCarthy has structured a beautifully meditative service for this evening, beginning with Gita Ladd playing the groaning Sonata for Cello solo, Op. 28 by Eugene Ysaye. The plainsong chant of Psalm 40 by the gentlemen of the Cathedral Singers begins in the traditional fashion, yet two-thirds of the way through McCarthy underpins the plainsong with spare piano chords that eventually lead into the Taize chant Wait for the Lord. Soprano Diane Atherton’s solos during the Taize chants are a delight throughout the evening.
To my mind, the highlight of this service every year is hearing Mike’s arrangement of the Troparian, and this year was no different. Andrew used to sing as a Cathedral Chorister with many of the men we heard today, and he quickly identified Karl Hempel as the magnificent bass who sang the moving text while the choir repeated the “Give me that Stranger” figure underneath.
When he saw that the sun had hidden its rays, and that the veil of the Temple was rent as the Savior died, Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate, pleaded with him, and cried out: Give me the Stranger who since his youth had wandered as a stranger. Give me that Stranger killed in hatred by his kindred as a stranger. Give me that Stranger upon whom I look with wonder, seeing Him a guest of Death…
Mike told us later that he set these words to music about four years ago at the request of then-Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold specifically for this Good Friday service. It is a marvelous piece that deserves to be recorded and shared.
I could always leave after that canticle, but there is a meditation and more music. Tonight, the musical reflection following the meditation was the beautiful Sarabande to C major suite, BWV 1009 by Johann Sebastian Bach. The solo cello was made to be played in that space on this day, and I’ve included a video of Wen-SinnYang’s version of the same piece below. Enjoy this special meditation on this Good Friday.
More to come…
Image: St. Joseph of Arimathea Chapel, Washington National Cathedral