Music is, in so many ways, all about the phrasing. When you experience someone as a “very musical” performer, the technical musical thing that is happening is phrasing–phrasing that best showcases the emotion or meaning of the music being presented. For the best musicians, phrasing becomes like breathing and requires little thought. Most of the rest of us work at it most of the time.
But one of the most important things we learn, as we learn to phrase, is this rule: the high note is hardly ever the point of the phrase. This rule applies to singers and to instrumentalists; the most important thing about a phrase is its destination…and it is usually not the highest or most exciting note. Phrasing is a journey, a conversation, something organic.
So when I picked up my devotional book this morning (The Song Forever New: Lent and Easter with Charles Wesley) I was excited to see that the readings continue through this week, a week referred to in the liturgical calendar as the octave of Easter (octave here referring to the 8 days after Resurrection; in music, referring to an interval of a perfect 8 steps). I couldn’t help draw the analogy with what I know musically: the high note (Easter) is definitely not the destination of the phrase that we call the Gospel narrative.
Why “the octave of Easter”? Well, an 8-day feast of celebration has been common in liturgical practice since the earliest days of Judaism (Lev. 23:36); 8 was considered a sacred number, a number of completion. There is an entire system of greater and lesser octaves in the liturgical calendar of the Catholic church. This particular liturgical octave provides us with is the same as the gift of the liturgical calendar itself: a framework for remembering and meditation, a framework to help us navigate our way from the high note (Easter) through the rest of the phrase (life). The octave of Easter let’s us take a breath (literally, for those of involved in leading worship during Holy Week) and remember the personal encounters of those who met the Risen Christ in those first chaotic days, and to think about the power of the Resurrection in our own lives and just how we can participate in and bear witness to its transformative power. The greatest part of the phrase is yet to be sung, sung when we live into the promise of Easter.
And so, for the next eight days, we practice the discipline of remembrance once again. Paul Wesley Chilcote, the author of The Song Forever New, takes as his text for the day John 20:11-18…for today is the day that we remember the women who found the empty tomb and offers this hymn written by Charles Wesley (remember, a hymn is the text, not the song…but if you want to sing this after you read through it, the best tune is that used for Come, Ye Thankful People, Come, a hymn tune known as St. George’s Windsor):
Happy Magdalene, to whom
Christ the Lord vouchsafed t’appear!
Newly risen from the tomb,
Would he first be seen by her?
Yes, to her the Master came,
First his welcome voice she hears:
Jesus calls her by her name,
He the weeping sinner cheers.
Highly favored soul! To her
Farther still his grace extends,
Raises the glad messenger,
Sends her to his drooping friends:
Tidings of their living Lord
First in her report they find:
She mus spread the gospel word,
Teach the teachers of mankind.
Who can now presume to fear?
Who despair his Lord to see?
Jesus, wilt thou not appear,
Show thyself alive to me?
Yes, my God, I dare not doubt,
Thou shalt all my sins remove;
Thou has cast a legion out,
Thow wilt perfect me in love.
Surely thou has called me now!
Now I hear the voice divine,
At they wounded feet I bow,
Wounded for whose sins but mine!
I have nailed him to the tree,
I have sent him to the grave:
But the Lord is risen for me.
Hold of him by faith I have.
Hear, dear followers of the Lord,
(Such he you vouchsafes to call)
O believe the gospel word,
Christ hath died and rose for all:
Turn you from your sins to God,
Haste to Galilee, and see
Him, who bought thee with his blood,
Him, who rose to live in thee.
May we, too, like the Magdalene and the women at the tomb, hear the call and believe. Blessed Easter Monday to you all.