02 April 2021

Poems for Holy Week 2021:
6, Katharine Tynan, ‘All in an April Evening’

‘Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world’ … the Byzantine-style crucifix by Laurence King (1907-1981) in the crypt of Saint Mary le Bow on Cheapside in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Friday 2 April 2021

Good Friday, The Three Hours, 12 noon to 3 p.m.

Reading: John 18: 28 to 19: 16a.

Our second poem for these ‘Three Hours’ on Good Friday is ‘All in an April Evening,’ by the Dublin-born poet Katharine Tynan (1859-1931), or Katharine Tynan Hinkinson.

Her nephews included the comedian Dave Allen (born David Tynan O’Mahony) and his brother Peter Tynan O’Mahony, one of the journalists who recruited me to the staff of The Irish Times in the mid-1970s.

Despite its opening line, the title of this poem is taken from the last stanza, drawing attention to the real subject matter, which is not the beauty of pastoral scenes in the countryside at Spring time, but the Crucifixion and death of Christ on the evening of Good Friday.

TS Eliot opens ‘The Waste Land’ with the words:

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

But Katherine Tynan has a very different impression of April days. Her poem became popular and well-known after it was set to music by Sir Hugh Roberton (1874-1952), who gave it a tender and light but reverent setting for two-part chorus and piano accompaniment. Based on a wonderful poem by Katharine Tynan, this memorable song is steeped with pastoral imagery and natural energy.

During Lent, as we move on from the lambing season, it has been a pleasure to watch the lambs in the fields growing, yet still dependent on their mothers for guidance, protection and safety. The lambs in the fields are a reminder that God’s Creation is at its best and most beautiful when it is nurtured in unconditional love.

Now, on Good Friday, we face one of the ironies or paradoxes of our faith, in which the Good Shepherd becomes the Lamb of God.

Throughout the Liturgy we refer to Christ as the Lamb of God – in the Gloria, when we say: ‘Lord God, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world.’ Prayer 2 in Holy Communion 2 in The Book of Common Prayer refers to Christ at Passiontide, Holy Week and Easter Week as ‘the true passover Lamb.’ In Agnus Dei, we proclaim: ‘Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God, who has taken away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.’

The Lamb of God is the title given to Christ at his Baptism in the Jordan by Saint John the Baptist, declaring: ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1: 29), and exclaiming: ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ (John 1: 36). Christ is the True Lamb who takes the place of the sacrificial Paschal Lamb of the Passover (see Mark 14: 12).

In the Prophetic literature, the word ‘Lamb’ means both servant and lamb. Christ is the Suffering Servant who is spoken of by the Prophets, and who sacrifices himself for his brothers and sisters.

To understand this a little more we read Isaiah where the Prophet speaks of the Suffering Servant:

He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53: 3-4)

In the Acts of the Apostles, the Apostle Philip explains this passage about the Suffering Servant to the Ethiopian courtier: ‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth’ (Acts 8: 32-33).

The Lamb that was slain in order that we may enter more deeply into the Mystery of Christ’s saving act of Redemption, and we still meet him in the Eucharist, in the Word proclaimed, and in service to one another and to the world.

‘All in the April morning, / April airs were abroad; / The sheep with their little lambs / Pass’d me by on the road’ … sheep grazing with their lambs on the Curragh, Co Kildare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

All in an April Evening, by Katharine Tynan

All in the April morning,
April airs were abroad;
The sheep with their little lambs
Pass’d me by on the road.

The sheep with their little lambs
Pass’d me by on the road;
All in an April evening
I thought on the Lamb of God.

The lambs were weary, and crying
With a weak human cry,
I thought on the Lamb of God
Going meekly to die.

Up in the blue, blue mountains
Dewy pastures are sweet:
Rest for the little bodies,
Rest for the little feet.

But for the Lamb of God
Up on the hill-top green,
Only a cross of shame
Two stark crosses between.

All in the April evening,
April airs were abroad;
I saw the sheep with their lambs,
And thought on the Lamb of God.

‘Standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene’ (John 19: 5) … ‘Crucifixion with figures’ (1952-1958) by Graham Sutherland (1903-1980), chalk, ink and wash, in a recent exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 18: 28 to 19: 16a (NRSVA):

28 Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate went out to them and said, ‘What accusation do you bring against this man?’ 30 They answered, ‘If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.’ 31 Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.’ The Jews replied, ‘We are not permitted to put anyone to death.’ 32 (This was to fulfil what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)

33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ 34 Jesus answered, ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’ 35 Pilate replied, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?’ 36 Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ 37 Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ 38 Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’

After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, ‘I find no case against him. 39 But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ 40 They shouted in reply, ‘Not this man, but Barabbas!’ Now Barabbas was a bandit.

1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2 And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. 3 They kept coming up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and striking him on the face. 4 Pilate went out again and said to them, ‘Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.’ 5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Here is the man!’ 6 When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.’ 7 The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.’

8 Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. 9 He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 Pilate therefore said to him, ‘Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?’ 11 Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.’ 12 From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, ‘If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.’

13 When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, ‘Here is your King!’ 15 They cried out, ‘Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but the emperor.’ 16a Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

Collect of the Word:

Merciful God,
who gave your Son to suffer the shame of the cross:
save us from hardness of heart,
that, seeing him who died for us,
we may repent, confess our sin,
and receive your overflowing love,
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Antoinette Fleming’s Dancers (1988) in the Katharine Tynan Memorial Plot in Tallaght (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Continued this afternoon

This afternoon’s first poem

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

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