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Ever since that crucifixion took place on Golgotha, outside of Jerusalem, in 33CE, the victim has been Romanized, theologized, even socialized into invisibility. But the original Hebrew texts and the four Gospels witness to what happened: the ignominious death of a Jewish teacher, Yeshuva, believed to have been the Messiah.

Questions, if asked today, still ponder the depths of this person, still recoil from

the revolutionary nature of his teaching that fired the hearts of his listeners toward radical change. First-century Judea, like or own was corrupted by materialism, secularism, and hedonism; similarly, the gap between the affluent and starving still persists.

Yet, into this morass comes an oratorio, The Passion of Yeshuva (2017), composed by the Persian-American Richard Danielpour. It was time: Yeshuva would not keep silence, having nudged this artist, years before, to present the last day of his life in all his Jewishness. In thirty-seven days, its first draft was composed. That was in 2014. Central to the narrative are the voices of Yeshuva’s Mother and Mary of Magdela.

Continued revision of the Hebrew scriptures and English amalgams from the gospels and the selection of two choruses and five soloists filled out the years until its premier in 2019 by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. The CD was released the following year and nominated for three Grammy Awards at tonight’s presentation: Best Engineered Album, Choral performance, and Contemporary Classical Composition.

However, such acclamation falls short of the substance of Danielpour’s The Passion of Yeshuva. Within the oratorio, Yeshuva speaks. I’m still shivering …

Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to your word. Thus began the pregnancy, like none other, of a comely virgin living in Nazareth, the land of Judea over two thousand years ago. Her name was Mary. Like those with child around her, she moved into the dailyness of the growth in her womb—She marveled.

Her quiet presence nurtured a place within the religious imaginations of her Son’s lowly folk who embellished her story, like His, into carols around the world. One of these honors her pregnancy and dates back to seventeenth-century Germany.  

Maria walks amid the thorn,
Kyrie eleison.
Maria walks amid the thorn,
Which seven years no leaf has born.
Jesus and Maria.

What ‘neath her heart doth Mary bear?
Kyrie eleison.
A little child doth Mary bear,
Beneath her heart He nestles there.
Jesus and Maria.

And as the two are passing near,
Kyrie eleison,
Lo! roses on the thorns appear,
Lo! roses on the thorns appear.
Jesus and Maria.

The carol, referenced in the hymnal Gesangbuch of Andernach, was universally known and liked at that time.

Its composer, perhaps a peasant smarting under conflicted political leaders, identified with Mary’s suffering; she, too, knew the prickly heal of the Romans, whose presence had raped their land, rendering it a place of thorns and bareness.

Yet, the composer’s hope unfurled like a brilliant pennant in his psyche, remembering the fetal life Mary bore in her womb and how it was changing the perception of herself. She would now be responsible in a new way.

Not only did he remember, but he surrendered to this new power already at work through Mary’s willingness to participate in the strange life opening before her. In place of thorns, now grew roses.

The experience of joy quivers our existential depths with sweet wordlessness, then casts an afterimage of longing within its waning. Then, it’s gone altogether, and the humdrum returns—another paper to correct, or a bathtub to clean. Yet we have been visited and pine for its return.

This universal experience, from time immemorial, still raises questions: Is there an ultimate Source of Joy—without ending? How regard such moments when they erupt from our psyches, then disappear? True, major world religions have affixed stories to such intrusions and developed corresponding myths for the inspiration of its adherents.

The Christian myth has held my imagination since baptism; its response to grief, integral to the human condition, has sustained me on this arduous life-path, at times, interspersed with splinters of joy. Only with the discipline of Twelve-Step living in later life, have I been able to stand apart from organized religion and experience the full impact of Jesus’s message of salvation. Therein, lies the fullness of joy, bursting to be shared.

Such bursting undermines today’s liturgy for the Third Week of Advent, especially ringing in Mary of Nazareth’s canticle of praise in Luke’s gospel—her finding greatness and delight in the Sacred:

My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior…  Because He who is Mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

Because she saw so clearly, we are invited to pray in like manner, despite our grungy stuff. In the big picture, that does not really matter.

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