I am sitting in a pew in a renovated church that serves now as a concert hall.

On stage a string quartet is playing Joseph Haydn’s “Seven Last Words of Christ,” adapted for string quartet in 1787. I am not familiar with this music.

I am here for family reasons. I am not a connoisseur of classical music. It is not that I have anything against fine sophisticated music; it is simply foreign territory. I am unaccustomed to the language of sonatas, concertos, suites and symphonies.

I sense the beauty of the music sweeping over the empty space between the stage and my second row pew; but I am  unclear how to respond to the sounds I hear.

I do know the words which inspired this music. Haydn was meditating in seven Sonatas on the last words the Gospel accounts report Jesus spoke as he was dying on the cross.

Sonata I (“Pater, dimitte illis, quia nesciunt, quid faciunt”)

Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”  Lk. 23: 34

Sonata II (“Hodie mecum eris in paradiso”)

Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Lk.23:43

Sonata III (“Mulier, ecce filius tuus”)

Woman, here is your son; Here is yourmother.” Jn. 19: 26-27

Sonata IV (“Deus meus, Deus meus, utquid dereliquisti me”)

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mk. 15:34; Mt 27:46

Sonata V (“Sitio”)

I am thirsty.”  Jn. 19:28

Sonata VI (“Consummatum est”)

It is finished.”   Jn 19:30

Sonata VII (“In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum”)

Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Lk 23: 46

Perhaps it is my familiarity with the words that shapes my response to the music, or possibly it is a reflection of my own inner state. But it is conceivable that Haydn heard something similar in the Gospel words to what I feel as I listen to his music.

In each of the seven Sonatas, running through all the drama and the agony, I feel a haunting sense of loneliness. Jesus hung alone on the cross. He bore by himself the full weight of suffering, rejection, betrayal and violence.

I too bear the pain and struggle of my life alone.

It is true I know intimacy and connection at some level with a number of precious people I am privileged to have in my life. But, at some point, there is a part of my being that no other person can fully know or completely share. There is a dimension of my being that is always solitary, never fully understood, always inadequately embraced.

In his introduction to Haydn’s music the first violinist has stated that, these Sonatas are not all seriousness and gloom. He claimed that there are moments of joy and tenderness that trace unexpected lines of lightness through each of these seven Sonatas.

I strain to pick out the shards of light, permeating this music. And, there are moments when it breaks through.

Then, as I return to Jesus’ words from the cross, I am surprised to realize that, even here at the heart of brokenness and pain, there are glimmers of brightness that break through the unrelenting darkness of the tragic road Jesus traveled.

Jesus extends forgiveness to his persecutors. He offers a glimmer of hope to a repentant criminal crucified for his crimes. He reaches out with his dying breath to to ensure his mother’s care after his death.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)

So, in my own aloneness there is a glimmer of light.

This music by which people have been deeply moved for 400 years, bears testimony to the reality that, we are connected by invisible bonds that unite us in beauty and light.

I am not alone. Isolation does not have the final word. For those with ears to hear and eyes to see, there are tendrils of tenderness that reach out creating invisible networks of connection that are a bond of beauty between all people. The music serves to deepen our awareness of this connection just as this building in its previous life as a church once served this purpose in a different way.


This is not the quartet to which I was listening. But it is a beautiful rendition of Haydn’s creation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QtsDmWl71fk