When I was a lad, it was the law that every school had a religious assembly and, at my primary school especially, we used to sing 3 or 4 hymns every morning. In the assembly hall, we had two enormous (to a 10 year old) contraptions that dangled enormous hymn sheets from the ceiling.
One of the occasional duties of a 10 year old at my school was Hymn Sheet monitor. There were two monitors to each hymn sheet contraption and, when the music teacher said ‘Hymn number 127’, one of the monitors would undo the rope from the cleat and lower the contraption from the ceiling. The other monitor would then rummage through the giant (to a 10 year old) sheets of paper looking for hymn number 127. After lots of searching and then hefting of hundreds of sheets – each bigger than a 10 year old – the first monitor would heave on the rope to return the contraption to the ceiling and then hang on with all his strength while the other monitor belayed the rope to the cleat.
Then the singing would commence.
The singing was fantastic. I remember one time, we had a visit from the Mayor of Bexley in all his mayoral robes and he pronounced that “he would always remember this as the singing school”.
We sang every one of those hymns. There were the hymns that everyone knows like What a Friend we have in Jesus and All Things Bright and Beautiful and Onward Christian Soldiers but there were also a few pop-songs-turned-hymns like Lord of the Dance, Morning has Broken and Any Dream Will Do from the latest (and first) Rice/Weber blockbuster and plenty of obscure songs that I have never heard before or since.
I was reminded of one of those obscure songs last week – my absolute favourite – when I read the most beautiful passage in the New Testament in Luke while camping at Sunset Beach.
36 And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat. 37 And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, 38 And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.
I loved that song. I wish I remembered all the words. I have the melody down on my harmonica but my memory, and Google, fail me for the lyrics.
Here’s what I remember:
Said Judas to Mary, “O what will you do
With your ointment so rich and so rare?”
“I’ll pour it all over the feet of the Lord
And I’ll wipe it away with my hair.”
“And I’ll wipe it away with my hair.”
Said Judas to Mary, “O think of the poor.
Think of all of the riches you can give to the poor
Something something something
If, your ointment, you sell it today.”
“If your ointment, you sell it today.”
“Tomorrow, tomorrow, I’ll think of the poor.
Tomorrow.” she said. “Not today.
For today I must think of my only true Lord.
For my Lord who is going away.”
“For my Lord who is going away.”
It’s funny how memory works – for that song to spring back into my mind so nearly complete after 30 years. I wish I remembered the rest.
It’s funny too how our collective memory works. So many of the most vivid, rich scenes spring from throwaway one-liners like
7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.
The whole nativity is only 20 verses of Luke, less than that in Matthew and not covered at all in Mark and John. Matthew and Luke made those little bits up but, in 2000 years, we did the rest.