The Passion

The Passion of Jesus is the story of his last days and hours on earth leading to his death on the cross. The earliest Christians believed the story reveals something previously hidden, something crucial. (Paul: “I preach Christ crucified.”) Through Jesus’ death God reveals the divine plan for salvation, a plan rooted in this world and human life in this world and in particular Jesus’ miracles, teaching, suffering and death in this world.
The four gospel versions of the passion are traditionally read during holy week in Christian churches. Beginning as early as the 8th century, the passion was chanted. Through the centuries more elaborate musical settings were written, ultimately producing verions with several soloists (each taking the part of narrator or character such as Jesus or Pilate) accompanied by multiple choirs and orchestras. (Wikipedia: Passion, Oratorio; musical settings of the passion.)
We intend The Passion and Death of Jesus according to the gospels to be a Passion Oratorio for our time. Instead of constructing a consensus story blending all four, we literally let the four voices tell their own story. The chorales encapsulate and intensify the story the gospel writers tell. In the four arias and the quartet (and only then) we step outside the gospel story for reflection.

Scenario

The Passion and Death of Jesus take place a long time ago, in a very different culture, so some of the things people say and do seem strange in the 21st century.
We have tried to produce a clear and lucid translation of the Greek that reflects the intended meaning.
The story takes place in eight scenes:

  1. A dinner party a few days before Passover (movement 2): A woman breaks in uninvited and anoints Jesus. He says that for this she will always be remembered.
  2. In Jerusalem, the last meal shared by Jesus and his disciples (movements 4,6,8,9): Jesus gives final instructions, predicts his betrayal, and tells them all to remember him.
  3. On the path to Gethsemane after the meal (movement 10): Jesus tells them they will all fall away that night; after Peter protests he will not, Jesus says Peter will deny him three times.
  4. Gethsemane, later that night (movements 11,13): as the disciples rest, Jesus prays; then a mob led by Judas seizes Jesus, and all the others run away.
  5. The high priest’s palace, later that night (movement 14): The mob brings Jesus to the Sanhedrin (Jewish supreme court); they examine Jesus and determine he deserves to die. They send him to Pilate.
  6. The courtyard outside the high priest’s palace, the same time (movement 15): Peter has followed Jesus and joined the mob awaiting Jesus’ fate; they suspect he is a sympathizer, so Peter denies he knows Jesus. Suddenly the cock crows and Peter remembers what Jesus had said.
  7. The governor’s palace, early morning (movement 17): Pilate, the Roman governor, examines Jesus, decides he is innocent; the Jewish leaders and the crowd demand Jesus’ death; Pilate gives them the choice of saving Barabbas, a criminal, or saving Jesus. In response to the screaming mob Pilate sends Jesus out to be crucified.
  8. Golgotha, a hill outside Jerusalem, later morning through mid afternoon (movement 18): Jesus is crucified and dies.

Arias, the Quartet, the final Chorale

Six movements supplement the Gospel Passions.

  1. Alto aria. Luke places the story of the dinner party at which a woman anoints Jesus long before the passion, and says she has a bad reputation. This aria (movement 3) explores why a marginal woman would seek out a well-known healer.
  2. Bass aria. Peter recalls first meeting Jesus, and his realization that Jesus is the anointed one (movement 5).
  3. Soprano aria. In John’s last supper story, Jesus orders Judas to betray him. Judas recalls how he came to receive this commission and his own feelings about it. (movement 7).
  4. Tenor aria. Alone of the four, Mark’s Jesus prays to Abba, “daddy” (movement 12).
  5. The quartet. In the midst of Jesus’ suffering four of the people closest to Jesus contemplate his impending death (movement 16).
  6. "Come dance with me!" The apostles and the church declare Jesus still dances.

The entire piece is presented in three acts.

Bible Sources

The oratorio includes every word from the passions of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Most of John’s passion is included, where John is similar to the synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke) or expands on a theme (Luke’s parable of the leader who serves is turned into the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in John). Luke and John have in a few places been reordered to match the sequence of events in Matthew and Mark. Most of the translations are literal rendering of common Greek into common English; in a few cases of the overfamiliar we have taken poetic license.

Listening to the Oratorio

You can listen to the entire Gospel text set to music on this site, or purchase the CD set to listen at leisure and to own a printed copy of the parallel texts. Listening, you can hear when the four evangelists tell the same story because the music is a quartet, and the text is found in all four columns.
To purchase the CD click on "Order the CD." To see the gospel test and listen right now, click on "Audio and Text."

Scott R. King