Joanna cried quietly while she walked to the tomb. She and her companions did not need to speak. They knew each other’s grief and pain. There was nothing left to be said. On Friday they had stayed until the bitter end. Watched him breathe his last. Watched the soldiers take him down. Watched them lay him in the tomb of that kind man who offered because he, too, had been changed by Jesus. They had spoken and cried aloud on the way home from the tomb…”how could this be? What would we do now?” Then they were loud. Now they were quiet as they re-traced their steps back to the tomb. There was nothing left to say.
There were only tasks left to do. They knew the task with which they were charged. They would wrap the body with spices and fragrant oils, the same way that their mothers had, and their mothers before them. In a way, it was comforting…something that they could do in their grief. Joanna knew that she was a servant. She had always been a servant, taking care of the other children and their needs when she was young. Watching after her older family members as she grew into young adulthood. And now, she was a servant in the most humble and profound way she knew. Caring for a body after death. It brought her a sense of peace to know that she could serve in this way. But that peace was put on edge as they neared the tomb, for something didn’t seem quite right…
Antonio was a servant, as well. He was born in Venice in 1678, and ever since he was a little boy, he wanted to serve God and others. He had wanted to be a priest as long as he remembered, and when he was fifteen he began preparing for the priesthood. He studied for a decade and was finally ordained when he was 25. He quickly gained the nickname the “Red Priest” due to the color of his hair, and he was assigned to work at the Ospedale della Pietà, a home for orphans and the needy. Finally, his dream to serve had been reached! He delivered the mass and cared for those in need at the Pieta.
But his ability to serve in this way was short-lived. He had always had poor health, what was often called a “tightness of the chest,” likely some form of asthma. He was simply unable to keep his breath throughout the Mass, and suffered greatly when he attempted it. Before long, after only a short time serving as the priest he had so longed to be, he resigned his position and was granted a medical dispensation. He resigned in grief and embarrassment.
Joanna showed up at the tomb ready to serve, to accomplish the task that she knew well. But quickly she understood that this was not to be her task that day. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” asked the men in white at the tomb. The empty tomb. “He is not here, but has risen.” The women looked at each other, and they knew what they had to do.
Joanna was born a servant. She became a proclaimer. It was Jesus who was raised from the dead, but that morning something came alive in her. Joanna and her companions were the first to proclaim the good news of Jesus’ Resurrection. They were the first preachers of the Gospel. Now, it doesn’t mean that the disciples believed her and the women…they called it an “idle tale.” But because of the news they told, the wildfire had been kindled. The fervor began to spread. Joanna and the women raced through the streets and through the homes, spreading the good news to all who would hear it. The servant had become the proclaimer. According to some scholars, Joanna was one of the first leaders in the early church, and a preacher referenced by the Apostle Paul. That day, something came alive in her. She had an Easter story to tell. And that story changed the world.
Antonio didn’t hang his head too long. He was passionate about his faith and about the Church, but he was also passionate about music. Even though he could not serve in the way he felt that he had been called, he began to understand his calling in different terms. Something had come alive in him.
Antonio—like Joanna—was born a servant, but became a proclaimer. He proclaimed the good news of the Gospel through his music. He found he had a bit of a talent for writing music, so he began composing for the choirs at the Pieta. Over the next thirty years he worked there, composing over sixty sacred works for the choirs at this orphanage and children’s home. The choirs and the leadership there appreciated his talent, but so did the rest of the world. He grew in his acclaim far beyond Vienna, and his works began to be performed elsewhere. Antonio continued to write…over time, he wrote more than 90 sonatas, 46 operas, 500 concertos, and a vast amount of sacred choral music.
Including the piece that you are about to hear. Antonio Vivaldi wrote this version of the Gloria about 15 years after he had left the priesthood. But just because the “Red Priest” could no longer preside over the mass, doesn’t mean that he wasn’t proclaiming the good news! Through his music, he shared the faith that he had always had from the depth of his soul out to the tips of his talented fingers. Today, the real sermon belongs to Antonio. Because he, too, had an Easter story to share, a Resurrection song to proclaim!
This morning, may Vivaldi’s love for his Risen Lord radiate out from the depths of your soul to the tips of your fingers. May they inspire you to ask how you might be called to proclaim—like Mary, and like Antonio. And may they transfigure you to the place of deep worship as we listen together to the Red Priest’s masterpiece.