O Vos Omnes

O Vos Omnes

Most people I know today would be surprised to discover that while in college I was part of a very traditional, “high church” style choir called the Biola Chorale.  For four years, this group of people were my best friends and it was probably my deep love and involvement in the choir that caused me to take the four and a half year road to graduation as an English major.

One of the things I most appreciated and loved about the Biola Chorale, besides the friends and music, was the director, Loren Wiebe.

He remains one of the most influential men in my life, who spoke words of wisdom that were much needed by the young man I was.  He was a mentor, encourager, conductor, and, as I reflect tonight, spiritual father.

Mr. Wiebe has a deep and abiding love for his Savior.  Every concert we did on tour was a celebration of that love.  We sang songs of joy and happiness.  We sang spirituals and deeply personal songs.  We sang songs in German, Latin, English.  And we frequently spent a large portion of our concerts focused on the death and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Everything from movements from Bach’s choral work, “Christ Lay in Death’s Dark Prison” to a beautiful and haunting acapella arrangement of the final verse of “O Sacred Head Now Wounded.”

But the most moving and memorable reflection on the death of the Savior was an amazingly difficult, terrifyingly hard to perform, and yet altogether astounding acapella song by composer René Clausen, a 9 minute journey through the death of Jesus called “O Vos Omnes.”

Translated into English, it means “All who pass by,” and uses a verse from Lamentations (“All who pass by, see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow”) as its base.  In stunning bass and tenor lines, beautiful haunting words from alto and sopranos, using every combination of chant, traditional hymn, Latin, English, and Hebrew words (Jesus’ words, “Eli, eli, lama sabacthani” are alternately sung, chanted, nearly shouted) possible to create a choral image of the last moments of Jesus’ life on that Good Friday.

I don’t have a recording of the Biola Chorale singing it, but I have this amazing arrangement by the Concordia Choir that is nearly as good.  I can still picture the tension of the moments in a concert leading to this song, which took everything out of the singers.  I can still see Mr. Wiebe conducting it, pushing the quiet moments to near silence while nearly clenching his fists as the louder moments filled a quiet concert hall.  His eyes closed, it was clear his heart was full–full of sorrow, of gratitude, of wonder at the astounding sacrifice of the Savior.

Thank you, Mr. Wiebe, for this song, and for helping me not rush too quickly to Easter morning–to savor the quiet and the darkness and the sadness of the night the Savior was crucified for me.

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