Sunday, May 27, 2012

Twelve Suns for One

by George Herbert

Listen sweet Dove unto my song,
And spread thy golden wings in me;
Hatching my tender heart so long,
Till it get wing, and flie away with thee.

Where is that fire which once descended
On thy Apostles? thou didst then
Keep open house, richly attended,
Feasting all comers by twelve chosen men.

Such glorious gifts thou didst bestow,
That th’ earth did like a heav’n appeare;
The starres were coming down to know
If they might mend their wages, and serve here.

The sunne, which once did shine alone,
Hung down his head, and wisht for night,
When he beheld twelve sunnes for one
Going about the world, and giving light.

But since those pipes of gold, which brought
That cordiall water to our ground,
Were cut and martyr’d by the fault
Of those, who did themselves through their side wound,

Thou shutt’st the doore, and keep’st within;
Scarce a good joy creeps through the chink:
And if the braves of conqu’ring sinne
Did not excite thee, we should wholly sink.

Lord, though we change, thou art the same;
The same sweet God of love and light:
Restore this day, for thy great name,
Unto his ancient and miraculous right.

'Whitsunday' is an interesting word. No one actually knows the origin for sure; it probably originally meant White-Sunday, but very early on people understood it as Wit-Sunday, i.e., the Sunday of Knowledge or Understanding: the Spirit descended on the Apostles with knowledge and wisdom. Its more general and common name, of course, is Pentecost, Fiftieth, i.e., from Easter, since it is seven weeks after Easter. It is the direct Christian liturgical counterpart to the Jewish feast of Shavuot, which is seven weeks after Passover, and which celebrates the giving of Torah on Mount Sinai. 'Shavuot' means 'Weeks', which is often the name given to it (Feast of Weeks), but it is also called the Feast of First-fruits, because it was the time for Jews to offer the first fruits of their labor in the wheat harvest to God:

And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, even of the first-fruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the turn of the year. (Ex 34:22)

And thou shalt keep the feast of weeks unto the LORD thy God after the measure of the freewill-offering of thy hand, which thou shalt give, according as the LORD thy God blesseth thee. (Dt 16:10)

Also in the day of the first-fruits, when ye bring a new meal-offering unto the LORD in your feast of weeks, ye shall have a holy convocation: ye shall do no manner of servile work. (Nm 28:26)

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