The Anglican Lectionary readings for Morning Prayer today take me into a book that isn’t even in the Bibles I grew up with, with the story of Susanna, who is falsely accused of adultery. The Gospel reading is the woman caught in adultery, which is very tidy. Funnily enough, these are not stories which seem to have inspired a lot of music – or if they have, it’s not the sort of music that gets sung in any of the churches I have been spending my time in.
But I did find one, somewhat tenuous, common thread that can, if one squints carefully enough, be matched to an anthem that I am very fond of indeed and that often gets sung in Lent. Henry Purcell’s piece, Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts was written for the funeral services in the Book of Common Prayer, and then revised for the funeral of Queen Mary, which is not very relevant to either of the readings I’ve mentioned above… but the text, or at least the first two lines of the text, actually do fit in quite well.
Susanna, when falsely accused, cries out ‘ ‘O eternal God, you know what is secret and are aware of all things before they come to be; you know that these men have given false evidence against me. And now I am to die, though I have done none of the wicked things that they have charged against me!’. And in the Gospel reading, when Jesus tells the woman’s accusers that he who is without sin should cast the first stone, it is the secrets of their hearts that convict them.
I did say it was tenuous. But it’s tenuous with Purcell, which surely makes it alright.