Singing the new song

File:Sierck-les-Bains Église de la Nativité 150022.JPG

Saint Cecelia, the patron saint of musicians

Watching for the Morning of May 8, 2016

Year C

The Seventh Sunday of Easter / Music Appreciation

This Sunday, in our parish, is Music Appreciation Sunday in which we give special acknowledgement to all the musicians who contribute so much to our worship through the year. Accordingly, our liturgy is adapted for extra music and the theme of praise. Psalm 98 (Sing to the Lord a new song) and Psalm 92:1-4 (It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High) begin our worship. The choir will sing, the handbell choir will play – we even have a guitar and accordion prelude. There are many contributors to the service and we thank them all.

Sunday we stand between Ascension Day and the Day of Pentecost, between the narrative of Jesus ascending to the right hand of God and the Spirit descending to empower the witness of the believers. We are near the culmination of this Easter season, near the dawning of that day that marks the gathering of the nations and the Spirit poured out on all people, men and women, young and old. The dawning of that day in which the world is born from above and God’s law written on every heart. The dawning of that day when mercy triumphs and peace reigns.

And so we will hear Jesus pray for his fledgling community, and for all those who will be drawn by their testimony, that they may be one as he and the Father are one. We will hear of Paul and his companions singing God’s praise in the Philippian jail, when an earthquake breaks every bond and opens every door. They bring life and grace to the Philippian jailor who will wash their wounds and himself be washed into Christ. And we will sing the new song, for “the LORD has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations.” (Psalm 98:2NIV)

The Prayer for May 8, 2016

Almighty God, whose will it is to unite all things in your beloved son,
whom you have raised to sit at your right hand;
unite our voices in that great song of praise
born of your love and mercy
and make us faithful as his body in the world;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The texts for May 8, 2016

Psalm 98 (Sing to the Lord a new song)

Psalm 92:1-4 (It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High)

First Reading: Acts 16: 16-34
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened.” – Paul and his companions are arrested after conflict erupts when Paul casts out a fortune-telling spirit, robbing her owners of their income. Though an earthquake sets them free, they do not flee as if they were criminals – and they stop their jailor from harming himself when he assumes he has lost all his prisoners.

Gospel: John 17:20-26
“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” – Jesus concludes his prayer for his followers with a petition that all those who come to faith may be united as he is united with the Father.

The Prayer for Easter 7, year C

Eternal Father,
fountain of mercy and source of light and life;
help us to abide in you
that we may be worthy vessels of your love;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The texts as appointed for Easter 7, year C

First Reading: Acts 16: 16-34 (as above)

Psalmody: Psalm 97
“The Lord is king! Let the earth rejoice.” The poet celebrates God’s reign over the heavens and the earth.

Second Reading: Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
“Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.”
– The concluding blessings and declarations of the book of Revelation.

Gospel: John 17:20-26 (as above)

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASierck-les-Bains_%C3%89glise_de_la_Nativit%C3%A9_150022.JPG  By GFreihalter (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Singing harmony

File:Savault Chapel Under Milky Way BLS.jpg

Wednesday

Psalm 148

3Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars!

I switched my major from Math to Medieval Studies my second year in college, much to the surprise and bewilderment of parents who wondered how I was going to earn a living with that! But I was enamored with the medieval vision of the harmony of the spheres. (I also needed to fulfill a language requirement and German wasn’t working for me. Fortunately Latin did: it was a math problem on paper rather than a conversational challenge. My eyes are better than my ears.)

The medieval world imagined the skies as a series of concentric spheres, crystal clear, in which were embedded the planets and stars. As they rotated around the earth they sang like a finger on crystal wine glasses, and together lifted up a song of rich and wondrous harmony. Amidst the cacophony of the world and the grief of my brother’s death, such harmony was alluring.

It still is.

I joined the church choir because I have always wanted to learn to sing in harmony. It’s work for me. Fortunately our music director is gracious and patient. But every now and then I get it and it’s wonderful.

I watched a bit of a nature show on PBS last evening. Nature is pretty brutal up close. A crow ate all the eggs of the sage grouse the filmmaker followed. And there was a pretty graphic but amazing shot of a small eaglet working to wolf down a whole ground squirrel. It may not be exactly a dog-eat-dog world but it is an everybody-eats-somebody world. Ruthless even in its beauty.

But there is this vision in our psalm of a world singing in harmony. There is this Biblical vision of a world conceived in love and established as a garden – a world that got broken but will be remade, renewed, redeemed. This is the culminating vision in the Book of Revelation: Out of the world’s chaos and terrors will be born a Jerusalem in which the light never fails and the gates are never shut. It is the world of the empty tomb, and the word of grace, and the shared table, and the holy bath, and the Spirit of God poured into every heart, and the eternal song of joy – a song our eternal choir director, long-suffering and patient, never gives up trying to teach us.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASavault_Chapel_Under_Milky_Way_BLS.jpg  By Benh LIEU SONG (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A community of grateful praise

Friday

Colossians 3:15-17

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Saronno, Santuario della Beata Vergine dei Miracoli, Concert of Angels, fresco, 1535

With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.

We tend to think about ourselves as individuals, but this verse is spoken to a community. There is science to back up the importance of living in gratitude, and it is a valuable practice to make note in a journal or conversation or prayer the things for which we are grateful each day. But our author is speaking to a congregation, an assembly of believers.

With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.

Individual gratitude tends to look upon the material realm – gratitude for our children, for friends, for partners, for something good that happened in the day, for a kindness we were able to give or receive, for a reassuring health report, for finding a job, solving a problem, completing a task. All of this is important, but the community is responding to something far different than a good day; it is singing the praise of God for God’s redeeming work in Christ. The community sees not only God’s individual mercies, but God’s cosmic mercies. It sees faithfulness and love written into the fabric of all existence. It sees grace and life as life’s ultimate truth and the creation’s destiny. It hears the harmony of the spheres. It hears the angel choirs. It hears the trees of the forest singing and the sea roaring its praise.

The Christian congregation is a community of grateful praise.

When we come together on that first day of the week in which Mary and the women found the grave empty, we come to sing and dance in the light of creation’s new morning. We come to rejoice that heaven has come near to earth, that the city in the heavens that corresponds to the Jerusalem on earth is “coming down” to earth like a bride adorned. The realm of life is joining this realm on earth where fear and death struggles mightily to reign. When Jesus casts out demons and heals the sick he is not working individual gracious miracles, he is bringing that realm where demons cannot dwell and sorrow and sighing flee away.

I certainly praise God and am full of gratitude for every good thing – the privilege of a morning cup of coffee, the delight of good bread, the goodness of a nice wine, the joy of a family gathering, the warmth of the sun, and the possibility of a hot shower, however brief it may be in a time of drought. This is why Christians have a practice of saying grace with their meals. Even if breakfast is no more than a piece of toast eaten on the run, we give God thanks.

But the most important work of the Christian community is to sing together, to sing with gratitude, to remember and live and bear witness to the grace and life that is the heart of all things.

 

Image: Gaudenzio Ferrari [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Created to sing

Watching for the Morning of June 7, 2015

Year B

The Second Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 5 / Lectionary 10
A Celebration of Music

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der Neustädter Hof- und Stadtkirche St. Johannis, Hannover am 4. Advent 2011

This Sunday our parish is departing from the assigned texts for June 7 as we focus on a celebration of music. It is not uncommon for congregations to choose a day at the end of the school year to honor its choirs and musicians. This year, however, we wanted to do more – to speak about the importance of music in our spiritual lives.

Song reaches deep into the most primitive parts of the brain. As every parent of a teenager knows, we are very sensitive not just to the words people say, but the tone of voice they use. It evokes a deeply instinctive reaction in us.

It is by song and vocalization that every species communicates fundamental messages. I can hear birds singing as I write this and, however beautiful I may find their song, I know it means “This is my turf” or a seductive “Come hither.” We wouldn’t coo at babies if the sounds themselves didn’t do something to bind adult and child together.

There are times God thunders at Israel, and times he speaks in a deep stillness – but most of what we have of God’s direct speech is poetry. God communicates with us not in the dry data of legislation, but the passionate, poetic imagery of the prophets.

And we speak to God in poetry – in songs of love, songs of anguish, songs of hope, songs of joy. Our communication with the divine is not through text messaging; it is in song.

So this Sunday we will hear Moses and Miriam lead the men and women of Israel in the song of celebration that Egypt’s army is fallen and the people free. We will hear Zechariah sing with joy at God’s faithfulness: through Zechariah’s newborn son John – whom we will come to know as John the Baptist – God is beginning his work of our redemption in Christ Jesus. Paul, or someone in Paul’s name, calls us to abide in God’s word and sing together our praises. And the psalmist calls for all creation – sun and moon and creeping things – to join in a universal song of praise to God.

We were created to sing.

The Prayer for a Celebration of Music, June 7, 2015

Almighty God, before you no one can stand;
yet you lift up the fallen and raise up the broken
and all creation sings your praise.
Grant us confidence in your mercy and joy in our hearts
that we may join the song that resounds into eternity,
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for a Celebration of Music, June 7, 2015

First Reading: Exodus 15:1-21
“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.” – Delivered from Pharaoh’s army, the people of Israel stand at the far side of the sea singing.

Psalmody: Psalm 148
“Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights! … Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps.”
– The poet calls all heaven and earth to join in praise of God.

Second Reading: Colossians 3:15-17
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.”
– The author calls the Christian community to a common life of joy, praise and song.

Gospel: Luke 1:57-79
“Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God.” – At the naming of his son, John, (John the Baptizer) Zechariah confirms the name John, regains his voice, and sings the “prophecy” we know as the Benedictus: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them…”

 

Binding the strong man

Year B

The Second Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 05 / Lectionary 10

File:Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg - The Angel Binding Satan - Google Art Project.jpg

The Angel Binding Satan, Philip James de Loutherbourg

The appointed readings for this Sunday take us back into the dramatic conflict of Mark’s Gospel. Jesus has stormed onto the scene, casting out demons and healing the sick, traveling the countryside announcing the dawning of God’s reign. It is aberrant behavior for a construction worker, in a society that doesn’t tolerate aberrant behavior.

There can be only two explanations for such behavior: Jesus is possessed by the devil or a prophet of God. But prophets are rare and Jesus’ challenge of the Jerusalem leadership guarantees he will be regarded as possessed. So Jesus’ family comes to collect him, to take him home, to silence him and so keep him safe. But Jesus will have none of it. Satan cannot cast out Satan; a house divided will fall. His family is the community of those who do God’s will, who live the kingdom now. And he is the strong man who has bound Satan and plunders his house.

The Prayer for Propers B 5

Eternal God, font of Grace and Mercy,
set us free from all that binds us
and make us faithful to your will,
that we may be counted as members of your household,
now and forever;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The appointed Texts for Propers B 5

First Reading: Genesis 3:8-15
“They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” – God confronts Adam and Eve after they have eaten of the tree that brings the knowledge not only of life’s joys but its sorrows, and condemns to the dust the serpent who poisoned their trust in God.

Psalmody: Psalm 130
“Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD. LORD, hear my voice!”
– The psalmist cries out to God for mercy and declares his confident hope in the LORD’s redeeming.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
“So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”
– Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth contains many ups and downs. Though he has been attacked and criticized within the congregation – and suffered trials for the sake of the Gospel – these bearers of the message do not lose heart. The sure promise of the dawning kingdom and their participation in that healed and transformed (resurrected) world sustains them.

Gospel: Mark 3:20-35
“He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” – Jesus is accused of using demonic powers and his family comes to collect him. But Jesus declares that a divided kingdom cannot stand and his true family are those who do the will of God: “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

 

Photo: By Buddi1947 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Painting: Philip James de Loutherbourg [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The song lingers

Sunday Evening

Isaiah 51 (as sung in the psalmody today)

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Western Meadowlark. Kevin Cole from Pacific Coast, USA

11 “The ransomed of the Lord will return,
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads;
sorrow and sighing will flee away.”

The hymns from this morning linger in my mind. I find myself humming or singing or just hearing in my mind the words “A-a-a-le-lu-u-jah, A-a-a-le-lu-u-jah, A-a-a-le-lu-u-jah, Christ the-e Lord [something] comes to reign.” (I had to go find my hymnal and look it up. That uncertain line is “Christ the Lord returns to reign.”)

At different times in the day different phrases from that hymn has rattled through my mind.

Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain

But, since I don’t know this hymn very well, after these few words I resort to the “dah, dah, dah”s. Still, the music of the hymn, the majesty and – not quite joy, but ‘uplift’? – of the hymn I remember. It is like an echo coming back across a broad valley, or the aroma from yesterday’s bread that reveals itself when I return to my apartment.

Worship is meant to do this, to linger. The words spoken, the readings, the songs, the prayers, the actions of standing and sitting, giving an offering, and coming to the table, the sharing of the peace – they are all meant to work not only on our conscious mind but our subconscious. The peace is meant to linger. The sense of our lives being connected to something greater than ourselves is meant to ripple through our day, our week. A warmth of human connection, a hug, a smile, a gesture as simple as sharing a bulletin, may waft through our day with positive emotions. Of course, a harsh word, a cold shoulder can also haunt the day. This is the risk we take in being with others.

The liturgy didn’t go smoothly this morning. It was storming outside. Between the storm and the holiday weekend, the gathered community was small. The Assisting Minister didn’t show up, nor the acolyte. I had forgotten I agreed to get someone to sing the verse of “Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel” that transitioned us from announcements into the lighting of the Advent Wreath before the entrance hymn. And I didn’t know who, if anyone, was prepared to light the wreath – the person assigned to that task was late arriving. Then the printer wouldn’t work for my sermon. We weren’t quite prepared for the beginning of this Advent season that is about preparation. Ah, well.

We do enter God’s presence stumbling. We do not arrive with manicured nails and tailored suits; we arrive as we are: frail in our best times, capable of great ugliness in our worst. We come as representatives of a humanity that is rioting in Ferguson, shooting children with toy guns in the assumption they are criminals; bombing cities, kidnapping children, assaulting women for indecent clothing. We come disillusioned by fallen heroes – the world has lost some of its remaining innocence with the revelations about Bill Cosby. And the missing football player is added to a tragic list of suicides. We come as members of a human community that has profoundly betrayed our creator’s intention for us – and yet also as members of a human community capable of remarkable generosity. Who could imagine Bloods and Crips standing together to protect another’s property? For every one who throws a rock there are others helping to clean up. For every killing marred by racism there are acts that transcend the most fundamental human divides. For every act of violence, manifold kindness.

We come together to sing our frail song and, somehow, God in his infinite grace transforms our song into true praise – into a meadowlark’s evening call, into the sound of wind in the aspens, into the harmonies of the spheres.

Our small words become vessels of God’s words, our bit of bread a vehicle of Christ’s presence, our prayers draw eternity to us and us to the eternal.

It is truly wondrous. And, in spite of ourselves, the tune lingers.