From the beginning the celebration of the New Life in Jesus Christ has been accompanied by song, sometimes as simple as setting the words of the Gospel to chant so that the voice carries further and the cadence and flow of words has a carrier, sometimes as mantra like repetitive phrases over which our petitions are made, sometimes in contemporary ways suited to culture and age.
I am reminded of this in anticipation of the lead up to Good Friday and the Celebration of Easter here in Lewes, the village by the Delaware Bay and by the Ocean. We will do our chanting, our psalms of lament and praise and joyful hymns of New Life in Christ. But this year they will echo in my thoughts several services in the Philippines - in Zamboanga City, Mindanao, and at the National Church offices in greater Manila. The music and its context were both familiar to us in the US and quite different in flavor and presentation. Here are three short clips of the use of "Bless the Lord, My Soul," the chanting of the Gospel, both done by students at St. Andrews Seminary, and a praise song by the young people's praise band at Good Shepherd Church Zamboanga City.
As we approach these most Holy Days let us remember all our sisters and brothers throughout the world who will raise voice in song to Praise the Lord and bless the Holy Name. We will praise and bless going up to the Cross and down to the tomb and again up higher to Christ Jesus resurrected.
There are all sorts of church fights, but few of them involve people shouting songs at each other. Somehow in the moment of song, both of lament and of joy, the voices spread across the seemingly intractable valleys of death that separate us one from another.
In Minneapolis 1976 following the vote on the ordination of women, a friend and I got on an elevator in one of the hotels off to join a celebration party. A bit of an extrovert, and filled with joy, I turned to someone who had just gotten on the elevator and said, "What an amazing day, and to think it happened on the octave of the death of Chairman Mao!" This went over very badly, and I saw in the eyes of that person that he was not happy about the vote. There was silence, and I was ashamed for having been so brash (I was brash then). Then for some reason I began to sing softly, "Alleluia, Sing to Jesus..." My friend picked it up and did a harmony. I turned and smiled sheepishly at the third fellow, who looked back with somewhat softened glare, and then he too joined us. At the next stop others got on and joined in. Some were happy, others sad, but they all knew the words. After several more floors the one who I had divided myself from got off. He waved. We kept on and sang our way to the top of the hotel, and then back down again, and up, and down. The songs were the old old songs of faith we all knew (the 1980 Hymnal hadn't made it yet) and we mostly did pretty well on the harmonies.
I have no idea who that man was and if he ever forgave my foolishness or came to peace with the decisions made at that Convention. I hope so. I do know that the connection that overcame our immediate division, not to mention my foolish comment, was in the music.
The Episcopal Church in the Philippines is close in my heart and yet when I find myself feeling like a stranger it is prayers and music that makes me realize I am home.
My sense is the Communion is less about Covenant and more about breaking bread and offering praise even when we know we are not one in mind. The heart carries us where the mind can never sustain.
Have a Holy Week.