From Rev. Clarence on 3 Easter, 5/5/2019

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From Rev. Clarence on 3 Easter
5 May 2019
St. James, Somerville

Columbine, Oklahoma City, Charlottesville, Christchurch, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Pittsburgh, Orlando, Sandy Hook, Charleston, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana:

This is Eastertide, a time of great joy and celebration for Christians throughout the world, as well as for non-Christians who are joyful because they know that their Christian sisters and brothers are joyful. And so, why in the name of all that is holy dare I bring into this sacred space the names of only a few of the myriad places where unspeakable violence has been exacted against those who share our humanity? Why, you may well ask, can I not follow the accepted expectation that, like leaving politics outside the church, I cannot leave the mention of such devastation outside? You may well say, we have TV pundit and newspapers that are there to make us aware of human carnage, so why must you? But you see, it is precisely because we celebrate the risen Christ and the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ, in order to bring peace and order to the world, that I think about such things and use this time to ask your prayers for our world. It is the original Jesus Movement which causes me to speak out.

It is not that I am cold and indifferent. I assure you that I do not bask in hurt perpetuated in any form on others. Indeed, having devoted the majority of my life in the endeavor of reconciliation, namely that of educating young people to respect the dignity of every human being that I think about such things. As an ordained servant of the Church, I could, should and do lament. I grieve, even though I know not personally any of those affected. But I need also to understand where God is in all this.

In so thinking about our human dilemma, my thoughts took me back to the 1960’s which brought, oddly enough, a glimmer of clarity. In the 1960’s there were these two TV programs, two soap operas which my friends in college and I would watch. One was called “Search for Tomorrow,” and the other had the title “As the World turns.”

The 1960’s were some years prior to the advent of the VCR which allowed us to record those two favorite TV programs and view them later. Netflix was not even a figment of our imagination. My friends and I would arrange our classes, our science labs if possible, around those two shows. We were addicted. We came to know the cast of characters so intimately, that we could almost blurt out the anticipated script.

And then my parents bribed me to run away from home to Germany and study there for two years. During my bribed exile, clarity concerning life emerged. I survived my deprivation from the soaps. That was the first discovery: I could live without “searching for tomorrow” and waiting for the “world to turn.” I learned as well, after a two-year hiatus, that the cast of characters had not changed, that the issues were the same, that I did not need anyone to bring me up to date on the storyline. The second area of clarity concerned human nature and has direct bearing on my thoughts regarding recent current events: like the story line of “Search for tomorrow” and “As the World turns,” human nature has not changed. And this is precisely why we need Easter with its joy of the Resurrection.
It was this bit of personal history that came to mind as I have watched in recent days and weeks the pundits speculate, accuse, point fingers, and play on our emotions with those same fingers raised in a prayerful position, figuratively speaking, in order to divine and to psychologize the rationale of the violence. Although they claim not to want to stoke our fears of going about living our daily lives or gathering in places of worship, but rather only to keep us informed, they succeed in increasing our fears, for they must sell air time and the printed page. And nothing sells better than fear and negative news.

Of course, my problem was and is, how I could let others know that I have not given up on God and nor God on us. Whether we have the terror of war, whether we have the specter of barbed wire or concrete walls, whether we have the deranged individual or a religious fanatic who takes the lives of others with a bomb or with an automatic weapon, whether abroad or in our homeland, I stand without embarrassment or shame, but rather with conviction, to state to you, that even in the carnage of what we human create for ourselves, God has not deserted us. It is we, not God, who have moved away from all that is true and good and holy. I declare further to you that our Easter faith reminds us that that need not be.

Consider this. We Christians, as well as all those of good will who call God by other names, have long had to struggle against the forces of prince of darkness, to use the language of Martin Luther. As I said just last week to a student on campus, we have rejected the notion of evil, and feel justified in rejecting the institutional church as complicit in acts of evil. We rationalize God out of our lives, because God does not do that magic thing. God does not step in, as in Greek dramas, and demand or take control. Rather, God has given us the will to choose, and when we exercise that free will, unhappy and disruptive and devastating things happen.

So let us talk about Easter. Let’s talk about life after Easter. The fanfare of Easter trumpets, which raised our spirits on Easter Day in this awe-inspiring place, is beginning to fade. There is a silence. There is fear. We find ourselves slipping back into our routine. However, we Episcopalians and others in a liturgical tradition recognize that Easter is a holy season, and as a former rector of St. Bartholomew of NYC has once said, Easter is not a single day event. And so, my challenge this week was to demonstrate that the hope, called forth at the Feast of the Resurrection, on Easter Day, has not been extinguished.

photo 4I turned to Revelations. The Christian Easter Story began with a song—the song which the angels sang in Bethlehem: “Glory to God in the highest and peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.” The Christian story began with worship: the worship of the shepherds and the magi who came in awe with their gifts to the manger in Bethlehem. And, Revelation tells us that the Christian Easter Story will end with worship: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12) “And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ And the elders fell down and worshiped.” (Rev. 5:14) From the song at the manger to the song in heaven, from the worship of the shepherds and magi to the worship of the angels and elders around God’s throne—that is the distance which we and all God’s creation must travel. That is life’s journey.

What earthly good does it do to sing and to worship? I maintain, much in every way. Can you imagine life without music? How would a lover be able to tell his or her beloved about love without music? If we took away an army’s marching song, its rhythm, its cadence, if we took away that which serves to unite them, the army might just find it difficult to function as a well-tuned machine.

Our songs and worship are both a reflection of the heavenly worship and a preparation for it. In a real sense, music is sacramental. It symbolizes heaven’s order and beauty, and for an all-too-brief time brings that order and beauty into this world. In this world we are forced to choose between ecstasy and order, but music speaks of a world in which ecstasy, beauty, and order are harmonized by the divine music. Music helps us to go beyond the isolated tragedies in our existence, to go beyond the tragic event of the day or week.

There is this wonderful Peanuts cartoon that explains it all. It has four frames. Frame one shows Lucy jumping rope, being her usual caustic, obnoxious self. She says to Linus: You a doctor! Ha! That’s a big laugh! Frame two shows Lucy in Linus’ face, berating him: You could never be a doctor! You know why? Frame three has her jumping rope again, as she says: Because you don’t love mankind, that’s why! Frame four shows Linus alone who responds, finally: I love mankind…it’s People I can’t stand!!”

Whether in Syria or Virginia, in Palestine/Israel or South Carolina, in Oklahoma City or Christchurch, New Zealand, in Orlando’s Pulse Bar or Sri Lanka, this is the challenge to our Easter faith. We must never lose sight ourselves or allow others to forget that mankind, to use Linus’ term is just that: the sum total of each individual person, of people and that our self-centered actions have an impact, in some instances deadly, on the whole of human kind.

We need worship because it turns us outward from ourselves toward God. Worship reminds us that who and what we are, life itself, are not our accomplishments; they are God’s gifts. So, worship provides us with an opportunity to give thanks for those gifts.

We worship because the discipline of regular, corporate, public worship lifts our eyes from the secular and mundane to the realm of which John tells us in the Book of Revelation. We worship because it not only turns us toward God, it creates a vital connection with others. The heavenly worship, of which Revelation speaks, is corporate worship. John hears the voice of “many angels.” The heavenly beings who praise and worship God are numbered in the thousands. The great amen is spoken by the “four living creatures.”

Music and worship convey us into the heart of God’s redemptive mystery. And it is this message that we must continue to convey, continuously, to our world that would deny you and me our common humanity, and in so doing would deny us our divinity. Even as some of you jokingly say of yourselves, “you don’t want to hear me sing,” so stand I this morning to say to you, do not give up the song of redemption, for not to sing is to capitulate to evil and to fear. God needs our voices, yours and mine, to sing out the beauty of Creation.

Our opening hymn this morning was “Alleluia! The strife is o’er,” a hymn that captures our Easter faith in its poetry. I would like to suggest to you another hymn, its match. Take a look this week at Hymn 420, forget the score, and just read the true music, the poetry. Read the message of hope and redemption. In that hymn you will find also the entirety of the Easter experience, the story of creation and redemption that will get us through the darkness of the Columbines and Mosque bombings and church burnings. I close my homily with two of the five stanzas:

When in our music God is glorified,
And adoration leaves no room for pride,
it is as though the whole creation cried:
Alleluia!

And did not Jesus sing a psalm that night
When utmost evil strove against the light?
Then let us sing, for whom he won the fight:
Alleluia!

Amen.

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YouTube video of Harvard University Choir singing Hymn 420, When in our music God is glorified