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Can You Hear The Singing?

  • May 5, 2019
  • 08:00 AM

Sermon for 5 May 2019 (Pascha 3 Year C)

Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary

Texts:             Revelation 5:6-14; Psalm 130; John 21:1-19

Title:               Can You Hear the Singing?

Alleluia! Christ is risen.                 The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

“Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,

‘To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and  glory and might forever and ever!’” (Revelation 5:13).

My friends, can you hear the singing?

Right now, today, are you tuned in to the correct frequency to hear that singing around the throne of God? And, even more importantly, do you sing along with all creation? Do you join in the universal song of praise?

Let us look again at our text this morning from the Revelation to John. To be honest, this is a book that we Episcopalians tend to avoid. It’s difficult, and confusing, and just plain odd.

But it is also beautiful, and fantastic. Because it presents a vision of this world, and of our universe, as full of music.

This Revelation to John is full of music and sounds and singing. Early on, John has a vision of the Risen Lord and John explains that “his voice was like the sound of many waters” (Revelation 1:15). Each time that John is given a glimpse of the throne of God, there is music and singing all around.

I thought about this text over the last few days as we said farewell to Priscilla Rigg, a faithful and beautiful soul whose entire life was centered on music. And not just any music, but specifically that music and singing that gives glory and honor and praise to God.

It made me think of another faithful soul about whom I heard when I was still in New Jersey. She was named Esther, an elegant woman who lived well into her nineties.

Thankfully, Esther was not afraid of death. Her mind remained clear and her voice strong to the very end. The only frustration for Esther and her caregivers in those last days was communication. Esther was nearly deaf, and everyone was concerned that her deafness would make her lonely in the last days of her life − lonelier than anyone wanted her to be. But perhaps that was not the case.

Two days before she died, Esther turned to her nursing aide and asked, “Who is singing?” The young woman smiled and shook her head. The room was quiet, peaceful. “No one is singing, Esther,” she replied loudly.

But Esther insisted, “Can’t you hear the singing?” This conversation was repeated several times in those last few days. Esther continued to ask those around her, “Who is singing? Can’t you hear the singing?”

It’s impossible to say with any certainty, but perhaps in that thin place, at the transition of death, perhaps Esther could begin to hear the “myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice” around the throne of God, as John described in his Revelation.

My friends, just consider the remarkable claim that is made in this text. John is given a supernatural view into the heavenly realm, and what does he see there? Many strange things, of course, which is what we should expect when looking into another dimension of reality.

But what John also discovers is that, at the very heart of reality, is an ongoing celebration full of joyful singing.

Now, isn’t that good news? Seriously, in our world of anger and violence and wars and climate catastrophes, isn’t this good news?

That beautiful, joyful, harmonious singing is at the very core of existence?

Perhaps it should not come as any great surprise. In every culture, in every society, everywhere, in every generation, there are three things that humans do, and have always done, when we gather to celebrate.

We eat.             We dance.           And we sing.

One of the great triumphs of the liturgical renewal in the twentieth century was a recovery of the basic idea that the Eucharist is a celebration. And that each Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection.

This is why we celebrate Communion as the norm now on each Sunday. We’ve got the eating part of the celebration down pat. And we do lots of singing! We’ll talk more about that in a moment.

But it’s the dancing that we’ve totally lost. And that’s a shame.

I’m not exactly sure how we can recover dancing in our celebrations, but wouldn’t that be great if we could figure it out? Yes?

Anyway, back to music and singing. And let’s back up even a few more steps.

What is music? Have you ever stopped to consider this question? I mean, what is it actually?

At its most basic form, we know that sounds are waves of energy moving through matter. And music is when those energy waves follow mathematical formulas.

So a simple way to define music is energy waves in mathematical patterns.

Ahhh, now it begins to make more sense WHY the presence of God is full of music! After all, God is the energy that creates, inspires, sustains all living things. And we know that this universe is governed by certain mathematical formulas. So, of course, the Creator would dwell in a temple of music – in a realm of continuous energy waves distributed in mathematical patterns.

No one knows exactly what it means for humans to be created in the image and likeness of God. Perhaps this inclination to music is part of what this means.

As far as we can tell, there has never been a group of human beings who did not sing and make music. Even small subcultures like monks who practice silence, well even they chant and sing together on a regular basis.

Music is so basic to the human experience that some evolutionary biologists now theorize that speaking grew out of singing, that singing came first among humans.

Numerous studies have shown that infants can understand musical tunes within a few months of birth. And all of us know the emotional power of music.

Not yet have I ever cried at a funeral. I just don’t. I don’t know why. For me, death is a given, one inevitable part of this journey called life.

I have yet to shed a tear at a funeral, but I cannot count how many times I have cried while listening to music. Certain songs just hit me right here, and I have no defense against their emotional power.

By the way, do you know the oldest recorded example of music being used as a form of psychological therapy?

It is in the Bible! Young David of Bethlehem, before he was King, being summoned to play music for Saul who struggled with depression (1 Samuel 16:14-23).

Around 3000 years ago, it was understood by the Hebrew tribes that music had healing properties. And everything that we have learned since that time has only confirmed what they already knew.

What does it mean for us to claim that the throne of God is surrounded by continual music? That the very heart of God is found in a cathedral of singing and music? A cathedral constructed of energy waves distributed in mathematical patterns?

To be honest, we cannot say what this means with any certainty at all. God is who God is. And God will do what God will do.

But we CAN say that this confirms just how important it is for us to sing together. For us to make music together. For us to praise God together.

All the saints and the angels of are singing to God right now! Can’t you hear the singing?

Open your ears, and your heart, to hear it. And you will find your destiny!  Yes, it is your God-given right to sing the praises of heaven. And it is your privilege, now and always, until the very end of time.

Perhaps this is why the ancient spiritual master named Evagrius once said that “It is a great thing to pray without distraction, but greater still to sing without distraction” (Apophthegmata Patrum Alphabetical Evagrius 3).

My friends, can you hear the singing? Right now, today, are you tuned in to the correct frequency to hear that singing around the throne of God?

And, even more importantly, do you sing along with all creation? Do you join in the universal song of praise?

God is worthy of all praise. May we always lift our voices to offer it. Alleluia! Amen.

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