Singing the eternal song of God’s love

A Sermon preached by the Dean of Melbourne, the Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, on Remembrance Sunday 2016, marking the Diamond Jubilee of the Foundation of the Friends of Cathedral Music:

Joy-filled song, singing with hearts full of delight and lungs bursting with exultation, is what the coming of God’s kingdom is like, our first lesson tells us. When God comes to meet us, God will sing his song to us: ‘he will exult with loud singing’. God’s song will be heard by nations, and will be taken up by all people, the prophet Zephaniah tells us. God will share his song with us and, as we are wrapped up in his song, our shame is changed into praise, our ignorance into renown. As God sings his song, many others are gathered up in his eternal song of praise. We will know that have returned home, when we all share in the song that God has sung first, when the hearts of all are filled with joy, and the lips of all with praise; when all sing together, in harmony, ‘as on a day of festival’.

Today is a day of festival, and a day when we give thanks for the gift of God’s song as we celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of the Friends of Cathedral Music, and their support in helping us to establish the girls’ voices of the Cathedral Choir. We give thanks for the gift of music; thank God that he promises us that the song he sang at the beginning of creation, calling heaven and earth and all living creatures into being through his spirit-filled song, will one day be on the lips of all people. We give thanks that God gives us the gift of harmony, the joy of joining together in song to praise God, and so to share in celebration together. And we give thanks that God gives us songs to sing as we await, in hope, his coming among us again to lead us all in song, that God gives us songs written by inspired musicians, psalm writers, composers and singers, that give voice to our joy, and voice to our longing for the day when God himself will lead us all in his eternal song.

The gift of music stands at the heart of all worship. We sing, because God has given us a song to share. We sing to celebrate our belonging together as a community of believers. We sing to give thanks, to mourn, to celebrate, to grieve, and to share our conviction that God’s song will carry on when our own voices have fallen silent, when our worship has concluded, our choir rehearsals are over, when our voices have become croaky and our singing breathless; that God’s song will carry on when we breathe our last and come to share the singing of the eternal song ‘in another place and in a greater light’, among the multitude of Saints and angels who stand forever in God’s presence, and who share the song that tells how one day in God’s courts is better than a thousand.

And in order to prepare us for the time when we sing God’s song in his presence, God gives us artists and musicians who, even here on earth, in the midst of the cacophony of many other voices, and often in the absence of harmony, can give us glimpses of the song that will be forever. Our own singing together may be a pale reflection of the beauty and the harmony of heaven, but it is in essence the same: the quality of our song may be different, but the heart of the song is the same. We sing to share together in declaring God’s praise, in telling with confidence of the hope that God will indeed come among us, is in our midst already, and that, because of that hope, we shall fear neither evil nor disaster. We sing to tell of God’s love for us, and to share the song he sings with others. We sing to tell of God’s desire to bring peace to this world, and we share the song of the angels who first spoke of the coming of God’s peace-bearer: ‘glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth’, we sing.

As we await the coming of God among us, God’s people sing the song of patient expectation. In our waiting, we are told to be alert at all times. In the same way in which musicians watch the baton of their conductors, we to watch for the signals of God’s coming. Some of these can be simple signs that we cannot fail to notice if we keep watching, such as a conductor signalling to the choir to stand up at the beginning of a performance or, as our second lesson puts it, like the sign of the fresh growth of spring after a long and hard winter: ‘as soon as the fig tree and other trees sprout leaves you can see yourselves that summer is near’, Jesus tells his friends. These are the clear and certain signs of God’s presence in this world that are easy to see: people coming together to worship is one of those clear signs, just as are the signs of transformation by God of individual lives when people are baptised, confirmed, ordained, or married.

Our second lesson tells that there are not only clear and obvious signs of God’s presence in our world, but that there are many signs that we may fail to notice. Signs that will signal God’s coming, but which may remain undetected. Signs that require us to look intentionally, that require us to hone our observation to perceive them. In the same way in which singers listen out for the entries of the voices around them, we are to keep our senses alert to see, hear, smell and feel the signs of the growth of God’s kingdom in our world, however small they may be. Just as our choristers have to learn to watch both their music and conductor, and listen to the different musical parts around them – the different voices and the organ – all at once, so we need to learn to watch for the small signs of God’s presence among us; listen out for the faint sounds of God’s song in our world.

God promises us that we will never be without the presence of his song if only we take time to listen. We take time to listen to God’s song when we pray, when we listen to his word through the study of the Holy Scriptures, when we share in the symbols of his covenant with us – the bread and wine of Holy Communion; the water we sprinkle at Baptism. These are activities we can share in order to listen more attentively for God’s coming again, so that ‘that day may not catch us unexpectedly’, as Jesus tells his listeners. There is one more thing we need to do to be able to hear God’s song, our second lesson tells us: we will need to tune down the noise that surrounds us – the booming voices of war and terror, the invidious whispers of envy and reproach, the harsh grating sounds of racism or sexism. We will need to guard our hearts from ‘being weighed down with the worries of this life’ to hear God’s song and learn to sing it together.

I give thanks for the gift of God’s song in our lives, and for the musicians who have a share in enabling us to hear the strains of God’s singing among us today. I give thanks for our own musicians, women and men, boys and girls, and their families and friends; all those who support them in their music making. I give thanks this night in particular for the sixty years of inspired service of the Friends of Cathedral Music and our own Music Foundation to support the efforts of those in ‘quires and places where they sing’ to take God’s song into the world around us. And as I give thanks I pray that God would continue to plant his song in our hearts; that he would give us joy to sing aloud, to rejoice at the knowledge of his presence and his love, his protection and blessing. May we hear the song of God in our lives; himself ‘exulting over us with his loud singing, as on a day of festival, changing our shame into praise and renown in all the earth, bringing us home and gathering us in.’ Amen.

© Andreas Loewe, 2016