Forgive me this afternoon if my main object seems to be to preach, quite literally, to the choir.
I hope my words may have some relevance elsewhere too, but let’s start with the singers. Oh my goodness.If you were intent on reducing your Canon for Worship to helpless tears, congratulations. “I was glad…” presses pretty much every emotional button I have available – from the wedding of a dear friend here, to our Diamond Jubilee service – not to mention the many many times I’ve sung it myself in different choirs and different contexts. And, always, of course, it does what it says on the jar – so that I was and a I AM glad that we have come here together into the house of the Lord….
Glad – but sad as well. In other words, a bit flayed, ….raw, vulnerable, open to whatever God might want to do in this final Evensong of our time together.
And, of course, that is often what music does for us. It bypasses our defences – of logic, of busyness, of simple inattention – and forces us to be present and open in the moment.
And the moment is, most often, where we find that we can meet with God.
That’s why this service of Evensong is so important to me, and why each and every voice in our choirs is doing something that matters even beyond excellence in performance. St Augustine said that those who sing pray twice…On a bad day, it may be that we find ourselves substituting singing for any other kind of engagement in prayer, - but on a good day, music builds bridges to God like nothing else and expresses the truth of God in ways that words can simply never aspire to.
And what is true for you as you sing is true for those who listen as well.
We can’t always do faith with our understanding – though that’s not an invitation to switch your brain off the moment you come in to worship. But if you don’t see yourself as a person of faith, or if the readings leave you cold, or with far more questions than answers, the invitation is simply to let the music take over and do what it does best, transforming the moment as it opens a window onto eternity.
Yes, our worship will always be inadequate. How could it not be, when you consider the greatness of a God beyond all words, beyond all telling? The spiritual writer and mystic Evelyn Underhill knew this when she wrote
"If God were small enough to be understood, He would not be big enough to be worshipped"
The hymn we will sing very soon recognises that too, with its opening question
“How shall I sing that majesty…” highlighting the gulf between us, in our human frailty, and the God who has drawn us here
But when we worship, when we turn hearts and minds to God, however much we may struggle with the process, we will find ourselves carried, if we’re only willing to allow it. Just that tiniest movement towards God “Where heaven is but once begun”…sweeps us up in the song of praise that started as the world began, and will continue even beyond its end.
And, you know, the notes that we have sung together in this place will resound in God’s heart forever, for God delights in every movement of the heart towards him. Wherever we are, whatever comes next in our lives, in this place where prayer has been valid for centuries we have begun the work that is ours for ever, to magnify the Lord and rejoice in God our Saviour.
So, let us bless the Lord. Thanks be to God!