5th Sunday after Easter: Choral Evensong
St Barbara’s 01.05.16
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Songs can bubble out of us in unexpected ways.
A sign of happiness is when we find ourselves singing without thinking, maybe when in the shower, or wandering down the street.
Songs can be used at times of defiance. I remember as a trainee teacher and not coping with the unruliness of the classes I was teaching, driving home each evening, playing one particular track over and over again, because it was a song that sang of not getting beaten down, of overcoming the odds. I was in need of the resolve to keep going.
Songs can help us express deep sadness too. I remember in my early twenties attending funeral after funeral in the townships of South Africa, and the songs that were sang around the grave continue to move me to tears to this day.
Have a think. I wonder what songs provide the soundtrack to the story of your life. Which songs bring memories flooding back? Which songs bubble up in you when happy? Which songs do you turn to when sad?
Music has that effect on us. I was struck last week listening to Radio Five Live that a number of listeners had phoned in to request the station to stop playing music tributes to Prince. They could cope with news reports of his death, but the listening to his music proved too emotional for some.
Well, our reading from the prophet Zephaniah in the Old Testament is further testimony to the power of song.
The prophet calls out: “Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart!” The people are summoned to exuberant praise: sing… shout aloud… rejoice…! And to do so “with all their heart”.
And the Psalmist exhorts us in Psalm 47 to: “Clap your hands together, all ye people: O sing unto God with the voice of melody… O sing praises, sing praises unto our God: O sing praises, sing praises unto our King.”
In both cases, there is cause for rejoicing. There is the promise that God will transform disaster into salvation. In Zephaniah, the message of the prophet up to this point has been one of desolation – the disaster that is to come upon the people of Israel, in the form of the Babylonian Empire that will shortly come crashing down upon them. But in the midst of that is the hope that God will not forget them. He will save them. There is hope. And that hope is worth celebrating, and celebrating in song.
And for the Psalmist, writing at a different time in Israel’s history, he is able to celebrate the crowning of a king of Israel, or the anniversary of their coronation, which is the occasion on which this Psalm would have first been sung, whilst looking forward to the coming of a greater King: “For God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises with understanding.”
As with the people of Israel, the soundtrack to our lives should be filled with the songs of thanksgiving to God, for what he has done and for what he promises to do in our lives.
I wonder how many of the songs that we sing when moved by joy, or sadness, by hope or despair, are those songs that sing of God.
But it is not just us who sing. In a wonderful window into the nature of God, the prophet Zephaniah tells us: “God will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” God sings too. It is a wonderful picture. Maybe our desire to sing, to make music, reflects that, made in God’s image, we want to do as God does.
And the song he sings over us is that of love. If you’ve ever held a baby in your arms, you may have found yourself instinctively humming or singing to them, especially if they are distressed. This is the image here. God sings over us, with love and compassion.
Extraordinary though it may seem, God takes delight in each one of us. He sings over us with a melody full of love.
And it is his song of love that ultimately provides the soundtrack to all our lives. Let us listen well to hear it.