Here’s what I said on Sunday evening for the Royal School of Church Music – Music Sunday Massed Choirs Evensong
Video available here.
Just a few thoughts before our prayers – a few thoughts about what we are doing here tonight.
I had it in mind to preach such simple things tonight. I was going to take as my starting place the story we heard of David playing his lyre to sooth Saul’s soul when Saul the King got crazy with his violent rages.
My intention was to come up with a great paean of praise to music itself. For we do celebrate Music Sunday here.
I was going simply to stand here and list the glories of the West End Festival that those of us who live in this city are enjoying and to sing the praises of the Royal School of Church Music under whose banner so many good things happen.
I had it in mind to stand here like the conductor at the end of the Last Night of the Proms and to list the glories of our summer days. Of concerts and happenings and sung services and festival masses. And to cry for the glories of music, for music is inherently good.
But something happened as I was sitting down to write this rhapsody of words in praise of music.
Something happened that made me realise that what we do here in St Mary’s this night is more, so much more than simply making great and glorious sound.
I sat dreamily looking out of the window thinking how to convey in prose the truth that music is inherently good when I heard a noise.
Boom. Boom. Boom, boom, boom.
The noise that tells me as I live in these streets that there’s something coming my way which I find uncomfortable and sad.
Yes, before I knew where I was I was hearing the angry drums and the shrill sound of the fifes as one of the big Orange Walks passed by my flat.
Was I so sure, as they all swaggered by, that music is always good?
No. Experience told me as I sat there the very pity of the human condition – that all the creative arts can be used to build or to destroy. Can be used for good or for woe.
So I find myself here rejoicing in all that has happened in festival time. And yes, singing the praises of the Royal School of Church Music. But just a bit more. I find myself sure and certain that it matters what we sing. For what we sing is who we are.
Each year, we try to set aside one Choral Evensong amongst the many services that get sung here in St Mary’s for this big gathering. Special music and special people come to make a lot of noise in singing God’s praises.
At the heart of all those services of Evensong is a song that will never die whilst there are people of goodwill to stand against bullying, prejudice and hatred.
Mary teaches how to live and how to pray and how to sing.
My soul magnifies the Lord she sings
And the proud and haughty are brought down.
Our souls magnify the Lord.
And as they do so, we sing a world into being where the hungry are fed, where the mighty find their seats wobbling under them.
As our songs of praise magnify the Lord, Mary teaches us , just as surely as she once taught our Lord himself how to sing songs of justice and of peace.
It matters what we sing. It matters who we are.
It struck me as I sat and thought about it how interesting it is that as Anglicans we are given official encouragement through the liturgies of the church to pray or even better to sing Mary’s song every day.
We are to recite the creed on Sundays and special occasions but we are encouraged to repeat the Magnificat daily.
In other words we are encouraged to think about our beliefs when our minds are dressed up in our Sunday best thinking. But the songs of justice are for every day we live. For the kingdom is to be brought in with every breath we breathe.
Having come to this great holy place this evening, here’s a spiritual practice for you to take away with you if you don’t already have one.
Take Mary’s song and pray through it daily as day turns to evening.
It is a simple spiritual practise and easy to remember.
And as you pray, sing if you can for to sing is to pray twice, as Augustine said.
And as you sing, pray for a world turned right-side up, God will be with you as surely as God is with all those who struggle for freedom and struggle to be good.
For God’s mercy is from generation to generation.
And what God’s people have sung since the time of the apostles, God’s people must go on singing as long days turn to winter evenings.
For as we sing the kingdom of justice and joy into being, God will draw close to us and will help us to know that all things shall be well and help us to ensure that all manner of things, all manner of things shall be well around this confusing and muddled world.
And then, oh yes, then, all our songs shall be joyful. And then, oh yes, all our music shall indeed be good.
And all singers shall know love and joy and peace.
And the sound of angry drums shall be heard no more in this or any other land.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.