Readings: Acts 16:16-34, Revelation 22, John 17:20-end
What is heaven for you? In this post Ascension period, our thoughts are directed heavenward. We know of course very little about what heaven is or might be, except that in the Gospels there are significant references to food in heaven – the heavenly banquet etc. If heaven has references to food, there are also significant references to the music of creation. On this Sunday after Ascension, and the Sunday before Pentecost, I want to speak about the spiritual and Pentecostal role of music in worship, and about a plan we have right now to offer the renewal we are experiencing to God and the insights of others. Three points - First, music as a vehicle of the Spirit, and second music as mission, and third renewal in our lives.
Music as a vehicle of the Spirit. The act of making music, which of course involves listening, is a spiritual work in itself. Benedict famously said “He who sings once prays twice.” Music of course can have an other-worldly or heavenly character and can speak directly to the heart. In this sense it is Pentecostal or charismatic. It also involves temperament or taste. Winston Churchill famously said of bagpipes, “Best played underwater.” What you respond to in music will be different from what I respond to. For this reason, it’s very important for a Parish Church to have a wide range of styles and repertoires and not be stuck in one groove. This means of course that there is nobody who will like all of the music all of the time, but that’s family life where we don’t always get what we want and sometimes have to step back so that others can flourish. But whatever we like, in terms of taste, is secondary to what music is doing. It has the power to speak directly to the heart, and can circumvent words, always a useful thing for worship in the classical western tradition, which often has placed too much emphasis on the use of lots of words words words in worship. Music, as Scripture tells us and as we know from experience, has the power to heal. I have a friend who has had locked in syndrome for years after being knocked off his bike. The only stimulus he visibly responds to is music. Some of this is of course to do with our own bodies. Music therapists tell me that music with tempi of 70-80 beats a minute echoes the average beat of the human heart. Faster tempi will stimulate, and lower temp will relax. So sleeping during Choral Evensong can also be a spiritually regenerating experience. We believe that that which is made reveals something of its maker. As we await the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost next week, music can be a powerful vehicle for all of us, in releasing those Pentecostal gifts in each individual, and on the church as a whole. Beautiful music should help in creating the beautiful people we can all become through the working of God’s Holy Spirit.
Now Music as Mission. The report of the Archbishops’ Commission on Music says this on music in the liturgy, “Its drawing power should not be underestimated and a parish with a lively musical tradition is more likely to grow in membership than one where the musical contribution to worship is insignificant.” This Parish has been very clear throughout the recent organ project in our rationale for doing this work. It was not, and is not, to give us an expensive new toy to be locked away in a cupboard. It was and is to offer the best to God in worship and in so doing, attracting others to The Way. This extension of the work of the church through music has always been a principal motivating force for me. When we started the work, one of the options open to us with our dying organ was to simply abandon it, and get in a worship band or a CD player with karaoke hymns, as many other places have done. For what it’s worth, not only do I believe we made the right choice, but also that the renewal of the musical tradition of this Parish is leading to significant growth, which in turn could and should lead to renewal in our own spiritual lives.
Pentecostal Renewal. It is this significant growth and renewal which we now wish to analyse and harness in an open weekend which we are calling Blessing for a Change. I do believe that we stand, in this Parish, on the verge of a significant change of gear. For this reason, we are planning a Parish Renewal and vision weekend between June 10th -12th. You will see the details in the handout which comes out today with the weekly notice sheet. We are very fortunate to have secured the services of Canon Robin Greenwood to lead us through this. Robin Greenwood, Fellow of St John’s College Durham has spent a lifetime helping Parishes look at themselves in order to release their potential. Latterly, he has been doing this through a developed theology and practice of blessing and abundance. The basic principle is this – when we know we are blessed, then that sense of blessing will release new energies in an abundant overflowing as we bless all those around us. For what it’s worth, I do believe in my heart that now is the right moment in the life of our Parish to do this. We see significant growth all around us – in our structures, in our activities, and in our building. Now is the time for this new energy to renew each and every one of us in our spiritual lives as we respond with generosity and abundance to this new life all around us. The glass is no longer half empty but half full. For our Parish structures, we will need to have the mechanisms in place to channel the creative energy of the new growth we can expect, not least in younger people and families. We have exciting times ahead.
So in the period after the Ascension and as we wait for the sending of the Holy Spirit are thoughts are directed heavenward as we join in the heavenly music of the spheres. We thank God for the gift of music to speak to our hearts through the work of the Spirit. We thank God for the faithfulness and generosity of the many who have made our regeneration plans come into being, and we plan for exciting and renewing days ahead as we work with God in the Missio Dei with music as a blessing to be shared. As we approach the end the Easter period we can be sure that as we do this work, God is working through us. Words of Jesus which end the Gospel set for today assure us of this fact “the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” As we await the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost may we all pray “Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth.”