July 22, 2018
Categorised in: Sermons
Preached by Canon Sue Wallace, using Jeremiah 23.1-6 at Sung Eucharist on Sunday 22nd July 2018, the Eighth Sunday after Trinity.
We have come to the end of another choir year, and it is the Precentor’s privilege to preach at this service. I’m sure you will forgive me if I particularly direct my words in the direction of the choir, whilst not excluding those of you who are gathered here today to worship.
Some of you will know that I play the harp (not very well), but then I only began playing nearly four years ago. My playing is nowhere near good enough to do the Britten ceremony of carols, but I do take it to the Taize service which happens in the evening once a month. Because the big harp is hard to shift if I am pushed for time I bring the little harp which is rather like the harps carried by the angels or King David in the various windows and carvings in our cathedral. There is a picture of one of these beside Jane Austen’s grave and another in the wall behind the pulpit.
One evening I was nipping across the close carrying this little harp, and, as the evening was fine, and I didn’t have much time to prepare for the Taize service I left the harp attached to it’s stand and didn’t cover it. It was a windy day, and for a moment I paused in my walk. I could hear someone, somewhere, playing what sounded like a kind of etherial synthesizer noise. It stopped. Then I walked on again and heard it once more, and it was then that I realised. The noise I was hearing was the wind playing the harp-strings, and in that brief moment I felt I was hearing a tiny snatch of the song of creation.
It was Pythagoras who is credited with the being the first human to identify that the pitch of a musical note is in inverse proportion to the length of a string (ie that the long strings give low notes and the short strings high notes). He also reputedly spotted that the intervals between different sounds form mathematical ratios. Pythagoras is also credited with believing that the sun, moon and planets move according to mathematical equations and resonate, making a form of music. “There is geometry in the humming of the strings. There is music in the spacing of the spheres.”
If we fast forward to this century, it turns out that he was right. Although space is a vacuum and sounds cannot therefore be heard, it turns out that planets, stars and comets emit radio emissions, which have been recorded by spacecraft such as Juno and Voyager and turned into sound. You can hear some of this eerie “Music of the Spheres” for yourself on the NASA website.
It is an amazing thought. Planets, stars, comets, all creation itself is singing, singing constantly in praise of the Creator. It isn’t just the planets that are making song. Those of you who have been around for a while will remember the robins singing alongside the choir in a strangely perceptive manner, particularly at Easter the other year, out-blasting a full choir Te Deum and weaving their melodies around ours in Easter joy.
For those of you who have been choristers you have been privileged to be part of that song which started long before you were born – and you can still join in the song of creation, even if the notes are lower, or even a bit croakier than they used to be. I would therefore like to encourage everyone, not just the choristers, to never stop joining in this melody in some way as best you can. For if you do stop the words of Jesus as he entered the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday warn us “If the disciples keep silent, the very stones will cry out”.
The music of creation even runs through our veins and our heartbeat. Research on people’s internet music playlists has shown that most people prefer music that aligns to their heartbeat at walking pace and I’m sure you can guess that they choose faster music when they want their heartbeat to rise, and slower music for relaxation. The average beats per minute of the playlist and the average human heartbeat align. It is as if we too are joining in the song of creation, not just when we are singing or playing a musical instrument, but even when we are walking down the street. What an incredible idea. In our very existence, our heartbeat, we are joining in a melody that has been played since the explosion of energy at the dawn of time.
This brings me back to the reading from Jeremiah today. Jeremiah was speaking to a people who were far away from their home in Israel. They had been sent into exile in Babylon, their rulers had failed them like a bunch of bad shepherds, and they were now experiencing the oppression of brutal tyrants who tortured and oppressed them. This reading is a promise to a people who had lost their hope of returning home and (so psalm 137 says) slung their harps up on the trees because they found it hard to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land where their songs were ridiculed. But if they had really hung their harps on the trees (and I don’t recommend that particular method of harp storage), the wind would have played their song for them, just as it played my song for me as I walked across the close.
The reading promises the exiles that they will one day return home, that one day the oppression will cease and one day they will have a leader who loves and cares for them. It is not just a promise for them, it is a promise for all of us whenever we feel we are oppressed or far from where we want to be. It is a promise for the homesick, the grieving, the bruised and the heartbroken. A king is coming who will take you back to where you need to be, so don’t stop singing or the stones will cry out at his arrival.
In a way, we only ever borrow a song for a short while before we pass it onwards to others, and yet that song not only joins with the Song of Creation across our planet, the Music of the Spheres and the rhythm of our heartbeats, it also joins with the Eternal Song of Heaven which has been sung since before the beginning of time, and which will never end because it is eternal and immortal. So as we leave this place, may the Good Shepherd and Eternal King lead us ever onwards in our song until we reach our everlasting home. Amen.