Music Sunday 14th June 2020
Music Sunday is an opportunity for all to come together to celebrate and to give thanks for the role of music in the life of the Church, and the way in which music is something that can draw church and community together.
Over the years in our parish Church music has been one of the vital components of our DNA as a group of pilgrims. We have held hundreds of thousands of musically inspired worship services, requiems, funerals, weddings, baptisms, concerts and civic services that have been the main stay of our witness. We give thanks to god for this witness, and indeed today we give thanks to God for our present set of musicians and choir who have extended their role and gone into the virtual realm.
Who would have thought that a year ago?
Today we give thanks for our choir who are co - leading the service today and we give thanks to God that we can sing his praises in spite of the difficulties of this present moment, knowing he is our strength and shield, our stronghold and comforter.
One woman’s voice : the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56)
Mary’s Song of Praise
And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
And Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home.
A Women’s voice in the New Testament
Did you know in the New Testament, it is even harder to find women’s words than in the Old.
Mary is recorded as saying astonishingly little, although she is present during so much of it.
In Luke she speaks four times, once in John, and we have none of her words in Matthew and Mark, though she sends Jesus a message that she’s arrived (Mark 3, 31).
So the exchange with Elizabeth in Luke 1, is very precious, even though it repeats whole lines out of previous songs, psalms and prayers.
Elizabeth’s words are incorporated into the Hail Mary, and the Magnificat is part of Evening Prayer a staple of our rhythm of life.
It is by far the longest piece of female speech in the New Testament…. And it is brief…. I will say no more!
… parallels before and after
As a literary document, it is interesting to compare the Magnificat to Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2. Mary’s song is not special because it is so original; rather, it is important that it is part of a tradition of obedience to God, of joyful surrender to his will.
It is special because it is the fulfilment of the salvation story and not just an isolated event.
Jesus in his sermon on the mount uses the same phraseology in his Beatitudes.
Even the order is the same : Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God, blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied (Luke 6:20).
Setting the words
As well as being all one tense, the Magnificat is all one mood, of exultation.
We need to remember what Mary is like at this point. She is very young. She is enthusiastic, exuberant, committed and joyful. She doesn’t know very much about what’s going on yet, but her faith in God is so complete that she is prepared to leave it all to him; think about this, Can you say that?
She knows that her situation is unorthodox, to say the least, but that does not concern her, and, thanks to Joseph, it is not allowed to become an issue. She will treasure every piece of information as it comes along, but she has not yet met Simeon and heard about the sword that will pierce her.
A woman’s prayer from below
In the whole text, there is only one word indicating the speaker’s gender : ‘He looks on his servant in her nothingness’ or (different translation) ‘he has regarded his lowly handmaiden, or servant.’
But what is distinctive about this song is that it written from below throughout.
This is a person without any power or rank speaking, and celebrating God because he is wonderful and does marvellous deeds; and is doing them, for her, now.
Living in the moment
The references to God’s actions are all in the present tense, not the future : this lowly person is totally confident that all this is happening right here, right now.
Think about that, and how it affects you also, now as then God is concerned for you and your welfare, please do call out to him and ask him to intervene for you in your current situation.
Notice this prayer / statement is in stark contrast to the appeals for help in the psalms, which are usually looking forward for relief;
• O Lord, hasten to my help’
• O Lord, do not delay
• O Lord make haste to help us.
The text does not move forwards or back; there is no narrative, there is no sense of time other than the present.
Mary describes what is happening at this moment to her.
There is one gesture towards the future: ‘Henceforth all ages will call me blessed’, but this is an immediate future which starts now, just as the one reference to the past is ‘the mercy promised to our fathers’, a past which is still continuing into now and for ever.
A world turned upside down
Apart from the absoluteness of the present tense, the other striking thing about the words of the Magnificat is their celebration of the reversal of human order.
Mary starts with a statement of fact: ‘My soul glorifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour’ and then starts to celebrate the topsy-turvey world; could anyone ever think this sort of world would appear. Well think what has happened in these past weeks and how things have turned our thinking upside down! Each day we see things we thought would have been impossible only a few weeks ago.
These truly are biblical days in which we live and God is on the move!
God looks at his servant (Mary) and he is perfectly aware of her status; (as he is ours) but guess what, ‘henceforth all ages will call me blessed’.
This is so extreme that it would be embarrassing or foolish if it were not true.
Then Mary refers again to God, because her future standing is not because of her, but because of him. We need to be ever mindful of this, it is God at God in us and for us.
God is working wonders for her, he is wonderful, and his kindness is for everyone.
And it isn’t just Mary for whom he is turning the world upside down.
• ‘He scatters the proud-hearted, casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly’.
Again the claim is outrageous : from their thrones; - so not just pretty important people, but the mighty of the earth, the sort of person Mary would only ever have seen at a distance, or possibly only heard about.
Across our world at this moment, people are waking up to a new world, people are indeed calling it a reset. Make now bones about it those with power now will hold onto it with all they have and with all in their means.
Pray friends for God to work in their lives to too, to see a different way for humanity to live together.
You may say it’s just fanciful dreams and we will get back to normal soon……
Will it be the same as before?
I hope not, this for us is a once in a lifetime opportunity to declare the Kingdom of God is amongst us and that God is here.
We have sung today, O Praise ye the Lord! - this day we shout this out, a clarion call to all those seeking for truth and justice and love.
We will sing; ‘Let all the world in every corner sing, My God and King!’ - Let us do our part to bring in the Kingdom of God and make the world a better place.
We finish with “To God be the Glory” we remember we are his servants, the people of his pasture and give him thanks for his grace and mercy in our lives.
I do not know what the future holds. Sometimes, that lack of knowledge terrifies me, and I begin to doubt your goodness. I do not know Your plans for me, but I know they are greater than anything I can imagine. Like Our Mother, help me surrender to Your all-knowing will and say, “Be it done unto me according to Your Word.” Lord, I believe. Only help my unbelief.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,