Saturday, September 10, 2011

How Shall We Sing the Lord's Song?

Founders’ Day
11 September 2011

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

         Anglicans have a practice of liturgical time that is rooted in our medieval tradition.  This tradition is a complex one and, from time to time, there are several liturgical possibilities that apply to a single day.  Today, the 11th of September 2011, is just such a day and it poses a liturgical conundrum for all Christians and, in particular, for us here at Saint Faith’s.

         Do we preserve the precedence of Sunday over any other liturgical occasion?  If so, then today is the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, the liturgical colour is green and the readings and prayers are those of Proper 24 of Year A in the semi-continuous series of the Revised Common Lectionary.

         Do we honour the founders of this parish who, on the 14th of September 1947, gave sacrificially to establish a centre for the Anglican community living in this part of Metro Vancouver?  If so, then today is the closest Sunday to the 64th anniversary of the founding of the parish, the colour is white and the readings and prayers are those for a parish thanksgiving as set forth in The Book of Alternative Services.

         Do we join other North Americans in remembering the tragic and criminal events that occurred ten years ago in New York, Washington DC and in the quiet farmlands of Pennsylvania?  If so, the today is the 10th anniversary of what has come to be known as ‘9/11’, the colour is purple and the readings and prayers are those for lament, healing and peace.

         How shall we resolve this liturgical conundrum?  I admit that when I was asked what we would do today, I was not immediately certain.   For whatever reason I found myself thinking of Psalm 137:

1 By the water of Babylon we sat down and wept, *
         when we remembered you, O Zion.

2 As for our harps, we hung them up *
         on the trees in the midst of that land.

3 For those who led us away captive asked us for a song,
and our oppressors called for mirth: *
         “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”

4 How shall we sing the Lord’s song *
         upon an alien soil?

5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, *
         let my right hand forget its skill.

6 Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth
if do not remember you, *
         if I do not set Jerusalem above my greatest joy.

7 Remember the day of Jerusalem, O Lord,
against the people of Edom, *
         who said, “Down with it!  Down with it!
         Even to the ground!”

8 O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, *
         happy the one who pays you back
         for what you have done to us!

9 Happy shall the one be who takes your little ones, *
         and dashes them against the rock!

These words were most likely written two thousand six hundred years ago after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and the deportation of thousands of Judeans to Babylon.  They are words that express the depth of despair felt by those who were losing their homes and families.  They also express the all-to-typical human desire for revenge against one’s oppressors and enemies.

         If the first half of the psalm expresses the feelings of thousands, if not millions, of people following the events of ten years, then the second half of the psalm reflects what seems, at times, to be the political response to these events.

         For reasons that are not clear to me, I found myself drawn to The Book of Common Prayer.  In that book the Psalms are divided into sixty portions so that all one hundred and fifty psalms can be recited over the period of thirty days, morning and evening.  When I opened the book to Psalm 137, I found the answer to my conundrum.

         In the Prayer Book, on the evening of the twenty-eighth day of the month, three psalms are to be said or sung:  Psalms 136, 137, 138.  At first glance it seems a purely numerical solution, but there is divine wisdom beneath the surface here.

         Psalm 136 is a liturgical call and response where the leader recites one of God’s great deeds in the history of the people of Israel and the people respond, ‘for [God’s] mercy endures for ever.’  It is a clear proclamation of God’s goodness and faithfulness to the people throughout their history.

         Psalm 138 is a psalm of thanksgiving for what God has done in the midst of the trials that the writer has undergone.  At the end the psalmist is able to proclaim: 

8 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; *
         you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;
         your right hand shall save me.

9 [You, O Lord] will make good [your] purpose for me; *
         O Lord, your love endures for ever;
         do not abandon the works of your hands.

In the space of three psalms we are moved from unadulterated praise (Psalm 136) to lament and vengeful thinking (Psalm 137) to thanksgiving for God’s faithfulness even in the midst of turmoil (Psalm 138). 

         So, today I wear the colour green, a reminder that we are in that time of the liturgical year occasionally called ‘Ordinary Time’.  During this Ordinary Time we, like the author of Psalm 136, remember all the great deeds done by God over the centuries and millennia.  We remember that we are called to be living stones whom God uses to build the promised reign of justice and peace. 

         So, today I acknowledge in my words to you that we are living in an alien land where people confuse criminal acts of murder for resistance to powers that continue to marginalize peoples throughout the world.  I acknowledge that evil has been done, but I will not allow that evil to lead me into that spirit of vengeance that colours the final verses of Psalm 137.  Instead I shall endeavour to go out into the world to participate in the same mission of peace and reconciliation that God began in Jesus of Nazareth.

         So, today our prayers and readings are those that honour our predecessors here at Saint Faith’s who faced the challenges of their times and embodied their hopes in this building.  Like the writer of Psalm 138, we know that there have been struggles and will be more in the future, but one thing remains constant:  The love of the Lord endures for ever.

         So let us remember what God has done.  Let us trust in what God is doing.  Let us hope in what God will do.  Amen.