August 11, 2019 — Rev. Paula Norbert
Throughout Scripture, we hear words of praise to God, praise for singing and music, a gratitude for the ways in which music is heard throughout nature and through our Psalms. We all know that music touches something within us that is very profound, something beyond words, a deep, deep place, that we often cannot express adequately in any other form of communication. Last year, I spoke about the Maine Public Radio Series each June called Music that Moves Me. At the time, I invited everyone to think of a particular song that holds special meaning in their life. It was a wonderful opportunity to share those reflections and the ways in which that music brings them back to a moment in time, whether joyful or sorrowful. Let us pray, O Holy One, Creator of music and harmony, we give thanks for this time of worship together. May we be open to the music of our days, taking time to pause and allow the beauty of music to bring healing and joy and peace to our hearts. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
It was the Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero who first coined the expression, ‘The Harmony of the Spheres’, a phrase of universal importance. For he was referencing our solar system and the entire cosmos, embracing both of these with the idea that music itself originates in the heavens, that it comes from a divine source and represents a supernatural ordering of the universe. He was also expressing the notion that when all is right above, when harmony exists between the planets and stars, when the celestial music is on key, then all is right with our world too. (Of course, earth was thought to be the center of the universe at that time. And eclipses and astral collisions would portend disasters and disharmony down here.) Christianity took over Cicero’s phrase and interpreted it further–one of the best ways to praise God, author of the cosmos and origin of all harmony, is to sing praises to the divine creator. Judaism contributed here as well with the Psalms, which are intimate songs sung directly to Yahweh. And, too, God was portrayed with literal choirs of angels singing celestial praises throughout eternity.
Over the years, there are many people who have told me that it was difficult to come to church at times, because the music brings them to tears. Usually, this would happen during a time of pain in their lives, perhaps following the death of a loved one, or a time when the person felt particularly vulnerable or tender. Songs can bring us back to a moment in our lives and evoke the feelings we had at that time. And there are many songs, many hymns, that literally raise us up, that lift our spirits to a place of such great joy that we feel we may touch the transcendent, if only for a moment.
We know how important music is to our Worship each Sunday. I recall a particularly meaningful Memorial Service that I was a part of some years ago. This beautiful man, a former Physics professor, had died after a liver transplant. He was a man of Science, a former engineer, and he sang in the church choir and loved all kinds of music. He had a hand in crafting the Service before he died and it was filled with music, from classical to Gospel to some contemporary. There were very few readings, a brief remembrance of his amazing life, but what I most recall is the music that flowed through the church and how it spoke to what had most deeply moved him and affected him.
If asked, I am hoping that each of you might be able to name particular hymns or spiritual songs that are among your favorites. There are stories of people who are in advanced stages of dementia who, when hearing their favorite hymns, are able to join in singing all of the words that they still can access in the deep recesses of their memories. Hymns may bring us comfort and solace, inspiration and joy. We know that the music of the old Spirituals brought strength and hope to so many in the tragic times of slavery and later, to so many who participated in the Civil Rights Movement.
We have dedicated our Worship today, this Music Sunday, to the beloved memory of Laura McKenney. Many of you knew her far longer than I did, but I am grateful for the times that I was able to spend with her, coming to know her in those final years. She was a dear, dear person who lived a wonderful life, dedicated to her family and to this church. Her presence is still with us in this lovely church. In the final months of her life, I recall that Anne Murray and her singer friends from Harbour Singers visited with Laura in her final months and shared their voices in song. I heard it was a very special visit and I know that Laura deeply appreciated their sharing their music with her. Laura’s birthday was August 15th and she would have been 89 this year. It is fitting that we remember her this day.
I have visited a number of people in hospice care and often, in the final hours, music is softly playing in the background, the music that meant so much to them in their life, a music to gently accompany them home to God.
Every time we create music here at Union Church, when we sing our hymns and psalms and songs; when we listen to the musical gifts of those who grace us with their amazing talents of voice and instrument, we are connecting ourselves to that higher order Cicero imagined and the Davidic psalms express: we sing our hosannas to the highest as a way to harmonize our world. May it be so.