May 28, 2017 + The Seventh Sunday of Easter

Holy Eucharist Rite II at 10:30 a.m. sung by the Adult Choir, sermon by the Rev’d Hope Eakins.

Holy Eucharist Rite II at 10:30 a.m. sung by the Adult Choir, sermon by the Rev’d Hope Eakins.

Worship at Home:

Click here for the Service Bulletin; scroll to read full sermon text.

Full Service Audio:

Sermon-only Audio:

Service Music:

Voluntary     Prelude on Hyfrydol      June Nixon (b. 1942)

Processional Hymn 494    Crown him with many crowns    Diademata

Song of Praise S236    Glory to you    John Rutter (b. 1945)

Sequence Hymn 608    Eternal Father, strong to save    Melita

Offertory Anthem   God is gone up with a merry noise    Ned Rorem (b. 1923)
Words: Alleluia Verse of Ascension

God is gone up with a merry noise, and the Lord with the sound of the trumpet. The Lord is among them as in the holy place of sinai; he is gone up on high, he hath led captivity captive. Alleluia!

American composer Ned Rorem composed the first of his Seven Motets for the Church Year in 1977 on a commission from Christ Church Cathedral, Trinity and St. James’s in Hartford/West Hartford; the cycle was completed in 1986 for the 75th anniversary of All Saints Episcopal Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. This fifth movement is a joyous acclamation of the belief in Jesus’ ascent into heaven.

Sanctus S125   Richard Proulx (1937-2010)

Fraction Anthem   Christ our Passover    Jeffrey Rickard (b. 1942)

Communion Anthem    Sing me to heaven     Daniel Gawthrop (b. 1949)
Words: Jane Griner

In my heart’s sequestered chambers lie truths stripped of poet’s gloss.
Words alone are vain and vacant, and my heart is mute.
In response to aching silence memory summons half-heard voices,
And my soul finds primal eloquence and wraps me in song.

If you would comfort me, sing me a lullaby.
If you would win my heart, sing me a love song.
If you would mourn me and bring me to God,
Sing me a requiem, Sing me to heaven.

Touch in me all love and passion, pain and pleasure,
Touch in me grief and comfort; love and passion, Pain and pleasure.

Sing me a lullaby, a love song, a requiem,
Love me, comfort me, bring me to God:
Sing me a love song, Sing me to heaven.

Sing me to heaven is perhaps the most written-about choral work of the 20th century, as many different meanings can be derived from the beautiful text.  Composed by American Dan Gawthrop, he says of its commission: “The director said she wanted something which speaks to the way that we, as singers, feel about music in our lives.”  Choral director Dan Wagner sums it up best: “I believe the Sing me to heaven text is really about music’s ability best express life’s deepest mysteries, greatest joys, and deepest sorrows. It is an ode to musical mysticism, in my opinion. I listen to it and am moved from my own point of view. My personal life experience – too much talking, not enough music! – leads me to affirm this piece and its text…when I die, I hope there’s more singing than talking!”

Closing Hymn 460    Alleluia! sing to Jesus!    Hyfrydol

Voluntary    Toccata in F     Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707)

 

Full Sermon Text:

The United Kingdom grieves – we all grieve – after the terrorist attack at a concert in Manchester.  St. John’s grieves too, after four deaths in our community: Marie Montas’ daughter Carol, who was only 57 years old and Nathan-Edward, the son of Faith Weidner and Jim Miller who died in a cycling accident at 30.  We lament the loss of long time parishioners Bill Faude and Wende Taylor, firmly fixed in the heart of St. John’s over their many years in this community.  The sadness and loss multiply.  Fear and anxiety creep into our hearts and lodge there as we face the fragility of life.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you,” says Jesus.

There is a certain peace that comes from remembering these lives and the gifts they brought to this world, a peace that comes from believing that, “to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended.”  There is also much peace in seeing grief conquered by faith and pain eased by hope and love.

On a dark night ten years ago, a young woman was on her way back to college with her boyfriend John when they stopped on the side of the road to switch drivers.  As she stepped from the car, a drunk driver swerved and killed her while John watched helplessly at the carnage.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you,” says Jesus.  The young woman’s parents have come to that peace. They celebrated John’s marriage to another young woman this year, and they work for Mothers Against Drunk Driving.  They have forgiven the driver and they pray for him.  They have all known anguish and loss, anger and pain, but they have gained a peace that allows them to entrust their daughter to God and start to smile again.

Their peace is not a cheap peace.  They do not believe that “God’s in his heaven; all’s right with the world.”  You have heard such platitudes.  I have said them myself.  “Everything will be all right.  He is better off now that his suffering is over.  You always have your memories.  It will all work out for the best.”  In the midst of life’s tragedies, such pious pronouncements fall flat.  When someone you love dies, your heart will never be the same shape again.  When the disease is terminal, when the divorce is final, when the last paycheck has been cashed, everything is not going to be all right.  And it is then that we need to hear, we need to believe in something bigger and stronger than we are.  We need to trust Jesus’ words, “Do not let your heart be troubled and do not be afraid.  My peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives, give I unto you.”

The peace the world gives always falls short. The world’s idea of peace is the absence of struggle and tension and pain.  Peace, we are assured, can be had when we pop a pill, take a drink, buy a car, or go on vacation.  The world’s peace always leaves us frustrated when we realize that these anodynes don’t work because there will always be discord and pain in this life, we will all die, and there is no perfection this side of heaven.

Those who know the peace of Christ know this.  They know the discouragement and anguish in this “real” world, but they face it and live it with the confidence that God is present and powerful and that God is working God’s purpose out and bringing healing and reconciliation.

Christians know the story of Christ’s peace come in the middle of defeat.  A week after the crucifixion, Jesus comes to his disciples with his wounds still raw and proclaims peace to them.  It is as if he is saying, “Look, here are my hands and my feet, marked by the signs of betrayal and shame and pain, by death itself.  And now look again.  Here I am standing among you as living proof that God’s power is greater than any evil.  Therefore, peace be with you.  Be not afraid.”

In the valley of death and desolation, nothing can save us but the peace of God.  Alcohol, activity, possessions, vengeance – none of these can bring peace.  We can – and should – get help from support groups, therapists, and the passing of time, but these can never bring the full and true peace that our hearts ache for.  It is only God’s peace that can break through the walls we erect and shine light into our dark nights and blow open the windows of our closed rooms.  A long time ago, St. Augustine said it another way, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

There would be little hope for us if there were not a difference between the world’s peace and Christ’s peace.  We have heard the vain promises, “This is a war to end all wars.”  And still we live in the fear of bombs falling and Memorial Day lists grow longer each year.  We have invested our hopes in social programs like the War on Poverty, and still the homeless lie under the bridges of our city.  Now we are fighting the War on Terrorism and 22 are dead after the suicide bomb exploded at the rock concert in Manchester.

Cast all your anxiety on [God], says today’s Epistle.  Sometimes that is hard to do.

It was hard to trust in God during the London blitz in World War II.  Bombs fell nightly obliterating house and families.  After one bombing raid, a father found his wife and daughter buried under the rubble.  He searched frantically for his son and found him in the garden looking up at the sky.  Silently the father stood by the son and held him close as they wept.  After a long while, the boy pointed up and said, “Look Father, it’s going to be all right.  God is hanging out the stars again.”

Nothing could ever fill the hole torn in the heart of that family, but God’s stars say that tragedy doesn’t get the last word, that we are in God’s hands even when we can’t stop crying.  It is a peace that allows us to live in the midst of violence, in a world where Coptic Christians are murdered for their theology, and people are mowed down by runaway cars in Times Square, and where Bill Faude and Wende Taylor and Carol Montas and Nathan Miller have died.

How can some walk in that peace while others are prisoners of their own fear and anger.  How can some grow beyond tragedy when others allow snarled traffic to ruin their day?

As we listen to Jesus, we hear the answer.  The problem is not so much in the tragedies of life as in our response to them.  Jesus tells us to fear not and we bind ourselves up in fearful worry.  Jesus tells us to trust that there IS life eternal, and we are too scared and sad to believe it.  Jesus tells us to forgive and we insist on getting even.

The Bible promises that “after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace … will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.”  And somehow we don’t believe it or can’t believe it and so we don’t open our hearts to receive God’s comfort and God’s love and we stay anxious and afraid.

 

The people who have great gardens are not those who spend their time paging through catalogues but those who get out and weed and till the soil and dig in fertilizer and water their seeds.  The people who are filled with God’s peace are no different.  They are those who practice keeping God’s word.  What the risen Lord offers us is not a safe place to snuggle down but the command, “Be not afraid.  Follow me.”  He says if you feel weak, bear the burdens of others and I will strengthen you.  If you are poor, share what little you have and I will give you more.  If you are lonely, open your heart and I will fill it up.  If you are afraid, put your trust in me.”

 

The family who lost their daughter on the highway found a way to do that.  They put their trust in God. They came to church because they always came to church, and they heard the words of faith and stories of faith’s power. They came, but they left early because they didn’t trust themselves to talk without weeping.  As they sat there they heard stories of faith and they began to remember that this was their faith too.  The family who lost their daughter began to pray for the drunk who killed her, not because they were especially pious or religious but because they didn’t know what else to do.  At first they prayed that he would go to hell and they prayed that he would know just as much pain as they did.   And as they prayed through clenched teeth, they began to pray that he would find sobriety and know what he had done and they prayed that he too would find peace.

 

As they found faith, they found their own peace in Christ’s promise that nothing, no weakness, no pain, no conflict, no terrorism can ever separate us from the love of God.

 

The peace of the Lord be always with you.