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Dr. John Lee
It is a lovely Christian tradition to have two Sundays in the liturgical year in which believers are encouraged to rejoice, to be happy, today in Advent Gaudete Sunday and on Laetare Sunday in Lent- the one heightens the expectation of the Lord at Christmas, and the other celebrates his Resurrection at Easter, and then his Final Coming. It is fascinating too that our responsorial psalm today is from Isaiah. Singing was a fundamental feature of biblical prayer- with the Psalms, and the Song of Songs; even in Job the morning stars sang together (Jb 38:7). After the Last Supper Our Lord and the Apostles left the Upper Room for Gethsemane singing the ritual Alleluia as they went towards his passion and death. How poignant, the only specific reference to Jesus actually singing. Music and poetry often highlight great and important events. We recall the end of the First World War at this time of the year just one hundred years ago, and with it the wrenching poem of Siegfried Sassoon comes to mind:
“Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields;
on—on—and out of sight.
Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror drifted away ... O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.”
― Siegfried Sassoon, Collected Poems, 1908-1956
Surprised by Joy
We are only too aware now that not everybody is singing in our modern world as we pray here together. The savage slaughters by terrorists everywhere, the infinite flow of refugees, and our own all too obvious difficulties (Brexit) and privations curb our joy. But we come as always with our communal values before us, as a congregation, as friends in Christ, as people striving for the same thing. We look for Unity and Truth and Goodness and Beauty- the whole purpose and point of life. We know and long to know what St.Paul meant by the true, the good, the noble and the lovely (Phil 4:4), wonderful beyond money and power. He wrote:” I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord. I repeat, what I want is your happiness.” A listening ear, a simple heart, are necessary to sense the mystery and experience the peace and joy that surpasses all understanding. We long for peace, peace where we are and where we are not, and we are so grateful when we have peace in our own hearts. Peace and joy are very closely related. The person with peace begets joy. Friedrich Schiller wrote the poem Ode to Joy in 1786- just before the French Revolution, and Beethoven immortalised a revised version of it after the French revolution. It is the official anthem of the European Union. Can we share and maintain the peace and joy with the aspirations of this wonderful composition? It is all very evocative for us now in the United Kingdom. Whatever eventually happens surely we want to sing with all Europeans from the same hymn sheet: freedom, peace and unity in diversity. And if at all possible to share it now with those everywhere in desperate need. This Ode belongs to all the world and has been used, sung and played all over the world, except among some Buddhists separating from each other when some found it too Christian.!
We hear the last verse:
Be embraced, You Millions!
This kiss is for all the world!
Brothers, above the starry canopy
There must dwell a loving Father.
Are you collapsing, you millions?
World, do you know your creator?
Seek him in the heavens
Above the stars must He dwell.
We have but eight days left until Christmas. It is said that more Christian people go to church at Christmas than at any other time of the year. They go because it is a season when love and affection are the predominant features in human relationships. For believers especially it is an intensified time of love and prayer and reflection, and the evocation of the values that give point and purpose to our lives. And do we not spend more time with our memories sad and glad during the Christmas period? Looking back on when we were young, with or without our parents and children? Being far away at Christmas? Rejoicing and going home for Christmas?
So today on Rejoicing Sunday we hope and pray that we are the occasion of joy for other people, and they for us. In our little world here we are blessed beyond measure. Others are not. They struggle with wars and natural disasters and all kinds of problems. And we feel for them. We may even be able to help some of them. Mostly we can do very little. Happily we belong to a world wide Church and our Christian brothers and sisters elsewhere do what we cannot do- and at Mass we identify totally with all of them and their aspirations. God help them. We see the best in all humanity at this time of the year: Doctors without Frontiers, the sick made comfortable, soup kitchens available with a party spirit, the homeless welcomed, goodness feasted and honoured by all, highlighted in the media, praised, applauded and encouraged everywhere. Let us rejoice always in the Lord, so grateful for what we have received and what we may be able to give. Amen
Rev Richard J. Taylor
Spiritual Advisor MaterCare
Boarbank Hall Cumbria