Friday, August 3, 2012

And So We Sing

On the very next day after the joy of the Exodus, the Israelites had to accept that they were now exposed to the wilderness and its terrors, and even entry into the Promised Land did not put a stop to the threats to their life. But there were also the mighty deeds of God, which were new every day. These were cause for singing Moses’ song anew and proved that God is not a God of the past, but of the present and future. Of course, while singing the song, they realized it was only provisional, and so they longed for the definitive new song, for the salvation that would no longer be followed by a moment of anguish but would be a song only of praise. The man who believes in the Resurrection of Christ really does know what definitive salvation is.

Spirit of the Liturgy, 138

Reflection – “The man who believes in the Resurrection of Christ really does know what definitive salvation is…” and yet you know, we continue to have problems. I’m not being cynical or disbelieving here, just expressing a fact.

The wilderness and its terrors, threats to our life, moments of anguish—all of these are still very much part of the human condition. Someone just forwarded us an e-mail from a Christian living in Damascus, Syria, telling of their situation, which is one of extreme mortal peril, a nightmare of mortar and shelling and gunfire ravaging the city and its residents. While life in North America has seen relatively little of that form of terror, on any day anguish can descend upon any one of us.

And yet, we sing. Christians sing. This is the great act of Christian hope, Christian joy—to sing a new song to the Lord. I’m a musical sort of fellow and so can easily read this ‘singing’ business literally. I enjoy singing. I do realize, though, that not everyone has such direct joy in music. Singing can be understood symbolically. It is the choice to live in joy, to raise up mind, heart, and voice to God above, to proclaim with every fiber of our being that God is good and that His ways are good. That is what singing means, biblicaly.

And so we sing. Ratzinger writes here of the difference between the singing of the people of God in the Old Testament and our Christian singing, this ‘definitive as opposed to provisional’ business. One might reasonably ask what real difference there is, since all of us still live in this world of suffering and danger. All of our singing is hard-won, a choice for joy in the midst of the battle, for hope in the midst of the mortar and shelling of a broken world.

The difference, I would say is this: in the Old Testament, the faith was that God has acted in the past to mighty deeds, and He will act again to save his people; in the New Testament era, our faith is that Christ is risen, and so even now in the very heart of the battle, the most degraded and anguished times of struggle and distress, God is acting, He is present.

The victory of Christ, then, is not a past event with a future promise of fulfillment only. It is a living and present reality, because Christ is risen from the dead and ascended in his risen humanity to the Father. The power and presence of the risen Christ is at work even in Syria, even in the abortion clinic, even in the cancer ward, even in the morgue.

And so we sing. One thinks of the Ugandan martyrs, Charles Lwanga and his companions, who laughed and joked and sang as they were led out to torture and death, or the Carmelite nuns of Compiegne, singing hymns of praise to God as they were led to the guillotine in the days of the Terror. If they can sing, surely we can too.

Singing may not come easily to us. The pressures and problems and burdens of life can overwhelm us. But it is a choice, an asceticism. The asceticism of joy, the conscious deliberate choice for joy, for song, for hope in the midst of life’s travails. Christ is risen, He is alive, He is acting in your life and my life today to work his salvation in our midst, today, alleluia. ‘Let us sing to the Lord a new song, playing loudly with all our skill, for the word of the Lord is faithful, and all his works to be trusted’ (Ps 33).

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