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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Why liturgical song matters: a fiction


One of the lesser southern kings is about to ascend the throne in Jerusalem. His father was no great shakes. Higher taxes. Conscription into civil service. The entertaining of foreign regents and ambassadors, with the attendant syncretism and assimilation of their talismans and demigods. Now the young offspring is about to ascend the throne. Showing no more imagination, fidelity, or promise than his late father, he is about to be legitimized by the Temple priesthood as the agent of the Lord in Judah. Rumors certainly abound about the disappearance of some of the non-guild prophets, and word has gone out from the military that dissent from the current policy of accommodation would be looked upon harshly.
Just your luck. Your number is drawn to lead the gathered assembly in the key psalm of the coronation rite, and the words that were written on your heart as an apprentice in the Temple rise up in you as you face the throng amid the clamor and the haze of incense and burning offerings:

God, give this king your own judgment,
Your justice bestow on this prince.
Let him govern your people with justice
The afflicted ones with honor.
Claire proclaiming the psalm, once upon a time...
From your heart, the chanted words bubble up into your throat, imbued with hope and intention. The ancient memories stir. The people gathered in front of you were snatched by the hand of Adonai, torn from Pharaoh's grasp, in the Exodus. God is their true monarch. This one must be like God. It is your task to remind him that it is God’s power that brought him to this day, God whose power sustains the family line, and who alone rules the hostile gods of the surrounding superpowers. Your voice gathers strength from memory. No, it is no longer your voice, but the voice of Jacob, possessed and made righteous by the covenant gift of the Holy One, and your nation’s fidelity to Torah: You are emboldened to take the court into your glance. While the guard stirs suspiciously, you catch the eye of the one who pretends to the throne of Grace:
Yes, may justice flower while he rules,
Your own peace as long as he lives....
May he rescue the poor when they cry out
May he hear the cries of those with no champion…
Then, his name will be blessed forever,
Remembered as long as the sun shines.
Trembling with the unforeseen power of the moment, you leave the place assigned the cantor while the throng sways with chants of ‘Amen.’ The word of God is alive in the room. The king and his wife look at the inlaid floor. The guild prophets are nearby, chanting gibberish that could be alleluias. The captain of the guard is memorizing your face.
•••••

So, friends. Do you feel like a hypocrite when you sing the psalm? Does it seem, as you read scripture, that God has been reading your email, and is listening to you speak or sing the word? Wonder what business we have proclaiming it? 


Start here: it's God’s word, not ours. And God's spirit filled us in baptism, confirmation, and at every Eucharist to do this task: not just to speak the Word, but to be the living Word of God. It is a fire burning in us that will raze the world so that it can be rebuilt anew in Christ. We might shy away from explicitly prophetic texts, for fear of being branded ‘hypocrites.’ Worse, we might imagine, if don’t adequately prepare ourselves, that these texts are historical documents and not ritual ones, and that the scriptural demands placed upon the leaders of Israel and Juda are not applicable to the demands that God puts upon presidents, chairpersons of the board, principals, popes and bishops and pastors, senators, governors, and parents.

Integrity, the gift of being made a worthy instrument, 
living the word we sing, is what we seek. It's why we have Lent, it's why we have Eucharist, scripture, personal prayer, and retreats. God is writing the Word on the heart of us as we sing it. God's word shapes us into Christ as we proclaim it. Political and economic activism, as well as pushing for justice within the community, inevitably follow. I see it in my community all the time. We're at the beginning of something: we need to be faithful. And patient. It is, after all, God's mission, not ours. The words we sing change us.