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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Come to Us (14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A)

I’m so far behind! Trying to keep up with work in the parish, prepare for NPM, keep an eye on Composers' Forum work and pay attention an hour or two a week to my home life has left me spinning this summer, and there's no end in sight until maybe the last week of this month. I love writing, but I hate writing on a deadline. I feel it ought to be a leisurely activity, especially this kind of blog writing, you know? Reflective, so there's a chance of a payoff for the person who finds it worth reading!

The two threads that struck me the hardest preparing for Sunday are captured in these texts:
Praise and thanksgiving; i.e., vertically right relationship. 
From the psalm:
I will extol you, O my God and King,

and I will bless your name forever and ever.
Every day will I bless you,

and I will praise your name forever and ever.

From the gospel:
I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
 for although you have hidden these things
 from the wise and the learned
 you have revealed them to little ones.
 Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.

Humility and meekness, horizontally right relationship.
from the first reading (Zechariah):
See, your king shall come to you;

a just savior is he,

meek, and riding on an ass,

on a colt, the foal of an ass.

He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim,

and the horse from Jerusalem;
the warrior’s bow shall be banished,

and he shall proclaim peace to the nations.

from the gospel:
Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,

for I am meek and humble of heart;

and you will find rest for yourselves.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.

Of course, you have to spot me too the almost un-Matthew-like eikon saying in the gospel:
No one knows the Son except the Father,

and no one knows the Father except the Son

and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.

I'm almost certain that I've mentioned in another post that I once heard Fr. Richard Fragomeni of CTU call the lectionary a "new canon" of scripture. Certainly that's a dramatic way of saying something we know pretty well, having lived with this book of readings for a couple of generations now, that is, that it represents a particular way of looking at scripture. The readings of the Sunday lectionary, at least, reflect on and echo each other in ways that are often just alluded to in the actual texts, and help us with less knowledge of the texts hear some of the echoes in the words that we were intended to hear by the writers and editors of the sacred texts. My advice to pastoral musicians and composers especially is to know the context of the pericope (the liturgical passage) within the whole gospel, read a commentary, and read the footnotes in your bible! 

Today's gospel is a good example of this. With the references to revelation to children and joy and an easy yoke, we might miss both the context of this passage in Matthew and perhaps a wider field of meaning when it is heard in the context of the reading from Zechariah. I would say that if we listen to the gospel on Sunday without considering the first reading and psalm for context and subtext, we run a good chance of missing the point of the gospel alone, because it's as part of a whole that the gospel was intended to be heard liturgically. 

That reading from Zechariah will be used later by Matthew to shed the light of meaning on the arrival of Jesus on a donkey on what we call Palm Sunday. This late entry into the prophetic tradition denies the mimetic violence that underlies the imperial hopes of Israel after the exile. The prophet insists that the messianic king will not be astride a warhorse and enter breathing threats of violence, but will enter the city riding on a beast of burden, banning weapons of mass destruction, and proclaiming peace to the nations. Jesus says in the gospel, “Come to me, I will give you rest.” Jesus (whether you choose to recognize him as king or not is immaterial) is like the king in Zechariah, an anti-king, if  you will. He is a king whose kingdom is “not like those of this world,” a living sign of the empire of God, whom Jesus reveals. Rather than announcing a way that is full of burdensome laws and restrictions, the gospel of God’s empire is written upon the heart; its yoke is easy, it is a light burden, it is the fulfilment of our humanity. Empire is hard and dangerous work: threats and violence lead to more threats and violence, it's expensive work, paid for with life that cannot be redeemed. The way of Jesus and Abba does not go down that road. Without the first reading and gospel, without knowing the gospel context of the rising tension with the Jerusalem elite, we will almost certainly overspiritualize the gospel today.

No wonder Jesus bursts forth with praise and thanksgiving to Abba for revealing this truth among the simple, among whom he includes himself, “I am meek and humble of heart.” He knows who he is: not that he is God, but that he is a human being, a creation of the divine. Yes, he is our God, and we know the rest of the story, but Jesus himself cannot have known that he was God, or he could not have been fully human. We cannot believe, can we, that Jesus was just pretending to be human? That is heresy. He was fully human, and felt it, and knew it, and gave thanks for it. So we sing with him, as we sing the responsorial, “I will praise your name, my king and my God.” But what kind of king? One who rides a beast of burden, and proclaims peace to the nations.

Gathering:  Come to Us (Gather #842, published by OCP) This is one of my compositions, originally on the record and cassette (yes, record) Do Not Fear to Hope, from 1985, which some people still think of as my best work (I really, really hope not, but I’m glad people like it.) I actually wrote this song after a homily on a summer Sunday probably in 1984, a homily by Vernon Meyer, a St. Louis transplant who became incardinated in the diocese of Phoenix and eventually the third pastor I served with at St. Jerome. He also taught scripture at the diocesan higher education center, the Kino Institute. As often happens in my songs, the lyric transfers the words of Christ more explicitly to the lips of the assembly, that is to say, it tries to allow us to sing who we really are, the body of Christ. I'm also happy to promote, however self-servingly, a beautiful new arrangement by Patti Drennan at Hope Publishing, for choir, piano and flute.

In the words of the great American preacher William Sloane Coffin, “It is one thing to say with the prophet Amos, 'Let justice roll down like mighty waters,' and quite another to work out the irrigation system.” To sing a song like “Come to Us” means that we don’t just say, “Go to Jesus, and he will give rest for your soul.” It says, “Come to us, we are the people Christ made through the Holy Spirit by our baptism. There is rest here among us, we can share the yoke with you.” My fellow parishioners at St. Anne make this come alive every day of the year at our local resale shop ("House of Hope") and used to add a massive annual “Annie’s Attic” garage sale, raising over $125,000 for the poor in the Ministry of Hope at the parish. Come to us, indeed. And thanks be to God.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 145 I Will Praise your Name Gather, Haas

Preparation Rite:  Only In God (Gather, John Foley) When a song uses “God” and “only” in the same sentence, it is pretty sure to be delivering the right message. We tend to be at least mildly Pelagian as American, we pull ourselves up, we think, by our own bootstraps. We help other people, we don’t need help ourselves. Songs like “Only in God” set the record straight. All good, every good thing, originates in God. The distribution rights are in our hands; the only thing we can do wrong is hold on tight and forget where they come from.

Communion:   Come to Me (Gather, Joncas), to iterate in the communion procession the beautiful words of today’s gospel, to remind us the kind of God we are being made into by the gift of the Holy Spirit in the eucharist.

Sending forth: Joyfully Singing (Balhoff, Daigle) or On Holy Ground (Donna Peña). Donna's great song is harder for us to pull off in the summer because of our reduced numbers, but it's worth the effort when the choir forces are there! Otherwise, we'll end with a perennial favorite at St. Anne's, the Dameans' aptly titled "Joyfully Singing" from their Morning to Night collection, mysteriously and undeservedly dumped from the current incarnation of Gather Comprehensive. Another eye-roll to the heavens and church music gods.