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Vol. 81 - No. 6
June 2010

WORD FROM THE PASTOR:             

A Music Meditation

June 20 will mark my fourteenth Music Sunday here at St. Paul’s. For the past thirteen years, I’ve always marked Music Sunday with a sermon about how music relates to faith. (To be honest, I keep my eyes open all year long for stories and examples to use in such sermons!) That means, however, that I haven’t really preached a Father’s Day sermon in all those years–since Music Sunday always coincides with Father’s Day. This year I decided to do a Father’s Day message on June 19 and 20. But I didn’t want to ignore the music theme–so I decided to write a music-related meditation for this month’s Messenger. So here is the music sermon that you would have heard on June 19 and 20:

One of the great pieces of religious music from the 20th century is Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. As the name implies, it’s a musical meditation on the Second Coming of Christ–the music ranges from violent and turbulent, reflecting the final judgement, to serene and gentle, depicting the bliss of heaven. The Quartet has a fascinating history: During World War II, Messiaen served in the French army and was captured in battle. He was incarcerated in Stalag 8A, a prisoner of war camp. At the camp, he met a violinist, a cellist and a clarinetist. He decided to write a quartet for those three musicians, plus himself on piano. The piece was premiered at the camp, with an audience of prisoners and guards. One of the greatest musical compositions of the 20th century had its first performance in freezing cold, on broken-down instruments, by men who had lost their freedom and were far from home. Yet Messiaen’s powerful music, speaking of Christ and the future He promises us, brought a measure of peace, a measure of joy, even a little bit of heaven to Stalag 8A.

In 1943, a young man who wanted to be a singer was drafted into the German army. He was sent to the Russian front, where his assignment was to care for army horses; when the horses became agitated, he would sing to them with his fine, well-trained voice. The next year, he was sent to Italy. Only a few days before the war ended, he was captured by an American unit. The next two years he spent in prisoner-of-war camps. His captors soon learned of his vocal talent; he gave many concerts in the camp, and eventually began traveling from camp to camp singing for prisoners all over Italy. In fact, his talent made him so useful that he was one of the last prisoners to be released by the Allies! After his release, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau became one of the best-known and best-loved singers in the world. As with Messiaen, music helped sustain him in a time when he was captive and far from home.

Many of our country’s best-loved songs are African-American spirituals. What would Holy Week be like without "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord"? What would the Easter Vigil be like without "Go Down Moses"? What would American music be like without "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child", "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot", or "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore"? These songs, of course, emerged from a situation of captivity–from people who had lost their freedom and been enslaved. Music helped sustain them in their captivity, and the godly message of their songs made them free inside.

A noteworthy incident of music-in-captivity is found in the Bible. The Book of Acts tells us that St. Paul and Silas were arrested for preaching about Jesus. They were treated savagely: "The judges ordered them stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison." (Acts 16:22-23). This beating and mistreatment, however, did not dishearten Paul and Silas; rather, we read this: "About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them." (Acts 16:25). So Paul and Silas kept themselves strong by singing to God. And not only themselves–the other prisoners heard, and undoubtedly they, too, received hope by hearing the believers raise voices to God. (Later that night, an earthquake sprung open the jailhouse doors–but Paul and Silas made no move to escape. The jailer asked them, "What must I do to be saved?", and the apostles gave this immortal answer: "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your household"–Acts 16:31. Lutherans treasure that verse as a great expression of salvation by faith alone). In their captivity, Paul and Silas consoled themselves by singing.

Sometimes in this life, we feel captive. Certainly we’re not prisoners of war, we’re not slaves, we’re not surrounded by walls and bars. Yet so often we feel that our freedom is abridged by our circumstances–our economic situation, our health, our age. And certainly, we all are enslaved by sin, as children of Adam and Eve. And in our situation of captivity, it’s good to sing and make music. To sing about the One who died to make us free...to make music to Him who said: "If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:36). Music brings joy even in a situation of captivity–and when the music is about Jesus the Saviour, that makes us free inside. "Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." (II Corinthians 3:17).

Rejoice, then, in the power of music, especially of godly music. Whatever things may hold us captive, music can keep us from giving up and despairing–and, when it communicates to us the Gospel message, can set us free!

God loves you and so do I!

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