19 Singing and Loving
“I give you a new commandment; love one another as I have loved you.”
On the evening of 7th May, 2019 – Liverpool FC astounded their supporters by beating Barcelona (reputedly the best soccer team in Europe) 4 – 0; instantly overcoming an overall three goal deficit to win a place in the final of the European Champions’ League. At the end of the match the team linked arms and joined the fans on the Kop (the home supporters end at Anfield) and sang their anthem: “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. The sound of 95, 000 fans singing:
Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone
The sound of 95, 000 fans singing You’ll Never Walk Alone has been described as one of the most incredible experiences of human community activity. It is said that when The Kop begins to sing in the half where the opposing team’s goal net is in front of them – their singing has the power to draw the ball into the back of the net! Did you know that it was Liverpool FC fans who began the tradition of singing on the terraces in 1963, when one Saturday, the fans spontaneously adopted the song (You’ll Never Walk Alone) just recorded and released by Gerry and the Pace Makers. You’ll Never Walk Alone was originally composed by Rogers and Hammerstein in 1945 for the Broadway musical Carousel. The power of The Kop singing their adopted anthem is – apparently – like nothing on earth. You don’t just hear the singing; you feel the singing too.
So why am I telling you all about Liverpool FC and their singing fans? Well, because this morning we are most fortunate enough to be able to use our new hymn books for the very first time. It is a really lovely hymn book, chosen with expertise by our director of music to enable us to sing a wide range of traditional hymns and the very best new hymns being written by musicians of our own age. It is beautifully set out in very well bound books which are good to hold. We have several formats available: words only; words and melody and some very good large print books which are not at all unwieldy to handle.
So in order to celebrate the occasion and to acknowledge, publicly, the wonderful ministry of our choir and director of music, I thought it would be good to reflect on the importance of singing in the Mass. There are four reasons why singing is important in the Mass, and is a gospel response to the world’s brokenness.
Reason #1: HARMONY
Singing is an act of harmony. Singing is, at its very core, an act of collaboration. Jesus, in the Gospel we have heard today, urges us “to love one another” - to build a community of harmony. When we sing together, we use music composed by someone else; we sing the words written by another person. We know these hymns that we sing in the first place because someone else sang them, and we were listening and learning. To sing well, we also, have to listen to all the voices around us, and to the accompanying music on the organ or piano. When we sing hymns together, we are joining our voices with that great cloud of witnesses in the whole Church; those alive and those who have died, composers, writers, singers, choirs, musicians and congregations.
Reason #2: AN OFFERING OF OURSELVES
Jesus teaches us: “If there is love among you, then everyone will know you are my disciples.” It is this love of Christ that binds us together in perfect harmony. We set ourselves an aspiration, when we make harmony together. We aspire to bond with one another and live out the words we sing. Words of prayerful meditation; words of joy; words of solace; words of healing and forgiveness; words of unconditional, God-given, Christ-revealed, Spirit-filled grace and LOVE.
Singing uses your whole body. One of the first things voice coaches will do with their students is to teach them to sing from their diaphragm, which is here, at the very centre of your body. When you sing from here, it means that the words aren’t just in your mind, or in your mouth, but are vibrating in your whole body. It means they’re supported by the air in your lungs, the air that oxygenates every drop of blood in your body, air that our faith tells us was breathed into us at the very first by God’s Spirit. Singing is praying with your whole body.
Reason #3: TO REJOICE
In the Bible, singing is often a fundamental and immediate reaction to God’s revelation. The chief CANTICLES (sung prayers) at Mattins and Evensong are such biblical songs.
Zechariah sings his song “Blessed be the Lord, God of Israel” in response to the news of Jesus coming among us. This is a man who was struck silent in the Temple because he doubted that God’s Word would come to pass, and this song marks the moment when his silence ends. After weeks of not being able to speak, the first words out of Zechariah’s mouth are a song that has been picked up and carried on by the Christian church throughout every generation.
Mary sings, “My soul magnifies the Lord!” when the angel Gabriel announces the gospel good news to her. And at Bethlehem, the angels burst into song when they tell the shepherds in the field who is lying in a manger: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth.” And Simeon, the old man in the Temple, sings, “Now Lord, you let your servant go in peace” when he first beholds the infant Jesus.
The gospels record that Jesus and his disciples sang psalms on the night before he was crucified. St Paul’s letters preserve what we think are some of the earliest hymns of the Christian community, and in Colossians, Paul urges followers of Jesus to keep singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.
Throughout the Bible, people sing with joy, because it suddenly breaks upon them what God has done for them. We are a people who believe that we are saved by God’s overflowing love - grace. “Love one another as I have loved you” says Jesus. Nothing can ever keep us from the love made known to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. When we grasp that in our hearts, how can we keep from singing?
Reason # 4: UNITED IN LOVE
And when we gather on Sunday - as we prepare to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ, we sing the very same song Isaiah heard: “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of your glory!”
We sing those words, because we believe that when we sing them, in that holy moment when Christ comes among us, under the appearance of broken bread and the poured wine - we are singing along with the company of the angels and the archangels in the presence of God’s glory.
We are singing with all who have ever worshipped in this holy place. We are singing with those who taught us our faith; with those whom we continue to love but see no longer; we are singing with those close by us and those far away. We are singing with Henry Richards and Edward Pusey, who re-founded this church in 1847; we are singing with Mother Julian of Norwich and St Mother Theresa of Calcutta; we are singing with the sea and the skies and the stars and the whole world, which is held together by the love we name as God.
I am sure you are singing with certain people: with family and friends who live away; you are singing, here, with people who have shown you the real meaning of the love of which Jesus spoke. I’m singing with my grandmother, who taught me how to love as Jesus loved her; I’m singing with my great grandparents, who I never met, but heard so much about; with my parents, who now at rest still inspire and encourage me.
St Augustine famously said: “Who sings, prays twice”. When we sing, in our worship, the barriers between heaven and earth disappear and we glimpse, for a moment, God’s reign fully among us, fully realized: as harmony - a model of love. In a world full of shouting and discordant voices, we come to this church on Sunday, and we sing. We sing of the God-given gift of unconditional love revealed to us by Jesus. We are united in songs of the love and harmony; the challenges and trials experienced by all saints and sinners both living and dead, of every tribe and tongue. Back to The Kop:
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone.
People of God, come, let us sing to the LORD!