3rd Sunday of Easter (C)
Sing, sing a song. Make it simple, to last your whole life long. Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear. Just sing, sing a song…
Sisters and brothers, I think at least some of you may find these words familiar. They’re taken from an old song. Popularised in the 1970s, by a brother and sister duo, named The Carpenters. The song is quite simply titled Sing. And it’s message is as straightforward as its name. It’s an invitation to do one thing: To sing. To sing a song. Not just any song. But a joyful song. A song that lasts your whole life long. But how is that even possible? Difficult enough to sing a happy song once in a while. But for the whole of your life? How do we do that? What do you think, sisters and brothers? Is this something you’d like to be able to do?
To sing a joyful song for the whole of our lives. This is actually the invitation that our Mass readings present to us today. The ability to sing a joyful song as long as we live. This is the gift that is offered to us today. The same gift that we ourselves prayed for in the opening prayer just now. May your people exult for ever, O God… so that rejoicing now… we may look forward… to the rejoicing of the day of resurrection… To exult. And not just with the whole of our lives. But forever. This is the awesome gift that we prayed for just now. And what does it mean to exult, if not to sing and dance for joy? But what does it look like to sing in this way? How do we do it? Our readings help us to understand, by answering three questions about this mysterious gift of perpetual song.
The first is a what question. When I think of singing a song, I usually think first of using my voice. But surely it’s impossible for me to sing with my voice non-stop for the whole of my life? How will I eat or sleep? So, if not with my voice, then with what? With what do I sing this song? This is the first question. And the answer is found in the first reading. We gave you a formal warning not to preach in this name… These words, spoken by the High Priest to the Apostles, show us what the religious authorities are trying to do in the first reading. They are trying to silence the Apostles. To stop them from proclaiming the Good News. To smother their song.
The Apostles, however, respond by doing exactly what the High Priest tells them not to do. They continue proclaiming the Good News. They keep talking about the Crucifixion of Christ. And bearing witness to his Rising from the Dead. They keep singing their song. And they do this not just with their voices. In the reading, we’re told that the authorities have them flogged. And yet, quite incredibly, the flogging does nothing to discourage them. Instead, we’re told that they are glad to have had the honour of suffering humiliation for the sake of the name. The Apostles experience joy even in the midst of persecution. They exult even when made to suffer for their faith. A clear indication that they are singing not just with their voices. But with the whole of their lives. This is what they sing the song with.
The second question has to do with whom. To whom do we sing our song? The answer is found in the second reading. Which describes a vision of heaven. Where an immense number of angels, ten thousand times ten thousand… and thousands upon thousands of angels, are doing exactly what the Apostles were doing in the first reading. They are singing a song. They are proclaiming and praising, worshiping and glorifying, Someone. And not just the angels. But all the living things of creation. Everyone is singing the same song: To the One who is sitting on the throne and to the Lamb, be all praise, honour, glory, and power, for ever and ever. In the second reading, all of creation sings a mighty song of praise to God. God is the One to whom we sing our song.
Here then we have the answers to the first two questions. With what, and to whom, do we sing our song? With our whole lives. And to God and God alone. But surely all this is much easier said than done. Difficult enough to squeeze out one hour a week to come to Mass on a Sunday. And even then, don’t some of us find it a great challenge? A terrible struggle? And not just because the parish carpark is so often full. Or all the pews usually taken. Or the music too fast or too slow. Or the homily too long. Or the priest too boring. All this may be true. But isn’t it also because we ourselves are often too preoccupied. Our minds too distracted. Our bodies too tired and stressed out. We find it difficult to sing a song to God, because there is so often a different tune playing in our hearts. A song not of joy and praise. But of anxiety or discouragement. Not of love for others. But of preoccupation with self. A song that is not addressed to God. But sung for the benefit of those we seek to impress. The society in which we yearn so desperately to find recognition.
If all this is true, then perhaps the third and last question is the most important one. The question where. From where do we receive our song? This is the question that the gospel helps us to answer. Here, the action takes place in a very particular location. By the banks of the Sea of Tiberias. But more than just a physical place, this is also a spiritual one. For this is where important spiritual events take place.
Here is where disappointed and discouraged disciples gather. People who spend a whole night, perhaps even the better part of a lifetime, fishing. But without success. Here also is where Christ, the Crucified and Risen One, appears without warning. Not to judge or to scold. But to guide and to feed. Here, the Lord does the cooking. And the serving. And the encouraging. Here the tired find rest. The guilty forgiveness. The disappointed new hope.
Above all, here is also where singers receive their song. Simon, son of John, do you love me…? A question that is meant not to interrogate, or to incriminate. But to heal and to console. To lead and to inspire. To fill the one who is questioned with the gift of song. The power to give glory to God. And not just in life. But also even in death. When you grow old you will stretch out your hands, and somebody else will put a belt around you and take you where you would rather not go… Follow me.
The banks of the Sea of Tiberias. A place of loving encounter. Where absence is changed into Presence. Failure to fruitfulness. Guilt to mercy. A place where singers receive their song. This, my dear friends, is the spiritual location to which we are invited today. And to find it is not hard. What we need to do is to ask the Lord for the courage to face our own weaknesses. And the patience to wait for him to appear. And to do for us what he did for the disciples. Especially in this Season of Easter, the Lord wishes to give us a song to sing for all eternity.
To sing a song with our lives. A song for God. A song from the place of love… This is the gift of Easter. I’m reminded of these lines from another tune that has to do with singing…
My life flows on in endless song, above earth's lamentation.
I hear the clear, though far-off hymn that hails a new creation.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I'm clinging.
Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?
Sisters and brothers, indeed Love is Lord of heaven and earth. This is what we believe. What we proclaim especially at Easter. Love has triumphed over death. So how can we keep from singing?