Saturday, May 04, 2019

Sing! (Rerun)

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…

My dear friends, do any of you still remember these words? They’re taken from an old song from the 1970s, sung by The Carpenters. The song is simply titled Sing. And its message is as straightforward as its name. It’s an invitation to do one thing: To sing! To sing a song! And not just any song, but a joyful song. A song that lasts your whole life long.

To be able to sing a joyful song for the whole of my life. In a sense, this is  also what we prayed for in our opening prayer just now. May your people exult for ever, O God. This is what we prayed. And what does it mean to exult, if not to sing and to dance for joy? To sing and dance for joy, not just today or tomorrow. But for ever. This is the grace we are seeking. This is the gift that’s being offered to us. 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 for us.

The first question is with what? With what do I sing? When I think of singing a song, I usually think first of using my voice. But surely it’s impossible to sing non-stop only with my voice! How will I eat or sleep? So, if not only with my voice, then with what? With what do I sing this song? We find the answer in the first reading, where the religious authorities are desperately trying to do one thing: to silence the Apostles. To stop them from spreading the gospel. To smother their song.

But the Apostles respond by doing exactly what the authorities order them not to do. They keep proclaiming the Good News of the Death and Resurrection of Christ. They keep singing their song. And they do this not just with their voices. For, in the reading, even though they are cruelly flogged, the Apostles do not allow themselves to be discouraged. On the contrary, they feel glad to have had the honour of suffering humiliation for the sake of (the Lord’s) name. They rejoice even in the midst of persecution. They exult even when made to suffer for their faith. This shows that they are singing not just with their voices, but with the whole of their lives.

The second question is to whom? To whom do we sing our song? And 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 them – are doing what the Apostles do in the first reading. They are proclaiming and praising, worshiping and glorifying God. In a sense, they are singing a song. And it’s not just the angels who do this, but all the living things of creation. Every created thing is singing the same song of praise and worship. This then is the answer provided by the second reading. To whom do we sing our song? To none other than God. God is the One to whom we sing.

This is what we Christians are supposed to do: We are to sing, with our whole lives, a joyful song of praise to God. But surely this is much easier said than done, isn’t it? Difficult enough to squeeze out one hour a week for Mass on Sunday. And even then, don’t some of us find it a great challenge? Not just because the parish carpark is so full. Or the music too fast or too slow. Or the homily too long or too boring. All this may sometimes be true. But isn’t the reason why some of us find Mass such a chore also because our bodies are often too tired and stressed? Our minds too distracted? We find it hard to sing a song to God, because there is so often a different tune playing within us. A song, not of joy and praise, but of anxiety and ambition. Not of love for others, but of preoccupation with self. A song addressed not to God, but to those in the world whom we may be seeking so desperately to impress.

If all this is true, then perhaps the third and last question is the most important one. The question from where? From where do we receive our song? This is the question that the gospel helps us to answer. Here, the action takes place by the banks of the Sea of Tiberias. But more than just a physical location, this is also a spiritual place. This is where disappointed and discouraged disciples gather. People who spend a whole night, perhaps even a whole lifetime, fishing. But without much success. Here is also where Christ appears. The Crucified and Risen One. Not to judge or to scold. But to guide, to feed, and to befriend. Here, the Lord does the cooking, the serving, and the encouraging. Here, the tired find rest. The guilty are granted forgiveness. The disappointed given fresh hope.

Above all, here is where failed singers receive a new song. Simon, son of John, do you love me…? A question meant not to interrogate or to incriminate, but to heal and to console. To refresh and to inspire. To fill the heart with the power of song. The power to give glory to God. 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 into fruitfulness. Guilt and shame into mercy and mission. This, my dear friends, is the spiritual place to which we are called today. And to find it is not difficult. What we need to do is to ask the Lord for courage to face our own weaknesses – as Peter did – and the patience to wait for the Lord to appear and to minister to us. To do for us what He did for the disciples. To give us a new song to sing for all eternity.

I’m reminded of these lines from another tune…

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, the One who gave His life for us has already been raised. Love has triumphed over sin and death. How can we keep from singing?

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