St Bride's: Sermons

St Ceciliatide

St Ceciliatide

St. Cecilia - Domenichino

One of the objects in St Bride's which most people miss is the painting hanging over the door into the vestry. It is a painting of St Cecilia after Domenichino, a 16th Century painter - but sadly only a 19th century copy.

St Cecilia was a 3rd century Christian martyred for her faith. In art she is frequently represented as playing an organ, and she has become the patron saint of music and musicians. Her feast day is 22nd November.

Music, I believe, is one of God's greatest gifts to us: music touches the parts nothing else can reach: it engages not just our minds but our emotions and our passions.

The fifth century philosopher Boethius said that music was the redeeming mediator that brought harmony out of chaos and that was capable of inserting us into the deeper harmonies of the cosmos itself. Those early Christians certainly had a very high view of music: but they believed that music had not just a divine purpose, but a human purpose, and that was to obliterate the distance between performer and listener so that you cease to be just a spectator and become a participant. And that is true of all music but especially of music in church.

Why is that important? Why not remain a spectator and allow the music to wash over your without having to get involved? To listen to music as a spectator is to remain safely immune to whatever power music may possess to touch and change you. To listen as a participant is to be drawn into what it is that the music longs to convey. I listened the other day to the Seventh Symphony of the Swedish compose Allan Pettersson, who died in 1980. Pettersson came from a grim working class housing estate in Stockholm and suffered throughout his life from unspeakably painful rheumatoid arthritis. His music is powerful, intense and sometimes extraordinarily moving. Now, he had no illusions about music: he once wrote

'the biggest scoundrels I have ever known were deeply musical'

But he went on to say that, when you compose music or really listen to it, something bursts inside you, and you begin to sing. That's what black people did under slavery and what soldiers do in times of war. It carries them along and gives them the courage to keep going. When we overcome our personal horrors and make art of them, then our music has a message.

So we must seek to be participants in music, not just spectators, striving to create the right context that allows that to happen.

Our readings this morning are full of apocalyptic warnings about the end of the world and the final coming of God's Kingdom. They sound to our ears rather grim and gloomy but to the early Christians they conveyed a message of hope: a feeling of 'Take heart and do not fear.' It made them want to sing, because as Christians have put it ever since, Our God Reigns and no power of evil or sorrow can separate us from his love.

So today, the festival-tide of St Cecilia, we thank God for the gift of music. We thank God for Tallis and Bach and Elgar and Gershwin and Britten, yes and the Beatles and Burt Bacharach and Elton John and the rest - all those, who in the sounds they create and the songs they sing, offer us a glimpse of the Creator Spirit who is constantly at work, longing to draw each one of us into the power and rhythm of his love, to make us not just spectators but participants in the rhythms and sounds we create in music which can join us to the deeper harmonies of the cosmos itself, which can lift us up to God.

A bit too high flown? Let me put it another way then. It's only what George Gershwin was trying to express when he wrote in 'Girl Crazy' in 1943: -

I got rhythm,
I got music,
I got my man,
Who could ask for anything more?
Old Man Trouble
I don't mind him,
You won't find him
Round my door.
I got starlight,
I got sweet dreams,
I got rhythm,
Who could ask for anything more?

Thank God for rhythm, thank God for music. Who could ask for anything more?

 

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