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Rector's Reflection: The Concerto of Praise and Wonder, May 4, 2024


Beloved members of St. Martin’s,

 

Last night, despite being caught in a 45-minute- long traffic jam on the interstate, we were able to hear Yo-Yo Ma perform live with the St. Louis Symphony Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor.

 

We sat enthralled as we watched the master cellist and humanitarian evoke the beauty of this music from the depths and girts of his body—nimble fingers, strong arms, prodigious memory and imagination (for he used no sheet music for either his performance nor for his encore), and most importantly, with each breath and beat of his heart.

 

Surrounding him were dozens of other musicians contributing to the concerto with their instruments and their skill, and of course, the great maestro, Stephane Deneve,  leading them all, his left hand encouraging or cajoling, his right hand steadily keeping the beat, his body swaying and pivoting at particular moments when certain sections of musicians were playing an especially crucial role in support of the soloist. The sounds and the silences they together produced, envisioned by Sir Edgar Elgar decades ago, were themselves holy reminders of God’s image in all of us, of the wonders of the human soul and imagination in seeking to create things of beauty, like concertos.

 

And I thought about this weekend’s psalm, Psalm 98, that urges us and all creation to make music of praise to God, as I sat there in wonder and delight, taking in this ephemeral experience of beauty and transcendence.

 

Three times in Psalm 98 we are commanded to sing, twice to shout. Six of the ten verses in this psalm mention making noise of some fashion in order to demonstrate the power and glory of God, and that noise-making is not just limited to humans. Sea, land, rivers, and hills also join in the music of worship. Thus, all of creation joins in the song of praise.

 

The “right hand” and “holy arm of God” in this psalm and many others are both symbols of physical strength, favor, and power. So initially we are led to think of God here as a warrior God—three times we see the word “victory.” Yet the strong arm and strong right hand of God in Psalm 98 is used not for grasping weapons, not for enforcing the divine will through oppression or threatened violence, but for conducting us in making music for the sake of praise and expression of joy. The victory is in beauty. The victory is in joy, and love.

 

Think of that. Instead, this psalm supports the message of our epistle and our gospel that it is only through love that the world can be conquered and brought into unity. The love of God, which is God, which is in you and me and all creation. The love of God that urges us to sing, to praise, to overflow with gratitude, and to use every breath and impulse of our beings not for war, but for the creation of beauty in harmony with all that God is doing in the world.

 

In Christ,

Mother Leslie+

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