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Preacher: Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor
Title of sermon: Keep Going and Keep Singing!
Date/time/service: Sunday 17 July 2022, Choral Evensong, 4pm
Readings: Psalm 121, Isaiah 52:7-10, Ephesians 5:15-20
From St Augustine’s Sermon number 256:
“So, then, let us sing, not in order to enjoy a life of leisure, but in order to lighten our labours. You should sing as travellers do—sing, but continue your journey. Don’t be lazy, but sing to make your journey more enjoyable. Sing, but keep going. What do I mean by keep going? Asks St Augustine: Keep on making progress. This progress, however, must be in virtue. If you make progress, you will be continuing your journey, but be sure that your progress is in virtue, true faith and right living. Sing then, but keep going.”
It’s been a busy couple of weeks, so it was tempting to just read out the whole of St Augustine’s 256th sermon this afternoon, but I do want to say something of my own on this special occasion.
St Augustine seems to be suggesting that when you sing, you never stand still. You sing as you journey, you sing as you walk onwards. Of course, for our choristers, and choral scholars and Vicars Choral, they have been singing from one particular place for a number of years, in their stall, in this Cathedral Church, in the famous Camera Cantorum. It may appear that they have been standing still, but of course, they have been journeying too.
They have been travellers, singing as they walk on their journey of life. Our choristers have been singing as they have grown and matured, from little acorns of musical potential to the mighty oaks of music we see today, and our Choral Scholars and Vicars Choral have grown daily in virtue, filled neither with wine nor ale, but with the spirit! This community of singers, has sung psalms, hymns and spiritual songs together as they have moved school and navigated a global pandemic, we’re so glad we are today able to properly Read-out those choristers who finished their time in the Choir in the midst of lockdown. This community has continued to sing as their own lives have been changed around them, as the world has changed around them, and they have sung not only to sweeten their own labours, but also to sweeten the toil of others and be a balm for those who have needed it, lifting the saddest hearts through their song.
In his 256th sermon, Augustine also said this: Even here, among the dangers, among the trials and temptations of this life, both by others and by ourselves let alleluia be sung. Over the past two and a half years, this choir, one body of many members, has sung online, they have sung as a single voice, in groups of three, six, and then spaced two metres apart, they have sung through all these challenges like sentinels lifting up their voices, like the ruins of Jerusalem being rebuilt, they have sung Alleluia, the song of new life even in the face of challenge.
Whatever else today is, it’s a marker not only on your musical journey, but on your life’s journey when we pause and look back and give thanks for all that has been, and say yes to all that lies ahead. There will probably be many other moments like this in your life, sweet farewells and new beginnings, and at those moments let your heart be steady with the rhythm of prayer, let the words you have sung be inscribed on your heart, sing to make your journey enjoyable and remember your friends will walk with you, wherever you go, let what you have learned here be a constant and help keep you going.
You will have learned many things during your time here, you will have learned some of the most awesome music ever written, you will know more music by Sir Edward Bairstow than any chorister in the land, you will know the psalms almost off by heart, you will know how an organ works – which is seriously a life skill, you will have learned the art of discipline and perseverance, teamwork and leadership, you will have learnt how to use your own voice, you will have learned how to perform at the highest level in the presence of a red light, and hopefully you will have learned what a church is and what it does, so wherever you go in the world you will always feel at home in these holy places.
This is the moment when we can all give thanks for your part in the most amazing human endeavour which is to bring heaven to earth, and raise earth to heaven through song. And while you have been singing, the earth has been turning, and it will continue to turn, so wherever you go whether going out or coming in, we pray the song you have been part of will give you the strength to keep on going.
And then, at the end of all things, when all our labours here are done, we will all sing together again with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven in one triumphant song of praise to the glory of the one and only living God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
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