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Sermon Preached at the Dedication of the Grand Organ of York Minster On Easter Day at Evensong

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Sermon Preached at the Dedication of the Grand Organ of York Minster On Easter Day at Evensong by Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor and accompanied by Ben Morris Assistant Director of Music

Readings Psalm 66, Ezekiel 37:1-14, Luke 24:13-35

Background to the Sermon

On Easter Day we rededicated the Grand Organ of York Minster in which it was ‘woken’ up from sleep after a once in a century refurbishment project. The sermon was a first for York Minster, preached by the Precentor, Canon Victoria Johnson and Ben Morris, Assistant Director of Music.

Central to the concept of the Sermon was the sound of Easter made manifest through the wonderful instrument which had just been dedicated by the Archbishop of York.  Vicky said, ‘this was a unique experience combining Liturgy, Music and Spoken word to create a new sound world for the Minster, where the organ, at the very heart of our worship, was given a voice. At a time when congregations are not permitted to sing, the organ articulated the Easter Alleluia on our behalf.’

The sermon was written attentive to the emotions and experience of sound, and tried to articulate the joy of Easter through the Easter Hymn ‘O Filii et Filiae’ whose Alleluia ran like a golden thread through the text. The effect of the sermon relied on the exceptional improvisational skills of Ben Morris who accompanied the text from beginning to end. This co-creation of word and music was greatly appreciated and it provided a moving and exhilarating experience for those who were able to be in the building and those joining special service online.

Have you heard the sound of the Easter Alleluia?

The Organist plays the ‘Alleluia’ from O Filii et Filiae, quietly and mystically, running into a simple minor chord (on quiet strings or similar).

Two thousand years ago, as the sun began to rise, early in the morning on the first day of the week, Mary sat on a stone weeping. She had not yet heard the sound, and her tears ran down her face and dropped onto the dusty earth. As she wept, and as her tears fell, small white flowers sprung up in their place. Small white flowers around her feet.

The sound of small flowers springing up is placed on top of the chord.

Her tears became like the river of the water of life, rushing, flowing, surging, creating something new, there in the garden.

A very quiet sound of water running starts to emerge

And then a voice said ‘Mary, why are you weeping’?

And there in that moment, she suddenly heard the sound of the Easter Alleluia.

A tiny echo of the Alleluia is sounded, and then returns back to the chord.

Two disciples were walking and talking, grappling with a grief which barely contained their confusion at all those strange events in Jerusalem. The crowds, the betrayals, the trial, the circus of accusations, someone washing their hands of it all.

They looked up as a stranger suddenly appeared alongside them, listening, talking, wondering, and in his voice, they hear something of the likeness of…. But no it can’t be.

First five notes of the Alleluia, but then not quite getting there. Back to the chord.

They walk a little further and come to rest at the end of the day. The kindly stranger is still with them and then, in that moment, in that precise moment as bread is broken and wine is shared, their hearts are strangely warmed, and they hear the sound of the Easter Alleluia.

A warm echo of the Alleluia is sounded reducing to a single note- which moves into the first verse of O Filii et Filiae as a single note melody…possibly with a very low undergirding to represent the universe being made.

In the very beginning, when God said ‘let there be light’ this was something of the likeness of the sound of the Easter Alleluia.

As the breath of God blew through the desert and bones clicked into place, bone upon bone, flesh upon flesh. Bones in the sand were brought to life through the sound of the Easter Alleluia.

Back to the chord

Then one day the sound overshadowed the bright heart of a girl, and in her womb there dwelt the new seed of this sound, and from her lips she sang out with all of her being, and though she did not know it yet, she sang with the sound of the Easter Alleluia.

Perhaps a simple chordal or mystical mixture sound of the Alleluia, merging back down into a note, then a chord, then maybe some quick and quite engine like, ‘coursing and building’ the church, to underlay, culminating in a whisper, then a roar of the Alleluia.

This beautiful sound came to live in the hearts of those who could hear it and became the engine oil of justice and righteousness, it brought peace where hatred held sway, it melted the pride and power of the cruel, it disrupted the careless and the slick, and raised up the humble and meek; it exposed lies to the light of truth and gave voice to the voiceless.

It coursed through history, turning sinners into saints, sanctifying the blood of the martyrs, turning our world upside down. It gathered from north, south, east and west, and day by day and year by year, this sound which was from the beginning, made all things new, and in whispers and in roars, we still hear the sound of the Easter Alleluia.

Back to the chord and into alleluia to ‘create the song’…

Can we hear that sound today? After a year of grief and fracture and pain and loss, after a year of isolation, confusion and testing to our limits, we sit again with Mary, in the garden, whose weeping at the grave, creates the sound of a song: Alleluia

Then into silence.

Far, far away from that garden through time and space, in the lands of the north, in a church of great splendour, there was an instrument which had no sound for year upon year. And despite everything which challenged it, and everything that silenced it, one day, it found its voice again.

Back to the chord

It had pipes like penni-whistles, and pipes like clarinets and flutes, and pipes like the strings of an orchestra, and pipes as big as the funnel of great ship navigating the waters of this world.

The Organist illustrates as above and then returns, back to the chord.

The purpose of this instrument was re-kindled by skilled hands and careful ears, and it returned to fulfil its vocation.  On this day, when we cannot sing, it sings for us, like a choir of five thousand voices- and it becomes for us a sign of the sound of the Easter Alleluia.

The Organ builds and builds very slowly to:

So let us hear it sing for us, as we sing in our hearts of Jesus Christ who is risen for us and for all.

For he is the sound of the Easter Alleluia. Alleluia Christ is risen, he is risen indeed. Alleluia.

A full verses toccata style finish of O Filii et Filiae, ending of course on the final chord with a B natural and not a B flat. Major, not minor.

Amen.

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