How many of us have been driving down the road and heard a song come on the radio that immediately takes you back to another time and another place that first date, that perfect summer vacation, cruising with your buddies, the first song you danced to at your wedding. Music is incredibly evocative. Unlike almost anything else a song can bring back memories, vivid images that may have been long forgotten precious memories, difficult memories, memories of times we may long to recapture.
Music is powerful, very powerful and today as we worship our God we celebrate one form of music – jazz and in so doing we celebrate all music as an integral part of our spiritual lives. Today Virginia and Mark Whitmire, our choirs and musicians are like the shamans of old as they invoke the Holy with their music. And anyone who thinks that music is just a side dish meant only to compliment the service has never heard the main courses being offered up here Sunday after Sunday. As I said two years ago when I first asked Mark and Virginia to think about doing a jazz Eucharist I always imagined they would find a way to work a few good old standards into the service. Never did I imagine that they would create a whole repertoire of original music and original arrangements. What a joy it is to share in the gifts these good people offer us week in and week out and most especially today.
Now I have to admit that I don’ t think I have a musical bone in my body. I don’ t sing very well and I can’ t play a musical instrument. Although, as I drive around Richmond and the right song comes on the radio I can play a mean steering wheel! Have you seen those idiots like me driving around singing at the top of their lungs pounding out rhythms when they should be steering? Yes when the right song comes on this uptight WASP has been known to make a pretty good fool of himself and it is extra special when I do it in my collar.
You see I love music and I can’ t remember a day in my life without it. One of my earliest memories is spying on my parents as they danced all alone in the kitchen to Guy Lombardo records. I remember many nights having dinner with my very proper grandparents who put aside the linen napkins and set up the TV trays every Saturday night to watch the Lawrence Welk Show. I remember the day I got my first record player you know that box you opened up that had the speakers in the lid. And I will never forget how in 1971 my older brother came into my room took my David Cassidy record off the turn table smashed it on the ground and replaced it with the Rolling Stones, Let it Bleed and thus my musical future was changed forever. I remember being deeply moved the first time I heard Bach’ s Brandenburg Concertos live, and the first time I listened to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and realized that a whole new musical world had just opened right in front of me. I still have every record I have ever purchased, much to Melissa’ s chagrin, and I still listen to many of them. And while I have hundreds of CD’ s, in recent years I have gotten the greatest pleasure out of my Ipod and the 3,600 songs I can take with me everywhere I go.
What is your favorite music classical, blue grass, jazz, opera, rock n roll, country, gospel, swing? Do you have a favorite? Do you have a sense that music can be so much more than just entertainment? I really believe that those wonderful moments when a piece of music moves us deeply and pulls us out of ourselves are holy moments, God filled moments, moments when we have been touched by the Spirit. Music like any art form has the ability to open us up to the presence and wonder of God found in sight and sound, touch and movement. Episcopalians tend to be a heady bunch of Christians. We like to think about God, we like to argue about God, we like the intellectual enterprise of learning about God. But we are less inclined to open ourselves to just experience the presence of God, the presence of the Spirit. Music, whether in worship or elsewhere, is one of those blessed gifts that can crack us open so that we can do more than think – so that we can feel. Have you ever sung a favorite hymn on Christmas or Easter, at a special wedding or funeral and felt that tingle on the back of your neck and the goose bumps rise on your arms? That is the Holy Spirit, moving through the gift of music, breaking down our defenses reaching out to touch us.
If a sacrament is defined as an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace then music in all of its form can be sacramental. Whether it is sacred music experienced on a Sunday morning or secular music danced to on a Saturday night, the joy of music can shorten the distance between heaven and earth producing one of those thin places where the created meets the creator, where the mundane touches upon the holy. May we all be touched today, deeply, powerfully in the sacrament of Word spoken, in the sacrament of bread and wine shared, in the sacrament of joyful music offered to the glory of God. Amen.