This week we are called to Remember, both with thanksgiving and sorrow, those whose lives have been given and taken away in pursuit of the good purposes of freedom, justice and peace in wars and conflicts past and present. We do this at a time when our peace is somewhat distrurbed by the pandemic we are facing. So I wanted to consider what we might learn from those who have gone before us, from those who gave their lives to restore peace in the past and in particular how they were able to find courage, perseverance, strength and unity in times of adversity.
One of the greatest sources of such character seems to be music. We hear of how the tireless work of the army song leaders was to lead their men in song; both to combat boredom as soldiers awaited the next bombardment and to divert their minds from the onslaught they were anxiously expecting. We know too that in Prisoner of War camps songs proved to be the prisoners’ only way to keep their courage. And in need of unity and patience those back home turned to music
We are missing shared song in these current times, not least in the churches where we have not been able to sing for some time now. The absence of choirs and hymns is a challenge to us in this pandemic. So it is for us to remember this morning that song begins in our hearts and the start of recovering our music comes from lifting our spirits to a place of thanksgiving.
This message resounds from a history far beyond the regiments and trenches of the World Wars. Indeed in the Old Testament we read the words of a people who had lost their ability to sing because of the adversity they faced. The people of Israel had been taken in captivity to Babylon from their beloved city of Jerusalem so in sadness they wept and could not sing their songs of praise and celebration any more:
- 1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept, when we remembered Zion.
- 2 There on the poplars,we hung our harps,
- 3 for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
- they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
- 4 How can we sing the songs of the Lord, while in a foreign land?
- 5 If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill.
- 6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you,
- if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.(Psalm 137 )
In these words we are reminded how closely song is associated with the heart. When our hearts are despondent and our courage failing we cannot sing. And this is perhaps why it was so important to encourage songs in the trenches and in battle. To raise spirits and strengthen hearts. We are given an example in the New Testament of how we can in fact choose to sing in times of trial despite our circumstances and physical tribulation. We read of St Paul and his friend Silas imprisoned in Philippi for their faith. In the account of their trials in the book of Acts we read:
22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. (Acts Chapter 16)
Despite all their pain and misery Paul and Silas were experiencing they were singing hymns. In the darkness of an inner cell, just as in the hell of the trenches in the World Wars, those able to sing found courage and hope, strength and unity.
Whilst most of us are not so challenged now as those who in history who have been occupied or taken captive, or those who were at war or imprisoned, nonetheless we can be reminded that our relative trials must be faced with
song. Music is the basis on which our spirits are to be revived.
We may not be in the familiar and safe surroundings of our own buildings .. nor were the Israelites. We may not have our instruments or hymn books .. nor did the soldiers in the War. We may not be able to gather choirs to support us .. nor did Paul and Silas. So we must follow the example of those who have gone before us at this time of Remembrance and find ways to sing in our hearts on our own where necessary. To sing from our hearts no matter how despondent we might feel. For in doing so we will encourage ourselves and others towards finding peace and courage in troubled times. Song is the gift of God to all people at all times in all circumstances. I encourage you to keep singing no matter what .. and may your heart be strengthened and your joy be found.