Graduation happened; all my dear senior students successfully received their hoods and degrees, and although we faculty members had to stand up all the way through the honorary degree citations, Doctor of Ministry in Preaching degrees, Doctor of Ministry in Congregational Development, Masters of Divinity degrees, Masters of Theological Studies degrees, the Certificates of Advanced Theological Studies, Certificates of Studies, and probably a few miscellaneous special degrees — we survived, no one fell asleep on her or his feet. I didn’t get weepy till near the end.
Then I spent the afternoon yesterday scrambling to polish up a sermon for the Evensong (I’ll post it in the “extended” section). I’d had no more time to rehearse than you’d guess from my week, so I was a bit concerned that I’d drift off-key, lose my pitch, and generally ruin the annual big-deal service before the Choir Banquet. Luckily, none of those things happened, although early on I gave a false cue that confused choir and organ. Sadly, the service and sermon seem not to have been recorded (sorry, Jeneane); the choir was terrific!
Josiah gave a Senior Speech at the banquet, and he did admirably (if I do say so myself). The food was excellent, the wine was delicious, and we were utterly exhausted when we got home.
Hebrews 10:32-39/Matthew 24:4-9
June 3, 2005
Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward.
In the Name of God Almighty, the Blessed Trinity on high – Amen.
This is not the end, my beautiful friends, not the end, not exactly, not the end of everything. As the choir year changes key and modulates into the St. Luke’s Singers summer season, so we gather tonight to lift our voices in joyous thankful praise for the uncountable gifts this year has brought us, for hours spent with dear friends in a basement rehearsal room, in these choir stalls hallowed by generations of faithful singers and exquisite musicians and in the choir stalls of Germany and England, to lift our voices in thanks that God has brought us this far by faith, and to sing the confidence that God has yet better things ahead for us.
This is not the end. Nothing stops tonight, nothing dies – but tonight we slow down for an hour or two, so that we can look around at the long haul that got us here, and look ahead at the glory yet to be revealed. Because it has been a long haul, sometimes a bleak way, a tangled way that some days looks like no way at all. Some of us have come here tonight by ways that set our mortal lives at risk, and all of us come by ways that may jeopardize our eternal life. These walls have seen suffering and gloom and we have come through it all – with the help of compassionate friends, with the generosity of cheerful givers, with the unshakeable love by which God holds us in a holy presence that bends, breaks, blows, burns, but does not consume us.
This is not the end, but a change. The seniors whom we’ve gotten so used to will get jobs and pack and move away to new choirs with which to harmonize. The head girls and boys may change; the schedule may change. The new rector and the new choir director will change into the usual choir director and the usual rector. The atmosphere around services will change, and another choir year will begin peeking around the corner of September at us even while we cling for dear life to our August vacation time. Times will change, people will change, St. Luke’s will change, change, but not end.
This is not the end, but after enduring so long a trek, after trials and struggles, after betrayal and we need a sense of where we’re going, what we anticipate. We need a taste of our end to nourish us along the way. So tonight, we squint and hush and reach out, and in our straining we receive hints of something better and more lasting. And sisters and brothers, those hints, those clues, those impressions look good. The hope toward which we’re pressing on looks a lot like our young friends here, bursting out of childhood, turning into adults right before our very eyes – but better! Our hope looks like a congregation growing and being transformed as more and more people find their home among these pews week after week. You can hear our hope, leastwise if you’re sitting very still – it sounds gorgeous, you can hear the angels singing in the rafters and in the choir stalls themselves. You can feel our hope sweeping onward towards us, in the handshakes and hugs with which we greet one another . You can tell something’s coming, sisters and brothers, if we can just hang on to meet it. There’s an end awaiting us, sisters and brothers, and though it’s a ways off, still a distant speck on the horizon, it’s a good hope, and it’s a good end.
But this is not the end. Tonight, in the midst of change and growth and reunion and departure, we get together to proclaim the good enws of the kingdom, to tell the world of beuaty of what the end will be like. It’ll be like exquisite music, sung by angel choirs; it’ll be like a sumptuous feast, and refreshing drink; it’ll be like the friendships forged over years of practices and miles of bus rides; it’ll be like the peace that follows stormy destruction with blossoms and birdsongs. Our hope, our end, will be like these things – but better, ever better, and the more vividly we display that hope, the more persistently we make that hope visible and real in this world, the more the world around us can see and hear, can share and enjoy, can join with us to praise the God of all faithfulness. No, thanks be to God, this is not the end – but tonight, here among saints and angels, we name our hope and call out to the end, “Make room, we’re coming, and we’re bringing friends!” And in the end God promises to smile on us all, and bless us, and to our brazen outcry return a resounding, never-ending: