When David’s son scanned
the spiritual wreckage that was His house
and delared, “Destroy this
and I’ll raise it in three days,”
what He said not as
metaphor – which my students all know
is a kind of lying, a hedging of bets –
but as Truth, both in symbol and fact.
Daily they destroyed this house, and He,
the true house, would raise it,
would turn dull rubble to praise Him.
And when palm branches waved
in Passover praise, and these
Sanballats of another age raved,
and He silenced them, likened them
to duller than stone, for stones
could be turned to a chorus of praise –
I wonder if He turned in mind
to Nehemiah, with
his sword and his trowel, who
knew certainly how
our best laid plans make the best laid rubble
until all our rubble
is animate, raised
and taught again
2017 is almost over, and today we have two choral pieces to conclude our year with, one early, one modern, both settings of one of the readings for the first Sunday after Christmas, Isaiah 61:10-62:4. The first is the delightfully joyous “Gaudens Gaudebo in Domino” by the 16th century German composer Philip Dulchius. The text comes from the opening to the song, “I will rejoice greatly in the Lord”, which Mary echoes in her Magnificat in Luke’s Gospel. A modern reimagining of this text is the late Norwegian composer Knut Nystedt’s beautiful “I will greatly rejoice”, similarly jubilant but with simpler harmony. Both settings, looking not only to our own salvation but the saving of all nations, are wonderful calls to praise and prayer at the end of 2017.
Rejoice in your new clothes,
for the old is done.
The saving one has clothed you with joy
and in the bright raiment of His saving day.
Look to the east, to the west, where the sun
is rising and setting and setting the way,
where the hope of the new is calling, and calling,
where the world is enwrapping in light.
Rejoice in your new clothes;
rejoice greatly now in renewing delight.
For the old is done, the new bright as son,
bright as bridegroom and bride,
bright as the new spring in their eyes,
bright as wedding dance of old foes,
bright as the diadem in your thinning hair,
bright though the year be dimming.
…lucky to be leafless:
Deciduous reminder to let go.
(Eugene Peterson, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”)
Lost in auto-pilot, I find myself,
false turn on false turn, circling in
this airport country where lanes diverge to let
the suitcase-laden taxi-bound
find ways to cities, and ways away.
A loop, and again I am where
I more or less should be: a road.
Yet airport, out of place, lingers in memory,
and just above
the warehouse-horizon hovers
a plane, a reminder, lest
in all my circling I forget.
Trucks are bound where their cargo is bound;
my cargo’s built for no road,
only sky. And so this day,
let transit pierce the veil;
amidst all of this,
I did not see them go there with their flame
to burn the city’s heart, the city’s bones.
I did not see the past fall down in ash
or hear the cries of covenant in pain.
I did not hear the gongs of history clash
or see foe-cities’ gods fight in the square.
Yet in me is a city dead, and groans
of all our cities lost and yet to come.
In all our homes are ghosts, and everywhere
are souls displaced from homes, and everyone
has lost their way from some-where to where-else;
I do not know their places or their ways,
yet in me is the city’s call, the pulse
of beggars in a dust-heap singing praise.
Newness declares itself in broken hearts:
old ruts are vast and carry dust
yet penitence cleans fathoms deep
and always makes anew.
What yesterday made shame your song
today is fading into silence.
Listen: polyphonic hope arises,
gentle, soft, yet sure.
The old has passed, yet still can yell;
The new has come, and comes each day.
In humble ways and hopeful praise,
sing to the Lord new songs.
When morning bright awakens eyes:
awaken tongue; awaken mind.
When birdsong sounds the new of day:
sing, soul and heart; sing new pathways.
When yesterday creeps back to minds:
awaken, spirit; transform flesh.
When patterns threaten, dead songs groan:
listen, heart, to Spirit’s song.
Turn the sounds of self to silence;
lift up selfless praise.
Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord all the earth!…Tell of his salvation from day to day.
(Psalm 96:1, 2b)
Old songs rot in dead ears;
Old ruts of thought declare:
That was not me I will try harder
I had no choice
That’s just the person that I am…
To fudge is human; to change is divine.
The former things are dying;
Listen to this newest song,
The freshest song to sound in years:
All your dead deeds will crumble, fade,
yet there’s a God who gladly saves
and in the stars’ ancient dust He calls forth light…
Turn; sing to Him from your dust heap
your morning Son,
your great Ancient of Days…
J.S. Bach: Motet BWV 225 ‘Singet dem Herrn’ – Vocalconsort Berlin