- The Rev. Will Stanley
- May 10, 2017
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I love to sing. Many of you know this about me. I am most certainly a priest because I was first a chorister. I’m part of a tremendously rich tradition of folks who pray most clearly as they sing. Augsutine of Hippo (354-430), arguably one the most consequential theologians of Christian history, had a famous turn of phrase: “[one] who sings, prays twice!”
I’m grateful that here at Holy Innocents I’m able to fulfill my musical yearnings, through work with our choristers, singing long boisterously to the hymns, and chanting parts of the liturgy. The Exultet—an ancient chant that runs about 8 minutes from start to finish—is a staple at the Great Vigil of Easter service and I’ve been privileged to sing it at the Saturday evening liturgy two years in a row.
This past year I’ve also had the opportunity to express my passion for music outside of Holy Innocents: I’m a member of the Atlanta Master Chorale, an all-volunteer community choir of about fifty-five mixed voices based at Emory. Two teachers from Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School sing along with me; we perform about five concerts a year. The choir is not a “sacred” group per se, as we sing a broad swath of repertoire along the continuum of sacred and secular. At the moment, we’re hard at work rehearsing Johannes Brahms’ (1833-1897) A German Requiem.
It is a powerful work, both in terms of theological depth and the physical toll it takes on the singer. It differs from traditional requiems in that it is not solely concerned with the fate of the one who has died. It affirms the sadness of those left behind on earth as it offers consolation by holding fast to the hope that one day they, too, will experience the joy which their deceased loved ones are now embracing in heaven.
My first years of priesthood have been lived in this place. In that time I’ve been privileged to walk alongside many of you in the “changes and chances of this life” (The Book of Common Prayer, 133), as the Prayer Book says. And it that time I’ve come to love one liturgy of that Book in particular: the Burial office. Filled with words worn well over the centuries, we know how to do a funeral. We know how to thread the same needle as Brahms’ Requiem: naming death as an authentic reality AND affirming for those of us left on earth that “even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia” (BCP, 499).
In this SEASON of the Great Fifty Days of Easter, resurrection is on our minds. And yet to be a human being is to always have death present in some way, shape, or form. Naming this does not make us morbid…quite the contrary. By affirming the reality of both death and resurrection, we grow in our capacity to live as God’s people NOW and in the life to come.
At the risk of a shameless plug, I end by inviting you and your family to come experience Brahms’ Requiem at one of our two performances in just over a week at the Schwartz Center at Emory (Saturday, May 20th at 8PM OR Sunday, May 21st at 4:00PM). You can find ticket information here: http://tickets.arts.emory.edu/single/eventDetail.aspx?p=101812
I wish you a very happy, healthy, and resurrection-filled remainder of this Season of Easter!