April is NaPoWriMo, (National Poetry Writing Month), and I have not exactly participated, but I will be posting each day for this Holy Week. It will be a double today, because I failed to get yesterday’s – Palm Sunday – in on time. So, I will begin with a brief poem about my experience of Palm Sunday this year.
Some background: The Rev. Dr Bruce Pate is a gentleman (in the truest sense of the word), who is a baritone in the chancel choir of our church, Long’s Chapel United Methodist Church in the village of Lake Junaluska, NC. He is now 85 years old. Our chancel choir is the group that sings for our 11 a.m. “Traditional Style” service each Sunday morning. We have a Praise Team that sings for the other three services each Sunday that are in a “Contemporary Style.” If you are around my age or older, you will be familiar with an “old chestnut” of a solo piece of music called “The Holy City.” The chorus goes “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, lift up your gates and sing! Hosanna in the highest! Hosanna to the King!” Let me make it absolutely clear: I have never really liked or enjoyed this anthem. It is very old-fashioned, with phrases that begin with words like, “Me thinks,” etc. It was old-fashioned when it was written, I think. That’s not to say that all old-fashioned music is on my “out” list, but this one in particular has always been there near the top.
However, it is a favorite of many people, mostly elderly, but not all, and Bruce sings it each Palm Sunday as the offertory. Bruce is the type of person I want to be when I grow up. He is now 85 years old. His voice is not. His voice sings out in the clear, baritone sound that might be coming from an angel singing directly through him. Not one note out-of-place, every word understood. When Bruce sings “The Holy City,” it is as though he is there in that New Jerusalem, and it is the most beautiful music I have ever heard – each and every time he sings it. I weep, along with most of the congregation as we watch and listen to this man sing from his heart and soul, and I think, if ever I doubted that the Holy Spirit could be a real and palpable presence around me, then his singing dispels all such doubt. Bruce is not just a member of our choir, he is also extremely active in the prison ministry of our church, and he is beloved by the inmates that he visits, and speaks with on a regular basis. There is nothing false in him, there is no proselytizing, or rude “Bible-thumping” just a listening ear and a loving heart. Because of him, many men have made their way from prison into new lives, totally transformed. I would love for every one of you to know this man because he exemplifies “Christian Gentlemen” in the very best sense of the name. It is a blessing to know him, and his equally wonderful wife, Jean. I am already eagerly awaiting his singing it again next year on Palm Sunday – March 29, 2015.
Palm Sunday, 2014
I have heard God’s voices, listened –
rapt attention, wrapped in wonder.
I am touched by music, reached
in my innermost soul by sounds
Music is the mystery that will
never be solved; nor do I wish it .so.
The holy design of music
is beyond my ken, yet I hear it
everywhere. Voices some might
call profane have uttered sacred
song to me. And even when the
final note by humanity is sung, still:
*“All nature sings, and round me rings
the music of the spheres.
“This is my Father’s world,
the birds their carols raise.
The morning light, the lily white
declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world,
He shines in all that’s fair.
In the rustling grass, I hear Him pass,
God speaks to me everywhere!”
(*Lyrics in italics from “This is My Father’s World,” by Maltie D. Babcock, 1901)
Here is the instrumental tune to which the lyrics are most often set, “Terra Beata”
I wish you all enough. . .