A sermon preached by the Reverend Martin L. Smith on the happy occasion of the dedication of the new organ at St. Peter’s, Charlotte, on Sunday, November 21, 2010
On occasions like this we have every right to speak of the happiness of God, the joy of God, the bliss of God, as it spills over into our own hearts. And of our power to make God happier by what we create. What gives God joy? It is the delight of God’s heart to blow the Holy Spirit into the fire of human creativity until it blazes brightly. We are made in the image and likeness of God who is sheer Creativity, and nothing pleases God more than the flourishing of our creativity and our readiness to create beauty. This is a happy day for this congregation and the arts and craftsmen whom we honor for having forged this superb instrument of music. And it can be all the happier for our knowing that God is delighted with the creativity that has burned brightly to imagine it, make it, and give its pride of place in this house of worship. Our joy is all the greater for knowing that we give joy to God by bringing such marvelous things as a great organ into being. So as we gather together her to worship, we celebrate the astonishing gift of being able to delight God with the dedication of an organ, which is after all, the largest, fullest and richest instrument of music that humanity has devised, one in which a multitude of arts, skills and subtle traditions converge.
In dedicating this organ we enjoy God’s delight in human technology, ingenuity, engineering, and intricate craftsmanship. The Ode to St. Cecilia which Henry Purcell set to music exclaims about the organ, “Oh wondrous machine!” and what a machine it is, and worthy of admiration in its complexity, and its use of centuries of accumulated expertise.
It is a celebration of visual beauty since such care is put into the artistry and harmony of the case and its placement in the church to delight the eye and lift the heart.
It is a celebration of the fullness of our musical inventiveness, as we recall the astonishing abundance and variety of organ music in a vast repertoire that our contemporary composers are adding to every year. What a heritage and what a resource! Of these riches churches like ours are in some sense the most active guardians since we get to draw on them every week of every year in our worship.
So much to give thanks for, and so much gratitude is owed to those who gave generously to provide this new instrument. But there is something about spiritual gratitude that urges us towards the future. “Oh sing to the Lord a new song!” This instrument is absolutely new, and as we dedicate it, our imaginations should be drawn towards the future, towards the joy it is going to give in years ahead, for generations to come. A fine organ like this is long-lived. Let us use our imagination to look ahead.
There are some verses from Christopher Fry’s famous play, “The Lady’s Not for Burning” which mean a lot to me spiritually. One of the characters hands over a rosehip, the red berry housing the seeds of the rose.
I can pass to you Generations of roses in this wrinkled berry, There: now you have in your hand a race Of summer gardens, it lies under centuries Of petals. What is not, you have in our palm. Rest in the riddle, rest: why not?
I don’t know why but these verses always speak to me of the mystery of wonderful potentiality, of consequences, of a future fullness that we have just the seeds of now. And what should move us most of all at the dedication of an organ, is thinking of the role it is going to play in the religious experience of those who will worship in this church. Because for us the organ and its music is integrated into liturgy, into worship. It is woven into the whole sacramental mystery in which bread and wine and candles and incense and—in the organ—wood, metal, leather, are all sanctified.
The organ is an element in the worship of the community; even when played solo it is always essentially for accompaniment. The organ is integrated into choral singing and into the spiritual experience of worshippers. This is no concert hall, it is the house of God, and its focal points are font and altar. The spiritual potential of the instrument we are dedicating is found in the role it will play in chorus with human voices in hymn and anthem and chant, and in its power to move people to adore and reverence God, and to find God in the midst of all our deepest emotions from grief to sheer elation.
Only God is eternal, and only God truly sees ahead, but in our imaginations we can use our experience as a lens to look into the future, and sense in anticipation something of the gift this instrument is going to be for us in times to come. Just as the rosehip with its seeds already contains a race of summer gardens, and lies under centuries of petals, so a brand new organ is already mysteriously charged and pregnant with the spiritual experience it will enhance. Its jubilant sound will cause hearts to thrill at weddings, confirmations, ordinations, jubilees. Its profound gravity will honor grief and loss and hope at funerals. Preludes will take people out of the banality and scatteredness of everyday fussing and center them for worship. Postludes will send people out charged and energized. Sometimes its meditative power will help people sense the presence of God in the moment and move them to pray.
Above all this organ will be a servant of the Eucharistic experience, this sacrament of Holy Communion that gives us the weekly rhythm for our lives on pilgrimage. Generations will bring the whole spectrum of human experience to the Eucharist. Girls, boys, women, men, old and young bringing loss and fulfillment, doubt and trust, confusion and conviction, happiness and grief, gratitude and guilt and gathering to let God pull it together into the shape given by Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Summer and winter, spring and fall, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Eastertide, Pentecost and the swathe of ordinary time. And undergirding the offering of his spectrum will be the varied music of this instrument, resonating with voices raised in song to express our leaning on God and our need for the constant companionship of Christ who makes what we experience his own.
“Of his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace,” Perhaps the Church in the west fell in love with the organ for its sacramental range and versatility, its fullness. Now is the time to think with gratitude of times in which you have been aware of the music of the organ touching your life, enlarging your spirit, kindling your soul. And also to be grateful for all that you are not aware of, its subliminal effects and the graces we take for granted in our worship that is borne along with music. Of his fullness we and the generations to follow will continue to receive. So we call down the blessing of God on this new instrument for the part it will play in the gift of that spiritual fullness of life coming from him who gave himself os that we might have life and have it abundantly.