In Port-au-Prince…they are singing

In 2008, I celebrated Easter in the Cathedral Church of St. George in Jerusalem…with Bishop Suheil Dawani and the Presiding Bishop whom I had accompanied on a visitation there.  We sang a wonderful hymn text set to the tune of “Praise my soul the King of heaven” which I’m going to ask Krista Mays to use sometime during the Easter season.  The verses read like this:

Easter people, raise your voices/ sounds of heaven in earth should ring/ Christ has brought us heaven’s choices/ heavenly music, let it ring/ Alleluia! Alleluia!  Easter people, let us sing.

Fear of death can no more stop us/ from our pressing here below/ For our Lord empowered us to/ triumph over every foe/ Alleluia! Alleluia! On to victory now we go.

Every day to us is Easter/ with its resurrection song/ When in trouble move the faster/ To our God who rights the wrong/ Alleluia! Alleluia! See the power of heavenly throngs!

I thought of those words last week when I read an article in “The Christian Century” magazine by William Willimon, a Methodist bishop who used to be a professor at the Duke Divinity School.  It was entitled “Now can we sing?” and he writes: “On two mission trips to Haiti with undergrads, there was widespread agreement that the most disarming thing about the country was the laughter of the children, along with their raucous singing.”

“How dare they sing when their life expectancy is so horribly short?  Was their laughter an escapist respite from the unmitigated tragedy of their lives… or a smart rebuke to our assumption that their lives were trapped in tragedy?  As darkness fell upon Port-au-Prince after the earth heaved that January night, people danced in the streets and sang hymns.  On CNN, Anderson Cooper was incredulous.” (1)

Yes, I imagine he was…but are we? Are we “incredulous” at Christians singing in the midst of tragedy? I mean we just heard the story of women coming to a tomb and finding the stone rolled away…women who discovered that Jesus was not there, but had risen. They told that Good News to Peter who checked it our for himself and, not long afterwards, was able to preach that:

“We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us, who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.  He commanded us to preach to the people…” (Acts 10:39-42

And one of those preachers was Paul the Apostle.  We heard from him today as well: that “since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being: for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ” (I Corinthians 15: 21-22).

The Presiding Bishop wrote in her Easter letter this year that: “The Christian community is meant to be a mutual hope society, with each one offering courage to another whose hope has waned, insisting that even in the darkest of night, new life is being prepared. That work is constant – it will not end until the end of all things. And still the community persists, year in and year out, in time of earthquake and war and flood, in time of joy and new birth and discovery. Together we can shout, “Alleluia, he is risen! Indeed, he is risen, Alleluia!” even when some among us are not quite so confident as others. For indeed, the body of Christ is rising and risen when even a small part of it can rejoice and insist that God is renewing the face of the earth and light has dawned upon us.”

Dear friends: It is that story, that testimony, that proclamation, which somehow makes us understand how Christians could dance in the streets and sing hymns on that January night when the earth heaved in Port-au-Prince.

On one level, of course, it makes no sense at all!  And if Paul’s preaching is all fantasy, it doesn’t make sense. If Peter’s testimony is nothing but a fable, it makes no sense at all.

“But what if the grieving women who came to the tomb on Easter morning are right?  What if Friday isn’t the end of the story?  What if God is rewriting human tragedy into surprising comedy?  What if Jesus told the truth when he declared, toward the opening of his ministry, that he was turning today’s tears into tomorrow’s laughter?”

“… Luke’s Good News ends not with the disciples grim determination to right what’s wrong with the world, but with their turning toward Jerusalem, the scene of the greatest of tragedies, ‘with great joy’ (the text says)”

“This world is full of death.  Open your eyes and you will see the weeping all around.  Human life can be, even for the undeservedly well fixed among us, one long series of funerals…

[We’ve certainly seen that here at Trinity Cathedral since the first of the year! We’ve lost some wonderful members of this parish this year – seven of them already…the same number we buried in all of 2009. But we’ve celebrated the resurrection at each one of those funerals! We’ve celebrated their earthly lives and we’ve celebrated their eternal lives.  And many people have joined us, marveling at our ability to do that.]

“As far as I can tell,” concludes Bishop Willimon in his “Christian Century” article, “there’s only one thing we know that the world doesn’t…we know another story.  In the gloom, on the margins, there are women singing…without earthly justification.  Their only rationale is theological.  They have learned the secret about God and can’t help singing.  The God who could have been sovereign chose rather to love.”

“…Listen, in Port-au-Prince they are singing: Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!” (2)…and Amen!

___________________________________________________________

(1) and (2) “Now Can We Sing” the Christian Century; March 23, 2010

One Response to “In Port-au-Prince…they are singing”

  1. Damien Rice Says:

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