singing with full voice [sermon]

[a sermon preached at first united methodist church in dayton, texas on sunday april 14, 2013]

revelation 5:11-14
“then i looked, and i heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice,
“worthy is the lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”
then i heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,
“to the one seated on the throne and to the lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
and the four living creatures said, “amen!” and the elders fell down and worshipped.

may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you; o lord, our rock and our redeemer. amen

singing with full voice

today marks the third sunday of easter–we are fifteen days into the fifty days of easter–a time in which we continue to remember the passion and crucifixion and raising of jesus the christ. it was wise of those who assembled the year of the christian calendar to give us fifty days to dwell in eastertide. fifty days to ponder the great mystery of our faith “christ has died. christ has risen. christ will come again.” a time where the memories of easter week are still fresh in our minds–the juxtaposition of shouted and sung hosana’s and foreshadowing of betrayal and denial on palm sunday; the servanthood of christ on manudy thursday when jesus took the role of servant and washed the feet of the disciples; the darkness of good friday; and the depth of the unknown of holy saturday which then bursts forth into gladsome light on easter morning when we read of the women going to the tomb, of jesus saying; “mary.” and she, as if being resurrected herself, comes to life again.

it is a good thing we have fifty days.

and on this, the third sunday of easter, i am going to muddy the waters a bit as we dive into the apocalyptic mystery that is the book of revelation. i must confess, preaching from the book of revelation makes me about as nervous as the time i couldn’t read the arabic sign to decipher if i was getting on the correct ferry to jordan or the very incorrect ferry to saudi arabia… (i got on the right ferry.)

for this decision to read from revelation i can only blame the holy spirit. and trust this is the path we need to be walking down together this morning.

singing has been a part of my life for a long time. being a timid singer has been a part of my life since sometime in middle school, when that ontological change happens in a young teen’s life and confidence takes a nose dive. so, when i got to university to audition for choir i had to be taught to be what dr. paul drummond called a “first note singer.”

because singing timidly tends to not be overly compelling for the listener. often shallow, and, in the life of a choir, not a terribly helpful addition to the ensemble.

in revelation 5 we find john standing before the Lamb, the one that was slaughtered, and the company of heaven whose numbers were a “myriad of myriads, and thousands of thousands” and they were doing something that, by my best reading, only occurs in what john calls ‘heaven’ and when earth is portraying heaven: they are singing with full voice.

these are not the voices of of the timid. these are the voices of those who are standing with the Lamb, those who have experience of the one who was crucified.

all the living creatures, and the elders sing “worthy is the lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

we need fifty days for easter. we need these fifty days to work on the strength of our voices, building up the strength of the vocal folds so we can be singing with full voice when pentecost finds us and lights our hearts on fire.

today i very much wanted to tell you all about the karimajong people of north eastern uganda, east africa. i lived in a karimajong community for three years and spent ample amounts of time playing rogue anthropologist and ethnographer, trying to learn the culture and oral histories of the karimajong. during that time i fell in love with their traditional singing and dancing–in many ways it is simple, in many ways it is complex–and i wanted to use their ways as an illustration for singing with full voice.

however, yesterday, when researching tibetan monks throat singing i stumbled across something that struck me as an illustration whispered into my ear by the holy spirit herself that my karimajong example felt bulky. forced. feel free to ask me about the karimajong, their strong and defiant women, and their warrior culture any time.

so, yesterday, while on that highly scholarly site, youtube, searching hither and yon for tibetan or mongolian throat singing i noticed something called inuit throat singing.

pause. obsession.

before i tell you about traditional inuit throat singing, let me first say why i went hunting for throat singing in the first place. when one is properly executing this way of producing noise, there are up to three different notes created from one person at one time. throat singing often also involves cyclical breathing–meaning the music continues as long as there is breath.

traditional inuit throat singing tend to be duets sung by two women. watching these pairs singing felt as if i were intruding on an intimate and special moment. the feeling of potential intrusion was similar to how i felt in the women’s only train car on the cairo subway when the women would remove their hajib (head coverings), fix their hair, and have their friends/mothers/aunties help them deftly re-pin them before the next stop. i felt like an interloper.

and even here, on youtube, where my presence is an unknown number, i felt as if these were precious moments that did not belong to me.

the two women face each other, often standing, sometimes crouching, almost always holding the other’s arms. from my afternoon’s worth of information gathering, these women tend to stand quite close to one another. one woman is leading while the other responds; the leader produces a short rhythmic motif that she repeats with a short gap in between, while the other rhythmically fills in the gaps.

the lead can change the pattern at any time, and the partner must feel, see, and hear the change and bridge that gap.

back in revelation, the lamb receiving honor and the praise of the company of heaven in today’s reading was, in the preceding verses of chapter five, deemed as the only one able to open the scroll of the seven seals. after the lamb takes the scroll they sing “you are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God.”

the lamb becomes the bridge between the gap of heaven and earth. the one who was dead is now alive and shares god’s throne.

the lamb–that is jesus–is the bridge between heaven and earth. jesus, as we remembered all during holy week, solidified that bridge by living fully into what he had come to be. jesus was singing with full voice. holding nothing back, accepting the torture and pain of execution.

while watching every single video and viewing every single photograph i could conjure, the image of two women, clasping at each other’s elbows, swaying from side to side and each singing her distinct part opened a new space of imagination for me.

if one takes the lead, we could say that this one is like the creator. the lead, god. sets the tone, the pace and the theme. the partner, the bridge, the son; fills in the gap and acts as a bridge between the lead, the creator and completes the song. one could argue, to complete the trinity in this illustration, that the holy spirit is the breath passed back and forth between the creator and the son-the audible tune we hear.

these two, lead and partner–creator and son–are two who move and sing as one, complementing the other, both moving in the same direction.

in throat singing there are notes being sung on both the inhale and the exhale. when the lead is on the inhale, the partner is on the exhale. and vice versa. constant breath. perpetual music.

in one interview a inuit woman said that “when you first start throat singing learning how to breathe properly is really important. if you don’t take in enough air and you don’t let enough out you start to become lightheaded.” and another woman said “it is easier when the people know each other.”

for jesus, the son, the partner, to know god, the creator, the lead is key. were this relationship not an extraordinarily intimate one jesus would not be able to follow the lead of the creator. this is our example. this is what we, the children of god, learn at the feet of the slowly circling and ever -singing creator and son. that for us to sing our part in the song, with full voice, we must know god intimately.

what does it mean for us, as followers and imitators of christ, to sing with full voice? how do you and i, personally embrace the motion of the dancing creator and son? where does your voice fit?
it is so good to have fifty days of easter.

not only is jesus’ obedience in crucifixion an example of his singing with his full voice, so are the events that lead up to that moment. more often than not, when jesus sang with full voice–when he lived boldly and fully as himself–he got into a lot of trouble.

the rebel-rouser who knowingly and willing upset the Powers That Be by speaking and living Truth (with a capitol T) he was chastised, ridiculed.

what are those places in your life? not your neighbor’s life, nor your spouses’ life. not even your children or parents lives. but what are those places in your life, where to sing with full voice you may get called out. laughed at. make a mess or make some unwanted noise?

these spaces, friends, these spaces of grasping the creator by the elbow and joining in the song already in progress are the spaces and times that we are singing with full voice. when we are being who we were created to be.

what do you have to release to have a hand free to grasp god?

is it your phone? the falsity of perpetual business? greed or envy? a misunderstanding that has morphed into rivalry and spite? the desire to be right?

what do you have to stop saying so you can sing with full voice?

is it gossip? is it your silence on something? should you voice you opinion? should your hold your opinion more often?

what is it?

leave it there, grasp god. and get to singing.

close your eyes, tilt your head back, let go, and sing.

“to the one seated on the throne and to the lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” and the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.