The Pain and Joy of Community – Evensong Homily, October 23, 2016
Let us pray.
Take our lives and let them be
Consecrated, Lord to Thee;
Take our moments and our days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise. Amen.
What a joy it is to partake in the beautiful service of Evensong again in this place, and to hear once more the pretty and polished tones of our choristers as they lead us in song. It brings me back, as so much of life here often does, to my own time as a chorister and the many, many instances in which I closed my day by singing this lovely evening service.
I have many fantastic memories of my time as a chorister—including hilarious talent shows at choir camps, fun tours to other cities, glorious Messiah concerts and even singing on TV and for Presidents—but I feel especially called to share one particular memory today as we prepare to officially welcome Sushmita Narayan into the choir. It’s a memory of a fistfight that I recall witnessing one morning after choir practice, an incident I think I remember so well because I am fairly certain it is the only fistfight that I had ever witnessed as a child.
I bring up this fight not to excite the choristers or to scare their parents or their director, but to demonstrate just how powerful this experience of singing together in close community can be. Choristers: just ask the oldest and longest serving among you; they know that they’ve found some of their best friendships through this program, friendships that take them through thick and through thin and that can last even after their time here ends. Singing in this choir binds you to each other and to this place, to which many of you will return long past the last chord of the final anthem you sing.
However, the intensity of this experience and of the community you form among yourselves here may occasionally cause some friction or even conflict. Living and functioning in community can be hard. Those of you who went to Choir Camp know this: you know that not everyone in any group is going to be your favorite companion, that even your very best friend may get on your nerves from time to time, that every now and then you might need to be left alone. Every community, including this choir, will at some point disappoint you.
The early Christians also knew this. Our lessons this evening hint at the sometimes difficult reality of the community they were a part of. In 1 Corinthians, Paul implores them to remember that in the ritual of Holy Communion, they come together as one body, and asks them to put aside their own needs for the sake of the group. In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus lays out a plan for how to deal with conflict, assuming implicitly that conflict will occur, and his plan prioritizes keeping the community together, even as it seeks to deal with conflict honestly and thoroughly.
Choristers, I think it’s important to remind you all this evening, as Sushmita joins your ranks formally and a whole gaggle of young choristers prepares to do so in a few months, that not every moment in this choir will be a happy one. Sure, there will be plenty of happy times—and meaningful ones—but sometimes rehearsals will get long, wills will wane, and friendships will strain. No community is perfect, and this one is no exception.
The good news is that every moment in this choir—even the bad ones—provide an opportunity for learning about yourselves and others, and for growth. If God is present everywhere two or three are gathered, then God is present every time we gather with one another, whether in celebration and joy, in sorrow and sadness, or in conflict and pain, laughing with us, crying with us, struggling with us, and making each moment sacred and special. Whether, then, you have one year left in this choir, or two, or ten, welcome a new chorister as one of your own tonight, and await with excitement the discovery of how significant—and holy—your future together will be.