I told the story on Sunday, but I like it enough to tell it again.
Becky and I had a wonderful few days in London between Christmas and New Year’s. The trip was low on plans and high on “what shall we do today?”
Before we left, we had talked about an evensong service possibly fitting into our “what shall we do today?” schedule. Our flat was a ten-minute walk from Saint Paul’s Cathedral and Tuesday, December 27, the Third Day of Christmastide, turned out to be just the right day for that late afternoon service of prayers and carols at Saint Paul’s.
The notice posted on the iron fence outside the cathedral told us the door would be open 45 minutes before the service, and we were there on the cathedral steps at just about the 45-minute mark. There may have been a couple of hundred people in line before us, but Saint Paul’s seats over 3,000, so we knew there would be no problem finding a place to sit.
We entered the church through the famous west entrance, the entrance where kings and princesses enter for weddings and state funerals. We made our way up the long middle aisle of the nave thinking we would sit as close to the front as possible. At about the point where the nave gives way to the massive dome, the line slowed and we could see an usher of some sort stopping the worshippers as they came in. Some continued to the front seats under the dome and others began to find a place to sit in the rows of the nave before the dome. I wondered if you needed to be a king or princess to go beyond the checkpoint.
They weren’t checking genealogy, however. The criterium for being allowed to the best seats, those seats under the dome, those seats as we would take not fifteen feet from where Churchill had lain in state, was your answer to a simple question.
“Are you willing to sing,” the usher asked us in proper British English.
Those who affirmed their willingness to sing were given a bulletin with the words to the liturgy and the carols, while the unwilling were asked to sit in the rows of the nave, more audience than congregation, and the congregation under the dome serving as choir for the service.
Of course, I take note of the fact that he asked whether we were willing to sing, not whether we were able to sing. I felt no hesitation in affirming my willingness to sing.
As the evensong began, we singers under the dome were outnumbered by the audience in the nave, and there were plenty of seats left under the dome. We were a valiant but overwhelmed choir singing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” The music from baroque pipe organ bounced off every stone wall as the soaring dome sucked the sound of our feeble voices up into its vast orb.
I don’t know why so many of us declined the invitation to sing that Tuesday afternoon at Saint Paul’s. Perhaps some of us were appropriately self-conscious of our musical limitations, as I ought to be. Maybe others knew that by attending worship they are able to get into the cathedral without paying the normal tour fee; they were there to see the building. For some, evensong at Saint Paul’s might be another event in the history pageant that is old London. Something like watching the changing of the guards and Buckingham Palace.
“Are you willing to sing?” the usher asked in his proper British accent.
I have taken his question to be God’s question of me in this new year. Am I willing to sing? Or would I rather sit in the back, a member of the audience watching whatever pageant 2017 unveils before us?
Our little pick-up cathedral choir closed the service of evensong by sending the words of Charles Wesley’s greatest of all Christmas hymns up into that massive dome:
Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”
Am I willing to sing in 2017?
Yes, I am willing to sing.
I am willing to hail Jesus, and Jesus alone, as the Prince of Peace and the Son of Righteousness.
I am willing to do my part to share his light and life, his healing grace, with the all who fill my world. Word and deed, I am willing.
I am willing to acknowledge the ways of death infecting my life and to claim and live from the second birth Christ came to give.
I am willing to join my feeble voice to the voice of the herald angels, “Glory to the newborn King!”
Lord, I am willing. Strengthen my will, for it is far more feeble even than my singing voice.
See you Sunday