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Organ Dedication at St Luke's Cathedral

Posted: Sep 10, 2012


On behalf of the Cathedral congregation, I would like to thank His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston and his wife, Her Excellency Sharon Johnston, for agreeing to participate in the dedication of this fine new instrument.  We are grateful too for the presence of our friends from the Canadian Forces, the 49th Field Artillery Regiment, as well as members of the local community and area churches.  We are indebted to the generosity of those who made the purchase of the new organ possible, especially the Short family.  But nowhere is our debt and gratitude greater than it is to those who have put themselves in harm’s way in order to protect and defend Canada, to promote international peace and security, and who have done so by paying the ultimate sacrifice.  It is fitting that their memory should live on in the music of this instrument, for from ancient times music has been regarded as one of the few things shared by both humans and angels, resounding in heaven as well as on earth.

         His Excellencies will know from their academic backgrounds that music was one of the four subjects of the medieval university, with arithmetic, geometry and astronomy completing the quadrivium.  The ancient philosopher, Boethius, argued, however, that music deserved pride of place, for it is the only discipline of the four that engaged the moral sensibilities.  In this Boethius was drawing from the theology of St Augustine who, in his treatise on music, maintained that the proper study of the subject results ultimately in wisdom, for its highest application is in extolling the glory of God.[1]  Modern psychologists and neuroscientists are in agreement with Boethius on this, at least, that music enjoins both the body and the emotions, the rational and the suprarational, even the physical and the spiritual.  It is appropriate to this occasion to observe that the field of music therapy was developed as a discipline in 20th century Britain when music was employed in the treatment of soldiers suffering from war-related emotional and physical trauma.  But the healing properties of music were understood as far back as the first millennium bc, when the young lad, David, soothed the warrior King Saul’s tormented mind by playing sweetly on the harp (1 Sam 16.23).

         As a Scriptural theme, music operates in three spheres.  The first is the sphere of nature and the created order.  In our reading from Isaiah, the sea is instructed to roar and the desert to lift up its voice in its new song to the Lord.  Here we learn that creation itself is given utterance which it uses in praise of its Creator.  Those of us who have the ears to hear it will readily recognise these songs of acclamation: the booming surf that tells of God’s relentless power, and the delicate song of the Desert Warbler which speaks of his beauty and tenderness.

         Secondly, Scripture speaks of music as the sphere of God himself.  Our second reading refers to the ‘song of the Lamb’.  While this designates in the first instance the song that the angelic host sings about the Lamb, there is something to be said for regarding it as the Lamb’s own song which the divine choir repeats.[2]  The image here is that the story of Jesus, the birth, life, death and resurrection of our Lord is itself a divine opera, taking place on the stages of heaven and earth.  Something of this notion was taken up in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, when the lion, Aslan, sings the world into being.[3]  The whole of human history is a part of a cosmic libretto, with you and I adorning the divine melody.

The final sphere is that of God’s people, when as a community, they give expression to the song of the Lamb planted in their souls.  To the accompaniment of the harps of God, the Seer of the Revelation foretells a time when all humanity will sing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb, admiring the great and amazing deeds of God, and commending his ways, which are just and true.  We do this when, as a believing body, we assemble to worship.  But we perpetuate the echoes of our worship as we move out into the world, the melody fixed in our hearts and on our lips.

          And it is with this thought that I wish to conclude my brief meditation.  I doubt that there are any here among us this morning who have not experienced the transporting beauty of music.  But have you ever thought that in the divinely authored symphony of the universe, you and I are God’s chief musicians?  This morning we are bidden to think of our lives as the instruments of God’s song of love in the world.  Now you may say, ‘But I can’t sing!  I don’t have an ear for music!’  My friend, that is what this choir is for.  That is what this organ is for.  We do not come to church to be entertained by them, for they are not performing to please us.  Rather, the music is offered to us so that it may become our own, and we may enter into the ascendance of a praise that is the first step in the perfecting grace of God whereby all that we feebly and incompetently offer to him is made beautiful.

But this is a metaphor for every aspect of our lives.  In university I had a friend who had aspirations for a career playing the piano.  We often talked about what made a musician good.  How much natural ability is required?  How important is theoretical knowledge and how important is practice?  And for a musician really to make it as a performer, does he or she have to have stage presence?  My friend seemed to possess all of these qualities in varying degrees, but he was philosophical.  All of them are necessary, he said, but the possession of them all is no guarantee of success.  Indeed, it was his opinion that the wrong combination of these was a recipe for disaster, for a musician can spoil the music just as much by over-practice, as by neglect; as much by dominating the stage, as by timidity.  ‘So what do you strive for?’ I asked him.  ‘My challenge is to let the music have its way with me,’ he said.  ‘I am strictly its servant, its vessel, and I must disappear.  For me,’ he explained, ‘the highest compliment is not when people say, “My!  You’re a fine pianist!” but, “My!  Bach was a wonderful composer!”’

         I sometimes think of the Scriptures and the tenets of the Christian faith as the score for the Lamb’s song, and the Church as its musicians.  Our job is so to live the Christian life that people who witness our performance respond, ‘My!  What a great Composer!  This One is worthy of my reverence and my loyalty!  I want to join in singing this song for eternity!’ 

         It is my prayer that the gift of this Rudolf von Beckerath Organ will enhance the ministry of St Luke’s Cathedral in this way: that those who do not know the divine song may detect its strains in this place, and find themselves drawn inward and upward, where they will discover the healing love of Jesus Christ.  Amen.


The Rt Rev. Dr Stephen Andrews
Bishop of Algoma

[1] Augustine, De musica; cf. Boethius De Institutione Musica.

[2] Just as the ‘song of Moses’ is the song sung by Moses.

[3] The Magician’s Nephew.


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