Not so empty vessels

[A 3 minute read]

There are those moments, now, when people, from their isolation, sing together online or dance on their doorsteps at a distance. On a Thursday, we cheer carers, and some are armed with a percussion of saucepans or they whoop and whistle, the wind section of an orchestra of very different proportions. It’s quiet here. Like so many churches throughout the country and around the world, we’re closed for public worship, and the streets are robbed of our Palm Sunday Procession, no Hosannas to be heard. So, here,  there is an emptiness, and our lives feel emptier, too. Some have struggled or found ingenious ways to fill the time at home, to fill the void created by the loss of so many things we had taken for granted. And there’s the emptiness experienced, too, at missing out on the celebrations and liturgies of Holy Week and Easter which lie at the heart of our life together.

Today, though, in the Scriptures of the day, is a song of emptiness, of emptying, well known, well loved. In his letter to the Philippians, St Paul seems to quote a hymn possibly sung by the New Testament Church: “His state was divine, yet Christ Jesus did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave and became as men are; and being as all men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross.” It’s a song of Incarnation and Salvation, celebrating the Lord who, to quote an unseasonal song, ‘came down to earth from heaven who is Lord and God of all.’

That Christmas song goes on: ‘With the poor and mean and lowly lived on earth our Saviour holy.’ Maybe the self-emptying of Jesus speaks to the emptiness experienced now. To get to Jerusalem, Jesus jumps on the back of donkey – what a strange Sovereign he is. He washes his disciples feet, submits to human authorities, accepts the cross. On Golgotha’s hill he is stripped even of his clothing, as naked as the day of his birth once in Royal David’s city. ‘But God raised him high,’ so Paul’s song goes, ‘and gave him the name which is above all other names so that every tongue should acclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’

We sing to make us happy or express how sad we feel. We sing in defiance, in protest, in praise or to lullaby someone to sleep. We whistle when we work, and spin a tune when washing our hands. What was it? Happy Birthday twice or the National Anthem or the Salve Regina? Take your pick! At times, though singing may be above us, beyond us. The Jewish people, exiled in Babylon, were once unable to sing. ‘We hung up our harps, for there our captors required of us songs…saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?’ They yearned to be on familiar ground again, on home turf, back where they belonged. And so we yearn too, yearn for us to gather together as the church again, to break the silence and the emptiness with a song or two! But wherever we are, there is always space for a song. Let this Holy Week be a Homely Week where ‘Hosanna’ takes root in our hearts and we hail the one who emptied himself for us and, in turn, fills our emptiness with his love and his life.

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