They say it is darkest before the dawn. Perhaps it is the contrasting rays of light that bathe the heavens as our curve of earth turns toward the sun. But we use these words to describe more than planetary events. We use these words to describe ourselves, our lives, our daily struggles trying to see.
We all know the darkness of loss, of fatigue, of illness, of heartbreak. When the lost is found, the tired rested, the sick healed, hearts mended, we sigh with relief, happiness, as light pours into our souls.
This last week the dark night of All Hallows Eve, or Halloween, was lit by the dawn of All Saints. On Thursday in our historic chapel we sang together the stalwart hymn, For all the saints… in which the story of the saints is told by William Walsham How (1864), set to Vaughn Williams’ stalwart marching tune (1906):
For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
These are fighting words. These are words of praise, of joy, of glory, of light. Through the music we catch sainthood, we catch a vision of God, the God who banished the darkness from man’s heart.
Today, the Sunday in the Octave of All Saints, saints’ hymns filled my ears, a joyful part of the Holy Liturgy. We sang the lilting hymn by Lesbia Scott, I sing a song of the saints of God, faithful and brave and true… and the children from the Sunday School processed up the red carpet, each dressed as a saint. Babies and toddlers and grade schoolers, dressed in capes and crowns and armor, stepped solemnly, witnessing to the next generation’s witness, their confession of faith in God’s love pouring over us.
After praying for our country, our church, our families – after scripture, sermon, sacrament – the clergy and acolytes recessed down the red carpet, and we sang one of my favorite hymns of praise, Ye holy angels bright…, tune by John Darwall (1770), words by Richard Baxter (1672) and John Hampden Gurney (1838):
Ye holy angels bright,
Who wait at God’s right hand
Or through the realms of light
Fly at your Lord’s command
Assist our song
For else the theme
Too high doth seem
For mortal tongue….
My soul, bear thou thy part
Triumph in God above
And with a well-tuned heart
Sing thou the songs of love
Let all thy days
Till life shall end
Whate’er He send
Be filled with praise.
A well-tuned heart. From darkness to light, as the dawn breaks, we tune our hearts. We teach our children the ways of God, his immense love. We grow together through prayer, scripture, sacrament. Our hearts, like the planet, turn toward the light, to be bathed in the dawn, to listen for the song.
We tune our hearts, our children’s hearts, the hearts of our families, communities and country. We listen for the perfect pitch of the Creator, for the song that will lift us on angels’ wings into the realms of light, flying. In this way light triumphs over dark.
The last song lingers in my ears even now as I write this and I know it shall linger throughout the week, coloring my time. It is a great gift, this music given us, notes and words exploding from the well-tuned hearts of the saints that came before, those men and women who knew how to fly with angels.