Sing a New Song to the Lord

[Homily: Sunday, May 13, 2012]

On the sixth week after the celebration of Easter, our responsorial psalm invites us to “Sing a new song to the Lord…” (Ps 98). I am not sure how practiced you are at singing songs, or finding new songs to sing. Filipinos and Filipinas do pretty well at this, as those of you who’ve been following the current contest in “American Idol” know. Jessica Sanchez is enthralling a huge American audience, and through the wonder of technology, capturing the hearts of millions and millions of admirers around the globe through her songs. I don’t think any of us has ever met her; yet we feel bonded to her by that which is Filipina. So each week, we wait to experience the new song that she sings. When she does, we hold our breath, gape in awe, participate somehow in her talent, and take glory in her triumphs.

But today’s psalm invites us to sing a new song to the Lord. That can be addressed to us as a community. But also to each of us individually. We are invited to sing not someone else’s tired and worn-out song, but a song of exceptional beauty and meaning. We are also invited to sing not to a global audience of millions and millions. But we are invited to sing very personally and very meaningfully, from deep within, a song addressed intimately to the Lord.

I wonder how many of us have ever done that! Just the suggestion of singing to the Lord may already strike us as something unusual, even though at every Sunday Mass we sing sacred songs, and they’re not seldom sung to the Lord. Often, however, the songs are sung rather automatically, without much attention to the words we are singing, without much thinking, without much heart. So a song of praise can be sung like a dirge, and a song crying out for mercy can be sung like a canticle of joy. On American Idol such a disconnect between the truth of the singer and the appropriateness of the song would be thumbed down immediately.

The psalm for today exhorts us to sing a new song to the Lord. A new song: not necessarily new lyrics and a new melody, but a song sung with the newness of personal truth, celebrated in musical artistry, that addresses the reality of the song’s addressee. Have you ever been invited to sing before a senator or before a cardinal or before a king? We are invited to sing to the Lord. How do you do that? Often, when asked to sing, people respond with embarrassment, not wanting to expose their talents to the scrutiny and judgment of the other, not wanting to risk 5 minutes of vulnerability for 15 minutes of glory, even though in the bathroom or before a closet mirror or in a lonely basement they’ve practiced for the moment for decades.

So perhaps I can repeat the Psalm’s invitation. May I invite you today to a golden moment in your life, where the orchestra and the back up singers and the lights are focused only on you as you sing a new song to the Lord? What is the song you would sing? And how would you sing it – with what emotions? what level of passion? what level of inner transparency? – to connect to the Lord you sing to?

Our psalm says, “Sing to the Lord a new song because….” What would that “because…” in your lives be? “I will sing forever of your love, O Lord, for…” you are “that than which none greater can be conceived” or because you are “the unmoved mover,” the “Eternal Law,” the “Nous,” “the Idea”? Is that it? Is that what you would sing truthfully to your Lord about? Is this the powerful concept of God for which you would sing in truth? Or is there something less conceptually majestic and more personally compelling of which you would sing? “I will sing of your love for me, O Lord, love awesome and overwhelming, love tender and consoling! In that moment of darkness, I have felt your light. In that moment of despair, I have experienced your love. In that moment of loneliness, I knew you there. I know, I have betrayed your love. Incredibly, I know I have sinned against your love. Yet, I know your love constant. I know your love forgiving. I know your love unwavering, I know your love steadfast.”

To abide in your love, you say, “Keep my commandments” (Jn 15:11). Yet, what is the sum of your commandments? It is: “Love me. Love one another.” Of this, can you sing a new song to the Lord? Of this discovery of “commandment,” of obligation, when you are most free in loving; of this discovery of deepest freedom when you obey the command to love, to love even when it is inconvenient, to love even when it hurts, as when Jesus loved from his Cross? Is there something new there in your experience of which you can sing? Can you sing to the Lord of love in your family that continues even when it is misunderstood, that is steadfast even when it is rejected. On this special day, mothers, can you sing to the Lord of your unrescinded and free yes to the pains of childbirth and the longer struggles of child rearing? Can you sing to the Lord of your peace after so many colorful years of loving your husband and your children – and paying the price?

Today we hear the incredible words: “Let us love one another because love is from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. For God is love” (1 Jn 7-8). Of this, in this world of wars and of violence and of hatred and of exploitation, in this age where greed combined with economic power pits Filipinos to war against Filipinos and human beings to destroy other human beings, is there anything at all we can sing about with more pathos, poignancy and emotion to God than that he commands us to love one another, and to discover in our loving that love is of God and God is love? Is there anything more beautiful and more sublime that we can sing about to him who is love than how he is discovered in a lover’s kiss and how he is manifested in a conjugal embrace and how his love takes flesh over and over again in the fiat of two people in love?

The invitation for today: Sing a new song unto the Lord…for he has loved us and saved us. A new song to the Lord: that’s a prayer isn’t it? That’s a song of praise, or a song of supplication, a song of despair, or a song of hope. You’re not singing for American Idol. You’re singing to our Lord and King. Let it be your song. Sing it like only you can, not for the entertainment of the globe, but “that God’s joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete” (Jn 15:11)!

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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