“…in him it is always ‘yes’” (2 Corinthians 1:19)
We might think of the Psalms as the hymnal of ancient Hebrew worship. They are often preceded by some kind of description of the type of song it is or the type of musical accompaniment, or even the tune to which the psalm is sung. The Psalm we just heard is called a maskil. Scholars aren’t quite sure what that means, just that it’s some type of song. And, of course, some of the Psalm texts actually refer to singing and instrumental music: Come, let us sing to the Lord…Sing to the Lord a new song…Praise God with the blast of the ram’s horn; praise him with lyre and harp…timbrel and dance…strings and pipe. And cymbals.
And so we sing. But why bother? Why go to the effort? Why pay for all those music lessons? Why undertake the disciplines of acquiring skill?
It has something to do with forgiveness. And forgiveness is the common theme of today’s readings. As the Psalm says: Happy are they whose sins are forgiven. And the Gospel: My son, your sins are forgiven. Forgiveness is a major theme in all of scripture, of course. Forgiving and being forgiven are an essential component of the Christian life. Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
Forgiveness is important partly because it has something to do with getting into heaven. But forgiveness also has an “in the meantime” component. Forgiveness is essential to a well-lived life even now, on this strange and wonderful planet.
Why is it essential? Partly because it is freeing. In forgiving or being forgiven—or forgiving and being forgiven, we are set free. We get into some really tight places when we are trapped in unforgiveness. We use up terrific amount of energy being unforgiving. Forgiving or being forgiven undo the shackles and set us free. Forgiving and being forgiven release energy: energy for something else. Freedom and energy.
But freedom for what? Energy for what? To say “yes”—a resounding, ecstatic “yes”. To say “yes” to life itself and all its possibilities. What we are up to is being fully alive. St. Irenaeus said that “the glory of God is the human being fully alive.” As Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians, which we heard a few minutes ago, “…in Christ it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him.” Saying yes to life itself and its myriad possibilities.
Why do we sing or play cymbals or timbrels or lyres? It’s our way of saying yes to sound itself and the myriad possibilities of expression it opens to us. Why do we dance? It’s our way of saying yes to the body’s capacity to move through time and space—a capacity that also opens to us a tremendous range of creative and expressive possibilities.
Why do we draw or paint or sculpt—or build beautiful buildings instead of merely functional ones? Its our way of saying yes to color and form and texture and light and shade and patterns of repetition and change. Again, tremendously expanding the range of creative and expressive possibilities.
Then there’s the ecstasy of sliding down snowy hills on narrow boards. The ecstasy of leaping and spinning across ice on thin metal blades. I saw some of the Winter Olympics this past week. The Games have their shadow side, but what a celebration of the human body’s capacity for movement of all kinds.
So many ways of saying “yes” to life and its myriad possibilities: yes to bodies—yes to movement—yes to color, texture and form. Yes to high and low and loud and soft and yes to swooping downhill with the wind in your face. Yes. Yes. Yes.
We were made for “Yes”. The arts and sports are about not merely surviving in this world, but thriving. He said that he came that we might have life—and have it abundantly. We were made for senseless acts of beauty—and fun! Senseless acts of beauty—and fun—are not necessary for our physical survival. But they are essential to our humanity.
There is a lot of no in not forgiving, in not being forgiven. But we were made for yes. We are forgiven for yes. We forgive for yes. We love for yes. We strive for peace and justice and the well-being of others for yes. (We strive for peace and justice and the well-being of others because a true yes has to be shared. There is no true yes in isolation from others.)
In Christ, as Paul puts it, it is always yes. A resounding, ecstatic yes. And the yes may be a song. Or a picture. Or a poem. Or swooping down a snowy mountain with wind in your face.
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