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Providential Awkwardness – Br. Sean Glenn

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“Br.Psalm 98:1­­–4
John 19:20–23a

Sing to the Lord a new song.[2] The Psalmist exhorts us to sing a song we’ve never sung before. Certainly, it may come to us in fragments—a gesture here, a motif there—and sometimes (if we’re feeling particularly confident) we may even begin to think we know how this strange new air goes. Yet this isn’t a song we or the world are used to hearing, and we may often feel ill-trained to sing it; but that’s probably because we are.

As the ear of our prayer adjusts in the fullness of time, we begin to realize that this new song, from our vantage, requires a kind of virtuosity for which we alone lack the dexterity of heart; and we realize we will not learn this song on our own. And still, there comes also a sense, somewhere deep within noisy mystery of ourselves, that we have known this strange song we’ve never sung before.

Sing to the Lord a new song.[3]

I sometimes wonder about the condition of Jesus’ apostles after his Ascension. This is, after all, a strange place in the liturgical calendar, a liminal place suffused with the mystery of God’s “providential awkwardness.”[4] Such “providential awkwardness / defies our human powers of scrutiny.”[5] What must it have been like for his friends to recollect these words of Jesus during that awkward hinge between his Ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost?

Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn
but the world will rejoice.[6]

Yes, Lord, but we have already wept. We have already mourned. The world had its “joy,” did it not? It strung you up on a cross and called it “good.” We wept and we feared, denied and betrayed you, and, helpless, beheld in horror as they bruised my son, my brother, my teacher, my friend, my lover, my Lord, my God. And to our amazement, to our astonishment, you came back to us. Even when we did not recognize you, we were known by you, and came to recognize the song you sang. It could only be you. You spoke with us, broke bread with us, taught us, and undid our every expectation for forty incomparable days.

And yet, look! You have gone to the Father. We have returned to Jerusalem as you told us, and we “wait for the promise of the Father,”[7] but the world is still enthralled and enslaved. The rich grow richer and the poor groan under the weight of the decadence upon which their suffering depends. We are still so woefully estranged from one another. Division finds us at every corner. Lies dominate the public discourse. How can we follow you? Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?[8]

Sing to the Lord a new song.

These awkward days between the Ascension and Pentecost invite us to listen with anticipation for this new song, and they speak to us of our ceaseless dependence on the Holy Spirit as we tune our voices to God’s new harmony. We too must wait on the Holy Spirit, the divine acoustician who enlarges our hearts in our prayer and tests its new resonances in our experience. She transforms our suffering and our joy and by them transforms our heart into a place so rich and resonant that we gradually find only one song will suit this new space.

In this new Spirit-fashioned space, the Spirit graces us with the faith to behold that Christ has indeed “raised our human nature,” as Christopher Wordsworth’s hymn declares; “there we sit in heavenly places, there with [Him] in glory stand. Jesus reigns, adored by angels; [we] with God [are] on the throne; mighty Lord, in thine ascension, we by faith behold our own.”[9]

First we must listen. We can listen in confidence; he who implores us to sing a new song has promised to teach it to us. And by it we will indeed be made new.

Sing to the Lord a new song.  Amen.


[1]Carl P. Daw, Jr., “Praise God, whose providential awkwardness” ©1989 Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream IL 60188. Hymn quoted by permission.

[2]Psalm 98:1, The Book of Common Prayer

[3]Ibid.

[4]Daw, “Praise God, whose providential awkwardness”

[5]Ibid.

[6]John 16:20. New Revised Standard Version.

[7]Cf. Acts 1:4.

[8]Acts 1:6. New Revised Standard Version.

[9]Christopher Wordsworth, “See the Conqueror mounts in triumph,” The Hymnal 1982#215

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