Sermon preached at Evensong with Valediction of Choristers on the Seventh Sunday after Trinity (15 July 2018) by the Revd Helen O'Sullivan, Chaplain

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Sermon preached at Evensong with Valediction of Choristers on the Seventh Sunday after Trinity (15 July 2018) by the Revd Helen O'Sullivan, Chaplain

The Chaplain asks 'If you were a song what would you be?' as we bid farewell to the senior Choristers leaving the Cathedral School this year. 


If you were a song what song would you be? 

That is the question I put to our year eight leavers earlier this week. 

At first they were rather flummoxed by it, perhaps not having the span of years behind them that encourages that sort of anchoring to a soundtrack to our lives. 

But I would like to thank the leaver that introduced me to the Sequence for St Michael by Herbert Howells, a very moving piece of choral music. 

One of our leavers thought of John Rutter’s anthem For the Beauty of the Earth for its mention of friends on earth and friends above and I’m sure that’s a phrase that resonates for many people. 

One of our year eights said that they would like to be a song that everybody could join in singing which I thought was rather lovely. 

Well I asked the same question of the Head and Deputy Head Teachers, the Director of Music and the Dean and I wonder if you can guess who chose what out of this selection and in no particular order.

A James Bond theme tune (I went for your first choice it was too intriguing, but which theme tune, we can only wonder).

The whistful Home Thoughts from Abroad by Clifford T Ward

The one that made me laugh - R Kelly’s I believe I can fly (it was the end of a long week)

and finally Talking Heads Once in a Life Time with its question How did I get here?

If you were a song what song would you be?

Is there a track that sums you up, sums up your life or a significant part of it?

Would you rather choose a genre, improvised jazz, the blues, high energy dance music, or a gentle waltz?

Those of you who listen to Radio 4 might be familiar with an item on the radio show Saturday Live, Inheritance Tracks, where someone well known talks about the soundtrack that reminds them of their childhood and parents (the one they inherited) and then chooses one that they would like to pass on to the next generation. It’s a rather lovely insight into what moves people.

The anthem we heard the choir sing just a few moments ago, Gower’s Viri Galilaei, was chosen by our leavers for our thanksgiving this afternoon, and I think well chosen. The Viri Galilaei is for me the most wonderful encapsulation of all that we here at St Paul’s - as a gathered community of visitors, worshippers, musicians, staff and volunteers - it is a very powerful reflection of what we are caught up in. 

The piece opens with the disciples looking up to heaven and wondering.

A million and a half people come into this space each year asking themselves questions such as; 

how did I get here, 
what do we do now, 
why me, 
what next 

and then, in this space, through this architecture and art, music and song, we are swept up into, and held for a moment within, the extraordinary expanse of life the universe and everything in a fleeting appreciation of the divine reality.

So thank you to our leavers for the part you have played in transporting us to that place of release, relief, healing, and consolation day after day, year after year. 

It is much needed medicine for our souls, and to Nicholas Freestone our Organ Scholar, I know you’re not leaving us yet but thank you for all you have given to us and to our leavers.

If you were a song, what song would you be?

Are you a lament or a lullaby? Do you want to change your tune?

I love idioms. I never realised how common they are until we had foreign students staying with us and my husband would have to continually remind me that much of what I said was incomprehensible because I use them liberally. And a very common English idiom, is to change your tune. And it describes a complete turnaround in our approach to something. We might love the sunshine and are now praying for rain, then you have changed your tune. And there will be times in our lives when we need to do just that, to change our tune.

And this is what I’d like our leavers and all of us to remember when we leave here today, you have so many songs inside you, and there is truth in the assertion that we are what we sing. 

Our choristers won’t realise the extent of this yet but the psalms, the songs of God’s people for millennia, have been implanted very deeply within them and they will return to you throughout your lives in extraordinary ways. And when we find ourselves with an unwelcome lament on our lips we can drag out of our internal iTunes library or Spotify playlist a song of thanksgiving and joy. 

We are what we sing and we are about to sing a hymn (The Day Thou Gavest) that many people find unbearably sad but I have always found it curiously uplifting and full of confidence and so I hope that this hymn gets stuck on your lips for a while as we say farewell and thank you for our time here together.

Let us pray.

A prayer of Christina Rossetti

O Lord Jesus who knowest them that are thine. When thou rewardest thy servants the prophets remember we beseech thee for good those who have taught us, counselled us, and guided us and in that day show them mercy. When thou rewardest the saints remember we beseech thee for good those who have surrounded us with holy influence, borne with us, forgiven us, sacrificed themselves for us, and loved us, and in that day show them mercy. Now forget any, now forget us, but in that day, show us mercy. Amen.