Tuesday, 7 April 2015
The Inadvertent Easter Chorus
It is a tradition so entrenched in British Protestant Christianity (and Catholicism, for all I know) that it is practically law, that the last hymn to be sung on Easter Sunday is ‘Thine be the Glory’. There are good reasons for this. It is a hymn to rock out to, full of vim and vigour, and as long as you have a half-decent organist, it’s one that you can really belt out with all the enthusiasm that you can muster. It is full of the triumph and victory of Easter, of the surprise twist in the story that everyone already knows, of snatching eternal victory from the jaws of infinite defeat, God’s sudden subversion of His own rules. It’s a great hymn.
It is perhaps a trifle predictable, and possibly once you have lived a long life, you do not look forward to it. “Oh no,” you may think as you scan the order of service. “Thine be the Glory, again? Ugh!”
I am afraid that I am not yet sufficiently jaded or advanced in years to feel this way. I do not anticipate ever feeling this way, although one must never say never.
I’ve written before about God’s apparent tone-deafness and colour blindness. It is impossible for a human being to ever even imagine how things appear from God’s infinite and timeless point of view, but I would love to sit up on the International Space Station on Easter Sunday, with a set of laser-microphones carefully aimed at every church in the UK and plugged into a single set of speakers. At about 11.20am, I would turn them all on at once.
At about 11.25, or a little before, the first church would begin to sing.
Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son!
Over the next three or four minutes, more and more congregations would begin to join in as they arrive at the closing hymn. The chorus would swell, hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of Christians, all singing the same hymn, the same tune, all raising their voices heavenward. It reaches a crescendo, a song sung in the round with hundreds of parts, a cacophony of voices going at slightly different speeds, in slightly different keys, until individual words can barely be made out, and it is just a roar. A deaf choir without a conductor, without training, with nothing but enthusiasm for the song.
The first ones have already finished, the majority are almost done. The stragglers, the churches where the sermon went on a bit long, the large congregations who took a bit longer to take communion are beginning. More and more voice fall silent and the final blessings are spoken. The lyrics can now be made out again.
At perhaps 11.45 or 11.50, the last congregation reaches the end.
Endless is the victory, thou o’er death hast won!
And the best part is that to my knowledge, there is no prior arrangement to this. No clandestine synod sat down and agreed that Easter Sunday services must end with Thine be the Glory. Indeed, a few maverick congregations, a few clergy who want to do ‘something different’ won’t be joining in. They’ll have some hymn, no doubt equally good in terms of content and tune, but they will still have missed out. The ones whose services start early or late will probably have had it, but they will have missed the synchronised singing.
This doesn’t happen at Christmas. Often the Christmas service will end with ‘O Come all ye Faithful’, but the uniformity is not even close to that of Easter and the national chorus of ‘Thine be the Glory’.
Though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in the one bread. And once a year, without even really realising that we are doing it, we all sing the same song.