Tuesday, 22 November 2022

Start:Stop - A Song of Thanksgiving

Emmanuel Ekefrey, Joyful Noise, 2020

Hello and welcome to St Stephen Walbrook and Start:Stop, when we start the day by stopping to reflect for ten minutes, beginning with a short bible reading followed by a reflection and prayers. Please stay as long as your schedule allows. You can hear an audio recording of this reflection at this link.

Today, 22nd November, the church remembers St Cecilia - the patron saint of music, whose life changed when she heard the Lord ‘singing in her heart’. Later this week, people in the United States of America celebrate Thanksgiving Day. Inspired by both of which, the bible reading chosen for this morning is a song of thanksgiving, which has been used as a call to morning worship since the earliest days of the church. 


Bible Reading - Psalm 95 verses 1-7


O come, let us sing to the Lord;
   let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! 
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
   let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! 
For the Lord is a great God,
   and a great King above all gods. 
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
   the heights of the mountains are his also. 
The sea is his, for he made it,
   and the dry land, which his hands have formed. 

O come, let us worship and bow down,
   let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! 
For he is our God,
   and we are the people of his pasture,
   and the sheep of his hand. 





The text of Psalm 95 has a rich sonic landscape. The notion of making “joyful noise” in thanksgiving to God would seem to include both the virtuoso soloist and and the karaoke queen. 


Today’s celebration of St Cecilia is also, at heart, similarly inclusive, when we learn that the patron saint of musicians was not a great singer herself - but heard the song of God’s love in her heart and decided to live according to His lyrics. Perhaps she might better be known then as the patron saint of all who love music and are transformed by it. 


Despite being one of the most venerated of the Christian martyrs, very little is known about the life of St Cecilia, who died in the third century. Her association with music appears to stem from a legend that emerged long after her death. 


The daughter of an affluent Roman family, it is said that Cecilia had dedicated her life to God at a young age, but nevertheless, was promised by her parents in marriage to a pagan named Valerian. On the day of their wedding, Cecilia heard heavenly singing in her heart. A song so powerful that it gave her the courage to confront her husband on their wedding night, explaining that she had already been married to an angel, who would jealously guard her chastity. Her husband, perhaps understandably, wanted to meet this ‘angel’ - so Cecilia sent him out with directions along the Via Appia, where he met the Bishop of Rome - the Pope - who baptised him. 


The only thing we know for certain about the patron saint of musicians is nothing to do with music at all; but that Cecilia was a wealthy and devout woman who had the courage to open her house in Rome as a place of Christian worship; an act of radical hospitality that ultimately cost her her life. 



On Thursday, people across the United States will throw open the doors of their homes to friends and family and sit down to eat a traditional roast turkey Thanksgiving dinner. The feast has its roots in harvest festivals celebrated by the first European settlers. Many of the present day traditions originated in the nineteenth century, designed to unify the nation through retail therapy! Here in the UK we are becoming familiar with “Black Friday” - the busy shopping day after Thanksgiving. Despite its secularisation, the Thanksgiving holiday in America is, like Christmas, a time when it feels as though the whole nation is called to gather together.



Psalm 95 is traditionally known by its first word in Latin - Venite - or “Come”. The Psalm has been used as a call to gather in worship since the earliest days of the church. St Benedict included the Venite in the Divine Liturgy he created for the monks that followed his Rule. Centuries later, Thomas Cranmer placed the text at the beginning of the Office of Morning Prayer. To this day, Christians the world over start each day by saying or singing this song of Thanksgiving to God.


The medieval mystic Meister Eckhart said “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is Thank You, that will be enough.”


Eckhart, Benedict and Cranmer all realised that Thanksgiving is not just for one day a year, but for life. That a daily discipline of giving thanks to God is transformative; because it makes us more thoughtful; more aware; more grateful for the blessings we have received and, perhaps, more willing to share them. 


St Cecilia is the patron saint of musicians not because she was a particularly accomplished singer herself; but because she heard God’s song of love in her heart - and joined in. 


Psalm 95 invites us, each morning, to do the same. Not only to ‘be’ thankful but to ‘do’ it. So let us join with our brothers and sisters the world over to offer our own “joyful noise” to the Lord. Let us share this song with those we meet today, giving thanks for the great blessings we share. 


O come, let us sing to the Lord:

“Thanks be to God.”


A short time of silence before we pray. 






In our prayers the response to : O come, let us sing to the Lord is : “Thanks be to God.”


O come, let us sing to the Lord:

“Thanks be to God.”


Lord, you have filled our hearts with the beat of your love;

give us the wisdom to feel it and the courage to add our joyful noise to your chorus of light and hope. 


O come, let us sing to the Lord:

“Thanks be to God.”


Lord, help each of us to be heralds of harmony.

We pray for peace; in the world, in our homes and in our hearts.

Open our minds to new ways of hearing the sounds of your creation in all its diversity.

May the tongues of people from every nation sing of your greatness for ever and ever.


O come, let us sing to the Lord:

“Thanks be to God.”


Lord, we thank you for all the blessings of this life;

especially today for the gifts of musicians and the joy they bring. 

Transform the mood music of all who are brought low; the sick and suffering; those finding it hard to adapt to new rhythms of life without loved ones.

Raise them up by the melody of your joyous song of praise.


O come, let us sing to the Lord:

“Thanks be to God.”





And may the blessing of God Almighty, 

the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, 

remain with us and all those whom we love this day and always.




Thank you for joining us for this week’s Start:Stop reflection. Feel free to stay for as long as you wish. This reflection will be repeated again in a few minutes.


Do come and hear our talented Choral Scholars in song tomorrow lunchtime at 12.30pm for the last Choral Classics of this term and stay afterwards to make joyful noise at the informal rehearsals of the Walbrook Community Choir at one o’clock, if you are able. Thank you! 



Image : Emmanuel Ekefrey, Joyful Noise, 2020 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Sermon - And one will be left

Graveyard under Snow, Caspar David Friedrich, 1826 A sermon for Advent Sunday (Year A) given at the Sung Eucharist at St Stephen Walbrook on...