Frederick Buechner Sermon Illustration: Music

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

Next Sunday we will celebrate the Sixth Sunday of Easter.”¯ Here is this week’s reading from the book of Psalms: 

Psalm 98:4-6 

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises. Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD. 

In the following passage, Buechner describes the relationship between music and time.  It was first published in Wishful Thinking and again in Beyond Words:

WHEREAS PAINTERS WORK WITH SPACE—the croquet players on the lawn, behind them the dark foliage of the hedge, above them the sky—musicians work with time, as one note follows another note the way tock follows tick. 

Music both asks us and also enables us to listen to certain qualities of time—to the grandeur of time, says Bach, to the poignance of time, says Mozart, to the swing and shimmer of time, says Debussy, or however else you choose to put into words the richness and complexity of what each of them is wordlessly "saying.” 

We learn from music how to listen to the music of our own time—one moment of our lives following another moment the way the violin passage follows the flute, the way the sound of footsteps on the gravel follows the rustle of leaves in the wind, which follows the barking of a dog almost too far away to hear.

Music helps us to "keep time" in the sense of keeping us in touch with time, not just time as an ever-flowing stream that bears all of us away at last, but time also as a stream that every once in a while slows down and becomes transparent enough for us to see down to the streambed the way, at a wedding, say, or watching the sun rise, past, present, and future are so caught up in a single moment that we catch a glimpse of the mystery that, at its deepest place, time is timeless.