Joy and Hope
June 6, 2009
Faith is about the promise we remember
The following text is adapted from the homily delivered by Bishop Jaime Soto at the vigil Mass for Ascension Sunday, during the Sacramento Jazz Festival.
As Jesus ascended into the heavens, celestial messengers said to the stunned disciples staring speechless into the sky, “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” (Act. 1.1-11)
These words would mark the time and rhythm of the disciples’ lives. The Jesus who was lifted up before their eyes and seated in glory would return to them. What they had witnessed with wonder and amazement now became the desire and hope of their waiting. What had startled them now became anticipation. A memory became a longing, a desire.
The disciples had experienced the wisdom, grace and mercy of the Lord. They had walked with him, sat at his feet and learned from him. They ate with him, worked by his side as he fed the multitudes and healed their bodies and souls. Their eyes wept at the tortured spectacle of his anguished death on the cross. They cried with joy when he returned to them risen from dead, beckoning them to touch his wounded side. These memories now became the promise of what was to come. They would remember their future with the certainty that only undying faith and enduring love could sustain. Memory is also hope. Remembering became longing.
For the Christian, jazz music can be a whimsical metaphor for this curious paradox of hopeful memory and remembered longings. Before you dismiss this rather off-beat notion, think for a moment about the movement of any classic jazz work, Brubeck’s “Take Five,” Myles Davis’ “Kind of Blue,” Coltrane’s “Blue Train.” Any of these will begin with the main theme, a basic melody. This melody catches us and holds us.
Then the artists will begin their improvisational journey. They later culminate by returning to their main theme. We know this and expect this. It is our ability to remember the main theme with relish that keeps us wrapped in the wild wanderings of the music. It is our memory that makes us part of the band. For jazz improvisation truly to work as an art form, the musicians count on their listeners to hold on to the main theme as they weave and ramble all around it.
We will judge an artist’s ability to improvise while remaining faithful to the theme. It is a difficult balance between harmony and dissonance. In that musical space is found the creative tension and genius. It brings the elements of drama and surprise to every rendition no matter how many times it may be played. Through it all we the audience are more than just listeners. Our memories allow us to participate in that creative tension. We long for and look for the hints and tastes of that main theme. We take delight at every surprising note or curious tone. We share with the musicians the joy when it all culminates with a flourish.
So it is with Christian living. Christ, the master and maestro of the gospel melody has given us both the memory that is a promise of what is to come. His spirit lifts up men and women in every age who demonstrate the rich variety of melodies, improvising in every time and in every place but also remaining faithful the gospel message of hope and life. Peter, Paul, Andrew, Mary Magdalene, Cecilia, Agatha, Augustine, Monica, Francis, Clare, Dominic, Rose of Lima, Katherine Drexel — who would confuse one with another? Each of them expressed the faith in distinct, amazing ways. Yet we also recognize the central theme of Christ that shines through their lives. Each of these men and women as well as so many others was faithful while expressing the dynamic creativity of the Gospel.
The feast of the Ascension reminds us that our faith is not about a nostalgic memory. It is about the promise we remember. We hold the memory of the future for which we long. The Lord Jesus has joined heaven and earth in a great orchestration of his kingdom. Let us savor the Gospel message and join in the music of salvation. We will share in the great joy when the Lord Jesus brings us to the culminating flourish of his kingdom.