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Canticle of the Turning

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Luke 1:26-56

©2021 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones

Intro to Scripture
Sermon

A Reader’s Theatre on the Magnificat – a song with history, sung by women.

Scholarship has shown that the Magnificat is a song with a long history within and beyond the Scriptures of the Older Testament. There’s a strong literary and thematic thread that ties Mary/Elizabeth’s song to the songs of Miriam (Exodus 15), Deborah(Judges 5), Judith, Hannah (1 Sam 2). Phrases repeat, like a sung refrain. The evidence is strong that when Mary sings, she is drawing the songs of her ancestors into her song.
As the readers of this song are also the singers of Rory Cooney’s tune “Canticle of the Turning” we mirror this organic female expression of hope for justice, based less on human efforts, and more on the persistent, urgent desire of God’s Dream, which breaks through in every generation, to turn the world (again).

Luke: Dear Theophilus, and to all who love God, I offer this Gospel to you, the result of much labour and research on my part,
to tell you everything that has been fulfilled on earth among us
because of the son of Mary, Jesus.

The story begins in the days of King Herod of Judea.
Miriam: Actually it begins long before then, on the eastern shores of the Reed Sea, with me, Miriam, sister to Moses. Our people, enslaved by Egypt, had escaped, thanks to the mighty hand of God, who parted the seas so we could pass from slavery to freedom. When our feet touched dry land, mine started to dance, and my voice lifted in song.
Your scriptures only give you the refrain, but I sang, long and strong.
I sang of God’s fidelity to us, God watching our plight,
God’s heart aching for our blessedness,
God’s strength unfurling to give us justice, a name, a place, a future.
As God intended for all God’s creatures.
“Sing to the Holy One, whose mighty love has set us free!
Wipe away all tears, the dawn draws near, the world is about to turn!” I sang.
Women’s words of God’s salvation,
not men’s words of manly mightiness.
Your text may have silenced me, but I sang it to my daughters,
who sang it to theirs, generation after generation.
Deborah: I sang it too.
My name is Deborah, a mother of Israel – you call me a Judge, a warrior, so be it.
My love for God and my people burned strong enough to fight for both.
When, at last, with God’s mighty arm,
(and the woman-wisdom of Jael, blessed be she among women),
our people were safe once more, I sang, we sang, Miriam’s song.
“Sing to the Holy One, whose mighty arm is raised for us,
Wipe away all tears, the dawn draws near, the world is about to turn.”
Hannah: I am Hannah, mother to Samuel.
I learned this song too, at my mother’s knee. We women sang with Miriam, and Sarah, Rachel and Rebekah, with Deborah and with Judith.
Songs of God’s love,
a love strong enough to topple the proud in the imagination of their conceit,
and of a God’s whose power to create from chaos fills the empty with good things.
I sang this song, cradling an empty womb, tears rather than tambourines accompanying my refrain,
until God heard, and my Samuel sheltered his searing soul in my womb
and at my breast before he became God’s prophet to Saul and David.
I sang, “My heart shall sing of the joy you bring!
Wipe away all tears, the dawn draws near, the world is about to turn!”
Elizabeth: Hannah, Judith, Deborah, Rebekah, Rachel, Sarah, Miriam,
they sang through the ages to me, with me,
year after year, as my motherhood eluded me.
I am Elizabeth, aunt to Miriam of Nazareth, known to you as “Mary.”
Of me, too many said–with either too much sympathy, or satisfaction–,
“Elizabeth, aunt to many, mother to none, and of no account.”
But this song is deep in my bones, my soul.
God has fixed her eyes on this servant’s plight;
The world is about to turn!
Luke: Indeed, indeed. For in her old age, Elizabeth conceived, and carried John in her womb. In her sixth month of pregnancy, God’s messenger, an angel appeared to her niece Mary, and sang a tune she knew in an instant…
“Greetings, favoured One, the impossible is possible. Watch!”
Between the doubt and the fear, Mary’s “Yes” to the dream of God was uttered,
and she too took her place in the company of women
who carry and birth the future of God’s world-turning justice.
Mary travelled from her home in Nazareth to the uplands of Judea,
to be with her aunt until Elizabeth’s time to give birth.
Elizabeth: I heard her coming, humming,
her feet like Miriam’s tambourine on the bare-beaten threshold.
The child in my womb leapt and danced as my eyes beheld her and I knew what angels know!
The world was held, expectant in her pregnant body!
Did we know then what we all know now?
Does that really matter?
Miriam: All they needed to know was that we were miracle mothers, like every mother.
Hannah: All they needed to know is that their unborn babes were miracle children,
like every child who kicks against its mother’s ribs,
as full of God and of hope and of possibility as it’s possible to be!
Deborah: Luke writes that Elizabeth greeted Mary “Oh, Mary, child! You are blessed among women!” The words I added to the song….
Elizabeth: And suddenly, it was as if the room of my house was full!
Every daughter of Miriam, generation upon generation, crowded into the space, as Mary laughed, and opened her mouth to let out her soul in song,
their song, my song, our song..
Mary: I did, I sang! I sang loud and strong.
“My heart shall sing of the day you bring, let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, the dawn draws near, the world is about to turn.”
Miriam: We sing it, we women,
When justice turns the word aright.
Deborah: We sing it when we’re sidelined, or silenced,
Considered too lowly to count.
Hannah: We sing it when we cradle our newborns
We sing it when we let the children of our hearts go into the world
We sing it when we bury them, or cry out for their broken bodies.
Elizabeth: We sing it whenever the dawn peeks through the darkness,
in every generation
Mary: My soul cries out with a joyful shout that the God of my heart is great!
The world is about to turn!

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