Each week, parishioners from St. Alban’s lead a Sunday service at the Washington Home and Hospice. (Astonishingly, this has been going on for more than a hundred years!) One of the joys of this ministry is that I never know what is going to happen when I go there. Last Sunday, it was an experience of contagious joy. We had gathered and prayed. Liz Leland had given us a rich reflection on the Gospel reading for the day. We had broken bread and drunk the cup, and then I dismissed the people, and instead of leaving, one woman in the corner began to sing: This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine; This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Soon, other voices were taking it up, voices cracked with age, voices strong and clear, face after face shining with joy, the joy of worshiping our God in season and out, on our feet and in wheelchairs, when it was easy and when it was not, letting our light shine.
It was the same joy I heard the day before in the voices of the women featured in Morgan Neville’s beautiful documentary, 20 Feet From Stardom, which shines a spotlight upon the previously-unacknowledged role of backup singers in the rock ‘n roll revolution. These women, mostly black, mostly older now, had spent their years in an industry that reduced them to anonymity, even releasing their material under other names rather than giving credit to the actual singers. They had struggled with racism and with sexism and with attempts to focus attention on their bodies rather than their voices, and some of them had even given up, but when they came together to sing, it was like a light came on in the room and their faces filled with joy and their voices reached through all of that to the incredible, blessed gift of the music they were able to make, in spite of all of it. One of the women commented that growing up in church, she thought everyone could sing; it took her years to realize that she had a gift, not given to everyone, and that the world needed her to use it.
None of these women had it easy. I suspect the woman in the Washington Home didn’t, either. And yet, the thread in all of it was joy: not the cheap joy of an easy life, but the joy of looking back and realizing that you have shared the gift God gave you and what you’ve overcome to do it. I don’t know for sure, but it looked to me like resurrection joy: what Jesus might have felt on Easter Monday, when the stone rolled away from the door of the tomb and he realized that it was all true: death could not hold him; hate could not destroy him; his life could not be broken.
That’s what he gave us. Remember it, on your dark days, and let your light shine.