At the Solemn Requiem Mass for Charles Wuorinen
May 30, 2020
O God, whose mercies cannot be numbered: Accept our prayers on behalf of thy servant Charles, and grant him an entrance into the land of light and joy, in the fellowship of thy saints; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, on God, now and for ever. Amen.
1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 35-38, 42-44, 53-58
In today’s Epistle we read: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.” I can think of no better sentence from scripture to sum up the faithful life of our friend Charles Wuorinen. “Steadfast, immovable” (in the best possible way), “always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord” his labour was not in vain.
As a composer and teacher, Charles took strong positions, always fighting for what he thought was true and beautiful. He approached his work from an historically informed, intellectual and aesthetic point of view and always, always believed that the work in which he was engaged was truly his “opus,” his duty as a Christian to live out his vocation in the world. A Christian composer of mostly secular music, his life shines forth as an example of how we are all called to infuse every aspect of our lives with a sense of mission, with a sense of ministry to spread the Gospel in whatever we do. More than ever, we need Christian artists, bringing their profound faith into their work, not creating obviously pietistical works, but work that shows forth the fruits of the Spirit, divine inspiration, the breath of life that the disciples received at Pentecost to preach the gospel in all languages, and, I believe, not simply using words.
Art, of course, partakes of resurrection life. Art destroys death in ways that it is easy for a society obsessed with money and power to forget. The artist begins with ephemeral objects, paper, lead and ink, and what emerges is eternal. Paul writes,
What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable .... For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
The Resurrection begins with mortality. It begins in the body, in time. We labour and engage our vocations, we create and we teach using the stuff of this world, we form relationships, and when the physical body perishes, as it must, what remains is art and love and connection. Death does not win, for Resurrection Life has the power to transcend the end of our physical lives. Resurrection life transforms those who are left behind. We partake of the art and love and relationship that had been created. We pass it along ourselves, and as the Kingdom of God becomes more and more manifest, reaches its fulfilment we will see and know that all will have been reconciled with God, made one.
In that passage about the Good Shepherd we heard today from John’s Gospel, we learn that this process of reconciliation is at the heart of God’s purpose, that “there shall be one flock, one shepherd.” This is the promise of eternal life. That, “I know my own and my own know me,” Jesus said, “as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” We know and recognise God, know and recognise God in the works of our neighbours, and that we may be united with God in Christ and the Father and one another. In and through Charles’s life and work he achieved a sense of purposeful movement towards unity, unity with God, a journey which he continues.
Of course, Charles was very human, too. And that takes nothing away from his faithfulness, for it is in and through our humanity, our weaknesses and our strengths, that the love of God shines forth. For those of us who knew Charles, it is most appropriate that for this artist and teacher, we also heard God’s promise that “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined.” The things that make life enjoyable, like well-aged wine and a fine feast, both of which he enjoyed, are also like art. It is in and through the created world that God becomes visible, incarnate and we are pointed to the vision of God, to the reality that sits at the heart of all creation. We see something of the eternal, something we can share with each other and by and through which we can deepen our connection to each other and to God.
This God, the God who promises us “a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees,” that God will also “destroy on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.” This, our God “will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken.” God will clarify our vision, help us see the works of God that lie before us, inspire us to action, to ministry.
Charles inspires us in the knowledge that someone who truly loved, enjoyed life, the artist and the intellectual, the one bursting with creativity and a thirst for knowledge, eager to share the fruits of these gifts with others, has the power to manifestly partake of the Body of Christ. He incarnates for us, make present in and through his life and work, even here, even now the power of the Resurrection. God promises us an age in which every tear will be wiped from our eyes. God promises us a banquet of fat things and of wine on the lees. God promises us eternal life in which we are united with God in Christ and each other for ever. This is the life towards which we venture, and to which Charles has gone before.
Andrew Charles Blume✠
New York City
Ascentiontide Feria, 27 May 2020
© 2020 Andrew Charles Blume