His name is Eiji Oue, and he is part of my glory story. I met Eiji Oue in the early 1990’s.
He and I arrived in Erie, Pennsylvania, at the same. I’d been called to serve as rector, for the
first time, at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. Eiji, of Japanese descent, was the Erie
Philharmonic’s brand, new music director, after serving as Leonard Bernstein’s assistant. I
found Eiji to be brilliant, glorious as a symphony conductor. He brought his brilliance into all
the final rehearsals of the Erie Philharmonic Chorus, in which I sang.
Toward the end of my years at St. Mark’s, the philharmonic prepared for Erie’s
Bicentennial with a special concert. One of the numbers we were to perform was an old musical
chestnut, one which everyone here probably knows. The Battle Hymn of the Republic is also
known as Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory and Glory, Glory Hallelujah.
That song was written by abolitionist Julia Ward Howe just before the Civil War. The
tune and several texts - including “John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave” - had long
been sung as a folk hymn, in the oral hymn tradition, around camp fires. We rehearsed and
sang an arrangement that may be familiar to you.
The Battle Hymn has long been used as a patriotic, American song. It has also been
used by clergy, including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Most Rev. Michael B.
Curry. After he was elected as the first African American Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal
Church, Bishop Curry used the familiar words of the refrain - “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah” - in his
inaugural sermon. Dr. King’s final public words were from the very first verse: “Mine eyes have
seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”
Back in the mid-90s, while we were rehearsing with Maestro Oue, my eyes, ears and soul
began to see and sense some of that glory. There’s a section of the arrangement where we men
would sing, with all the musical military might we could muster: Truth is marching, truth is
marching…. We sang this in counterpoint to the women, who sang: I have seen him in the
watchfires of a hundred circling camps…
Right smack dab in the middle of that third verse, Eiji Oue yelled, “STOP!” Then he said
words I’ve never heard a music conductor say, before or since, about something I had sung:
“Women! Listen to the men!! Do you hear how wonderful they are?!”
Today is the last Sunday after the Epiphany. The liturgical season of light, which began
on Christmas Eve, is coming to an end. The season of Lent begins on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, winter is making its own transition. Have you seen the daffodils?
Transitions are often about differences, contrasts. From darkness to light, say, or from
light to darkness. In the Christian tradition, the primary transition is what we call the paschal
mystery: from death to resurrection, from dying to rising.
Today I want to say a few words about another kind of transition: From glory to glory.
That’s a phrase in our Collect for today. Let’s pray it again, together…
Our first lesson is from Exodus, chapter 24. It’s the story of Moses meeting God atop Mt.
Sinai. “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there,” God says, “and I will give you the
tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction”
(24:12). Moses takes Joshua, his heir apparent, with him.