E-pistle, Dec 21

I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Did you know that as well as being Jesus' birthday, Christmas is the birthday of St. Luke's? The first service in this cathedral was held on December 25, 1868. Henry Wadwsorth Longfellow (who sits on the corner with a present in his lap) wrote the words to "I heard the bells on Christmas Day" just four years earlier.  The 1860's were years of great suffering and uncertainty. When Longfellow wrote his poem, he was going through the horrors of a long and uncertain civil war, the grief of the death of his wife, and the recent news that his son, a Lieutenant in the Army of the Potomac, had been shot. In this time of personal and national crisis, Longfellow was beset by existential questions. Where is God in all this? Can there be peace on Earth? In his poem, he wrote about almost giving up... and then hearing the bells of Christmas day and realizing that God was alive, that there was hope and that peace was not an empty promise but one that would be fulfilled. A few of his verses:
 
I heard the bells on Christmas Day 
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!
 
Just two years later, in 1866, when the Civil War had ended and it looked like Longfellow's words had come true, his hometown city of Portland burned to the ground. The city, however, rallied and like a phoenix rose from the ashes. Part of that rebuilding included the constructing a great cathedral for the Episcopal Diocese of Maine. Thus St. Luke's was born, giving the people of Portland the message of Christmas that the light of Christ will shine through any darkness and that through the baby born in the manger new life is possible every day.
 
The stories of St. Luke's and Longfellow are linked not just by shared history but also by a shared future. Like his, our time is full of struggles that tempt us to give up hope. However, if we like Longfellow listen to the bells on Christmas Day, we like him will discover that God is real, that Christmas has come, and that hope can again be ours.   Merry Christmas to one and all! 
 
Dean Shambaugh
 
Posted in: Dean's Message  E-pistle 
Post Date: Saturday, December 24, 2016 2:40 PM