”The kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Come, Lord, and open in us the gates of your kingdom.”
These are the lyrics to a chant that is sung in the Taize community in France. I have a dream of going on pilgrimage to Taize at some point in my life. My friend, Jeffrey, who was ordained with me goes almost every year…it’s one of the few things that I’m truly jealous of.
So I want to tell you a little bit about the Taize community.
The Taize community began when Brother Roger left Switzerland in 1940 for France. During the Second World War, Brother Roger had the conviction to help people who were going through the ordeal of war, so he bought a house to shelter refugees in the small village of Taize. He and his sister offered hospitality to war refugees, which included Jews and agnostics, until their activities were discovered. Brother Roger, his sister, and others fled Taize for Geneva until the war was over in 1944. In 1949, seven men joined the original group in Taize and took vows of celibacy and simple living. Today there are over a hundred brothers from 30 countries and from both Catholic and Protestant traditions.
The prayers and liturgy of the Taize community have evolved as their community evolved. In the 1950s, the community liturgy followed a more monastic liturgy: hymns of praise, Scripture reading, response to Scripture, silence, intercessory prayers, Eucharist, and closing hymns of praise. The entire liturgy (with the exception of the Scripture reading and Eucharist) was sung in French. While French was the native language of the village of Taize, it didn’t reflect the multicultural community that was developing.
By the late 1960s, the brothers began reading Scripture in other languages as a way to be more inclusive of the pilgrims that were visiting Taize. In an attempt to be more welcoming, common songs from other countries were included in the liturgy. However, while the intention was good, it still excluded people from participating in the liturgy.
In 1974, 30,000 young people made pilgrimage to Taize for the Council of Youth. Yet Brother Roger was still troubled by the lack of inclusive language in the liturgy. After much reflection and discussion, a brother of the community was tasked to find a way to adapt the prayers so that all the pilgrims could participate in the liturgy. The result was an adaptation of the “canon form” that was used at a Benedictine monastery outside of Barcelona. The “canon form” was a simplistic, repetitively sung prayer, that wasn’t in any particular national language. It was this task and subsequent adaptation which led to the development of Taize chant as it is known today. On Easter of 1974, “Cantate Domino” was introduced into the liturgy, followed by “Ubi Caritas” two years later. Since the pilgrims and brothers responded well to these additions, more Latin chants were introduced into the liturgy.
Among the “legends” of Taize is that one night after the evening worship had concluded, pilgrims remained in the church and began singing “Ubi Caritas”, which continued for twenty minutes. At this time there were few of these Latin chants being used in the community, so Brother Roger commissioned Jacques Bertheir to compose more chants. Bertheir’s task was “creating one or two lined chants to be sung with an easy melody…reflect[ing] the ecumenical nature of the community”.
The question of how the chants “work” to create healing and reconciliation for the brothers and the pilgrims is part of the mystery of the experience of Taize. As Jason Brian Santos explained in his reflections on Taize, “for many young people who have grown up in the tension of religious traditions, Taize incarnates their deepest longing for peace…Taize is the only place in the world where they can worship in communion with all Christian traditions freely”. Santos goes on to explain that reconciliation is fostered at Taize through hospitality. While on pilgrimage, travelers are welcomed as children of God, and are also trusted with the responsibility of taking care of the community; “each week at Taize the pilgrims accomplish all of the work that is required to operate this ecumenical community”.
For Olivier Clement, the mystery of Taize is also found in community, “They want to be Christians together, both respecting their various backgrounds and leading a common life which is an example of reconciliation”. Clement goes on further to posit that all of humanity is called to live in communion with each other, in both unity and difference. The balance of living in unity and difference is a form of healing and reconciliation.
How does the experience of a pilgrimage to Taize shape life outside the community? For Clement, he believes that there is a “link between a deep spiritual experience and a creative opening to the world… [and that] the more someone becomes a person of prayer the more they become a person who is responsible…[a] servant of every human face”. This “servant-hood” or stewardship for others calls us to be present with the suffering and to be creative change agents in the world. When Pope John Paul II, visited Taize in 1986, he also believed there was a connection between pilgrimage and responsibility. In his address to the gathered pilgrims, he stated:
They [the brothers] want, in prayer and silence, to enable you to drink the living water promised by Christ, to know his joy, to discern his presence, to respond to his call, then to set out again to witness to his love and to serve your brothers and sisters in your parishes, your schools, your universities, and in all your places of work.
Are you starting to understand why so many people make pilgrimage there and why I hope to go someday?
So what does all this have to do with today’s lessons this second Sunday in Epiphany? I believe that Brother Roger and the other men who make up the Taize community serve as an example of being called “Beloved” and then using that call to become disciples and share God’s love, compassion, and hospitality with all.
In the reading from Isaiah, God is pointing us to the “servant”, the chosen one who will bring forth justice. Brother Roger and the Taize community have also worked to bring forth justice in the world through their hospitality and their works of charity. All financial contributions or inheritances received by the brothers are given to Operation Hope, which is the community’s outreach ministry. Among the their projects are support for children in South Sudan, humanitarian supplies sent to North Korea, support for AIDS orphans in Ethiopia, schools in Bangladesh, and aid for the sick in Cambodia.
But we are also called and have been taken by the hand of God to bring about justice. Now that Jesus, the Messiah, has come among us, we must continue this work. We too have been named, called and given a mission. As theologian Richard Ward explains, we have been called to a higher purpose as children of God “to become a ‘light to the nations’ by becoming agents of God’s [new] order of compassionate justice”.
Perhaps we won’t suddenly find ourselves called to start an ecumenical worshipping community like Brother Roger and his companions. But maybe we are called to participate in justice and compassion in a different way…taking a meal to someone in need, donating clothing for someone cold, or advocating for someone who has been silenced. We are God’s servant and act as a chosen one every time we serve at FISH, every time we read the prayer list and offer up these individuals for healing, and every time we are compassionate with someone that we might otherwise turn our backs on.
And finally, in the Gospel of Matthew, we have not only a recounting of Jesus’ baptism, but his being called “the Beloved”. In this gospel story we have not only Jesus’ identity being confirmed, but an invitation to be “the Beloved” as well. What does it mean to be God’s beloved? It means we have a responsibility to share God’s mercy, love, healing and reconciliation.
When I was interviewed at seminary before beginning my studies, I was asked, “If God were to show up right now, and said ‘This is the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’…what would God be pleased about?” Well, if that doesn’t just make you a little humble, I don’t know what would. But I think that God would consider St. Mark’s a Beloved community; a community that is thoughtful about welcoming a stranger, a community that responds to opportunities for healing, a community that is open to the spirit of reconciliation, and a community of mercy.
I don’t know if I’ll ever get to Taize…my places to make pilgrimage is growing to an almost impossible bucket list. But I have been inspired by the community and the music to try to be more hospitable, more compassionate, and more loving. And I have also been encouraged through their ministry and music to explore how I’ve been called Beloved and think about how I can please God. I believe that I have been called to be a creative change agent in the world, and I believe that you have, too.
“A ‘Parable of Community’,” accessed September 21, 2012, http://www.taize.fr/en_article6525.html.
 Jason Brian Santos, A Community Called Taize (Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 105.
 Ibid, 107.
 Ibid, 108.
 Ibid, 108-109.
 Santos, A Community Called Taize, 123.
 Ibid, 129.
 Ibid, 142.
 Clement, Taize, 52.
 Ibid, 42.
 Ibid, 46.
 Ibid, 46-47.
 “One passes through Taize as one passes close to a spring of water,” accessed September 21, 2012, http://www.taize.fr/en_article6718.html.
“Operation Hope,” accessed September 21, 2012, http://www.taize.fr/en_article331.html.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.