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Henry V's songs of glory

Sunday, May 19, 2019

From Revelation 21
The One who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”

We watched clips from favorite movies Friday night with Dianne and Laura. Dianne, herself a film-maker, brought Branagh's Henry V. Henry V was nicknamed the Warrior King. Shakespeare inspired him with some great speeches just before the biggest battles:

Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day …
* * *
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect …
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English …
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call'd fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war …
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'

Later, after victory, Henry again claims God’s preference. So many dead Frenchmen, so few English. Act 4, Scene 8:

Here was a royal fellowship of death …
O God, thy arm was here,
and not to us but to thy arm alone
ascribe we all! …
Was ever known so great and little loss
on one part and on th’ other? Take it, God,
for it is none but thine …
God fought for us.

Yes, then and now, there will wars and rumors of wars. Jesus says, “Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.” All these centuries of warriors and kings are but birth pangs of future glory.

Open up the door of faith (Acts 14). Paul’s preaching inspired multitudes, not to kill but bow down and pray. Patrick Doyle, composer for Kenneth Branagh’s production of Henry V, chose a beautiful choral rendition of the old Latin hymn Non nubis Domine, a time-tested prayer of thanksgiving and expression of humility to accompany the English search for their living among the dead. Such a noble form of humility, crowned with righteous blood.

Was Henry V a bad man or a hero? We only choose an opinion. King Henry chose to act. The glory of war might be a cheap substitute for the glory of God, but it’s powerful and it’s near and it’s satisfying.

The musical group Delirious? challenges our graspings onto glory. Dig deeper, they say, to find the glory of God in life, not death:

Open up the doors and let the music play
Let the streets resound with singing
Songs that bring you hope
Songs that bring you joy
Dancers who dance upon injustice

Lord, on this fine summer sunshine day in your midwestern United States, I keep hearing cries of muffled pain, perhaps smothered by careless captors. Why am I thinking of this today? The iris are blooming and beautiful, the dancers dance … upon injustice. You make all things new, you show us how to live this life, day by day by day in balance, joy, and strength, with confidence in you. I will not close my ears, I will not close my eyes, I will watch you open up the doors of faith. And I will rejoice!

Martin Smith, “Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble?”, from Cutting Edge 3 by Delirious?, 1995



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