Today was the first day of the Boar’s Head and Yule Log Festival at Third Presbyterian Church in Rochester, NY. Every other year, on the weekend closest to Epiphany, the church puts on an extravaganza of pageantry and music with a cast of more than a hundred adults and children.
Not exactly a worship service, though there are many worshipful moments. Not just a pageant, though the costumes and banners make a spectacular visual display. More than a concert, though the 60-member choir, strings and brass, and vocal soloists put on a very professional performance. It’s a community event, reaching beyond the immediate congregation to bring in a large audience for one last chance to sing favorite carols and whoop it up before packing the holidays away and going back to normal life.
At the very end, after the angels have sung, the shepherds have worshipped, and the kings have presented their gifts, the choir sings the great 4th century hymn from the Greek Orthodox Liturgy of St. James (translated from Greek to English by Gerard Moultrie):
Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.
King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.
Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.
At His feet the six wingèd seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Lord Most High!
“…and with fear and trembling stand.”
Fear and trembling certainly described a few of the youngest cast members:
- the young man with the angelic voice, King Wenceslas’ page, who forgot his lines during dress rehearsal, but was word- and note-perfect through both performances
- the even-younger kids who carried the gifts for the three kings, struggling to remember to lift each gift high when the spotlight shone on them, and to walk slowly (but not too slowly) down the aisle, and to kneel in exactly the right place before the manger
- the tiny Wood Sprite, who opened and closed the show, dancing down the aisle with a candle
They overcame their fear, and stopped trembling, in large part due to loving advice from the stage manager and many of the more experienced cast members. The advice they were given is worth remembering, for all of us, as we progress through our own dark and rough places.
- “Take a deep breath.”
Stepping back for a moment—remembering to breathe, centering—helps break the fear cycle.
- “It’s OK to be afraid.”
Fear is a normal reaction to the unknown, to things that are unfamiliar and threatening. Don’t feel ashamed or guilty about it. Accept the fear, but go on anyway.
- “Listen to the music.”
Take one step at a time, one breath at a time, slow step by slow step, in time to the music. It will bring you as far as you need to go.
- “We all love you.”
Your family and friends are wishing/willing/praying for you to succeed. Feel that energy carrying you forward.