On February 3, 1959, rock and roll musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson were killed in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, together with the pilot, Roger Peterson. The event later became known as "The Day the Music Died," after singer-songwriter Don McLean so referred to it in his 1971 song "American Pie".
Thursday April 21, 2016 will likely become known as the day that Prince died. No doubt, in the future a song will be written about him too. The music legend passed away suddenly, unexpectedly, somewhat mysteriously. Minnesotans grieve for one of their own, probably the most famous person to come from these parts. I was a little surprised at the impact his death on people here and around the world.
Likely that’s because I had grown out of touch with his music and persona. You see, I too was once a dedicated Prince fan. I had all the LPs of his early albums as well as those of his protégés like Sheila E., Morris Day and the Time, Jesse Johnson, and Vanity 6. I attended the 1984 Purple Rain concert at the old Civic Center right here in downtown Saint Paul. I still have his first album released on compact disc (a two CD set) “Sign of the Times” from 1987. All these were very useful for my little side job of disc jockey (DJ) which I dabbled in for few years. Then Presvytera Jane and I got married and moved to Boston to study at the seminary. All that stuff got boxed up and never used again and we were off to bigger and better things.
As I watch all the news, memorials and tributes give to Prince the musician, I reflect on the fervor of devotion and grief displayed. No doubt it demonstrates the popularity of this man’s persona but I think it speaks more to the impact of music itself and how it can define or encapsulate the experiences of any particular generations. Everyone remembers the music that was popular and they loved when they were in their late teens and early twenties—those extremely formative years in our life. When we hear that same music, even decades later we are immediately transported back in time to recall the experiences tied to that music. Several of my friends posted on social media about the parties and other events when we were together listening to Prince in the early 1980s.
All this outpouring of grief and emotion makes me wonder how another prince is impacting our life, especially at time when we are commemorating His death. I wonder if we will display the same devotion to Him by travelling to His home and keeping vigil; if we will go out into the streets or attend an all night gathering. I wonder if we will be posting on social media about the events we will attend remembering His life and His death; what He meant to us and how He shaped our experiences and changed our life.
The prince I am talking about also wore purple, but as a garment of mockery (Mark 15:17-20). The prince I’m talking about did not exude sexuality but rather embodied chastity and humility. This prince is the Prince of Peace that the Prophet Isaiah (9:6) foretold. The Prince I am talking about became a king, the King of the Jews. Of course, I am talking about Jesus Christ, the son of Joseph and Mary, the Son of God.
Today we commemorate the Prince and King Jesus coming into Jerusalem riding on the foal of a donkey to celebrate the Passover Today is Palm Sunday because, as we here in the Gospel reading (John 12:1-18), when people heard that Jesus was coming, they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ The King of Israel!” [Ps. 118:26]
We are today in the Prince’s home, not Paisley Park, but the temple of the Church. In the coming days we will keep vigil, not at the fence surrounding Paisley Park but at the gate of heaven, celebrating the Bridegroom and other worship services of Great and Holy Week. We will listen His music, not 1999 or Purple Rain, but something far more mystical. We will eat and drink to celebrate, not beer, wine and liquor but the Body and Blood of the King Himself in the Holy Eucharist. We will go out into the street, not at First Avenue, but on Summit Avenue when we follow His funeral procession. We will attend an all night gathering, not a dance party but a liturgy of expectation, waiting for our Prince and King to rise from the dead.
But all of this piety and devotion to Christ the King will not amount to much if it is only contained within the confines of the walls of the church or even just the boundaries of our parish community. If Jesus is really King in our life then He will be King at every moment and every part of our life…at home, at work, at school, when we’re in a group or by ourselves. He will dictate a new way of life to us and we will obey, not out of compulsion but freely and willingly. Jesus the King can only raise us up if we first bow down to Him in humility. Then we must extend our hand up to Him, pleadingly, asking for His divine help and guidance in all circumstances.
Fr. Anthony Coniaris, in his book Gems from the Sunday Gospels (vol. 1, p.67) relates the story of Genesios who was an actor in the time of the Roman Emperor Diocletian (284 – 305AD). At that time, not unlike today, it was not uncommon for actors to make fun of Christians and their liturgical rites. Genesios was in the midst of a play that was mocking baptism. The king Diocletian was in attendance. Suddenly, after Genesios was immersed in the water, he loudly proclaimed, “I want to receive the grace of Christ that I may be born again, and be set free from the sins that have been my ruin!” To remove any doubt from the stunned crowd, Genesios turned towards Diocletian and cried out, “Illustrious emperor, and all of you who have laughed loudly at this parody, believe me, Christ is the true King!” Unmoved except to fury, Diocletian ordered that Genesios be ripped with metal claws, then burned with torches, and finally beheaded. Before his life was ended prematurely, Genesios cried out again, “There is no King except Christ, whom I have seen and whom I worship. For Him I will die a thousand times. I am sorry for my sins and for becoming so late a soldier of the true King.” Genesios was martyred on August 25.
It raises the question for each one of us: If I proclaim that Christ is my King, am I willing and ready to die for Him even once, much less a thousand times? Having a king requires sacrifice to him. Whatever we make sacrifices for, that is our king. What sacrifices are we making for Christ? Only a handful of us make the sacrifice to worship at a weekday Lenten service. Only a handful of us make the sacrifice to worship every Sunday at the Divine Liturgy. Only a handful of us make the sacrifice to feed the hungry at Loaves and Fishes and FOCUS-MN. Only a handful of us make the sacrifice of tithing our income to the parish. So, really, who is our king?
I would like to close today by reciting the lyrics to one of Prince’s songs. It’s one of my favorites because its lyrics are explicit—not raunchy but explicitly Christian. For Prince fans you’ll recognize the lyrics immediately.
I'm not a woman. I'm not a man.
I am something that you'll never understand.
I'll never beat you. I'll never lie.
And if you're evil I'll forgive you by and by.
'Cause you, I would die for you, yeah
Darling if you want me to, You, I would die for you
I'm not your lover. I'm not your friend.
I am something that you'll never comprehend.
No need to worry. No need to cry.
I'm your messiah and you're the reason why.
'Cause you, I would die for you, yeah.
Darling if you want me to, You, I would die for you.
You're just a sinner I am told.
Be your fire when you're cold.
Make you happy when you're sad.
Make you good when you are bad.
I'm not a human. I am a dove.
I'm your conscious. I am love.
All I really need is to know that You believe.
Yeah, I would die for you, yeah
Darling if you want me to.
You, I would die for you.
I Would Die 4 U (Lyrics by Prince, The Revolution)
Now of course, these lyrics are written with the words that God is speaking to us. He will die for us? Are we ready to die for Him, whom we claim to be our Prince and King? Amen!