Pastoral Series

Worship Matters: Hymns agian

   I’ve heard much church music over the years. Brilliant, professional performances, and they off-key, plunky and a bit of a struggle. God enjoys hearing both – I believe, at least as long as we are offering God our best, heartiest, most earnest singing.

When we sing hymns, we are one with the earliest Christians, and also the Jews from centuries prior and since who have joined them in song. When Paul wrote to the Philippians, he reminded them of a hymn they had sung in praise of Christ, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8). I try to picture or overhear their voices, huddled together in some small villa in Rome or in the catacombs outside the city.

Martin Luther encouraged the use of hymns in the languages people knew (as so much of the service in those days was in Latin). He wrote a few hymns himself, most famously “A Mighty Fortress,” written at a time of profound depression in his own life; the photo in this email bears Luther’s signature to his original of this hymn!

I love Luther’s thoughts on church music: “Music is a fair and lovely gift of God which has often wakened and moved me to joy… I have no use for cranks who despise music, because it is a gift of God. Music drives away the devil and makes people gay; they forget thereby all wrath, unchastity, arrogance and the like. This precious gift has been bestowed on men alone to remind them that they are created to praise and magnify the Lord. But when natural music is sharpened and polished by art, then one begins to see with amazement the great and perfect wisdom of God in his wonderful work of music, where one voice takes a simple part and around it sing three, four, or five other voices, leaping, springing round about, marvelously gracing the simple part, like a square dance in heaven with friendly bows, embracings, and hearty swinging of the partners. He who does not find this an inexpressible miracle of the Lord is truly a clod.”

So don’t be a clod! Methodism came to be and thrived largely because of hymn-singing. Charles, our founder John’s brother, wrote over 6,500 hymns! His goal was “to arouse sinners, encourage saints, and to educate all in the mysteries of the Christian faith.” I love the way reflecting on the words of a hymn makes us think theologically and personally. In our next several emails, I will ponder some of my favorite hymns, and what they meant, and mean for us today.

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