Singing the song of angry men?
It is the music of the people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes.
In the wonderful movie adaptation of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables these lines are sung just before the battle begins. Do you hear the people singing? Well, I am sure there cannot be more than a few folks in the entire world who do not know its melody. Powerful stuff...
In Acts 16:16-40 we read about singing. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.
Singing was once the hallmark of Christians both in worship and in witness. Music, if it has any purpose whatsoever beyond personal pleasure, is given us to raise songs to the Lord in praise and thanksgiving for His grace and favor. But not so much anymore. . .
Christians today more often hear others sing than sing themselves. Liturgies that were once mostly sung are now mostly spoken. Hymns have given way to praise songs. Choirs to worship divas. The world does not hear us singing like it once did. There is something wrong here.
Why do so many Lutherans stand with mouths shut as some around them sing but they do not? Why do so many of us struggle with words and notes to the great hymns that were once sung without heads in a book? Why is hymn singing limited to the first, third, and fifth stanzas of hymns that once sang out all 15-20 stanzas? Why do we follow the bouncing ball on the screen for a repeated refrain instead of raising full voice to the hymns and spiritual songs that once caused a world to stop and listen?
I have little patience for those who do not open a book or their lips on Sunday morning. Sometimes I have to look away from the people to keep my composure. And our congregation sings better than most! I have been in churches where I was sure I was the only one singing. Yes, acoustics are often targeted for control of sound (meaning amplified sound) and so the rooms in which we sing do not echo the sound of our singing like they once did. But that does not explain why we are content not even to try to sing.
Don't tell me you cannot sing! You sing the complicated lyrics and melodies of pop music or Christian contemporary artists. You can sing the jingles of a thousand products advertized on TV and radio. The melodies of the vast majority of hymns are easier than these and the multiple stanzas give you the chance to learn what you might not have known in the first stanza. Sing people. Try it -- not with the timid voices of the uncertain but with the confident voices of those who know the grace and mercy of God. Sing the story of His love. Sing the Gospel to a world still captive to sin and its death. Sing the hope that is in you. Sing to your children, with your children, and they will sing in your place when you are gone.
I could throw a hundred Bible passages at you to compel you to see how the Lord expects, anticipates, and is glorified by the songs of His people (singing back to Him what He has said to them -- the surest word of all!). But I truly think the most powerful is from Acts 16. Do you hear the people singing? That is what the jailer and his family work up to ask. They heard. And before the night was through, the song of Paul and Silas became their own.