Monday, July 27, 2009

For the God Who Sings

I think I want to move to Australia. They have a marvelous public radio network and every Monday morning I listen to my favorite program, called "For the God Who Sings." It connects the great music of the Church to the lessons for the Sunday just past. Is there a grander grand way to let Sunday slip into blessed memory than the music built upon the Word for the week?

Click here (I use RealPlayer) to listen to a musical feast. (If that did not work is the web address.)

The commentator spends a few moments with the lessons and tying them to the musical selection being offered and then you are left with your thoughts as the music speaks for itself.

I was asked once if I thought the music I liked should be used in Church. I said no. Not because I don't want to hear the great classics of Bach, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Pachelbel, Walther, Palestrina and the wonderful modern classics of Scott, Rutter, Fleming, and so many others. I said no because the music of worship is not about taste (good or bad) but about the WORD of God. The music serves the Word -- it is not there simply to adorn the service, to appeal to our likes, or for its beauty to be an end in and of itself. It is music for a purpose -- the handmaiden of the Word.

Music may be primitive, baroque, romantic, victorian, classical, modern, contemporary -- it is all judged by the same criteria -- does it overpower the Word and make itself the center? does it distract from the Word and create something that competes with what is said or sung? does it support the Word in tone and melody? does it marry to the Word so that the music and Word become one medium, one message?

The grand debate about music in the Church today is not some discussion about contemporary or traditional -- it is a heated dialog about what purpose music serves, and, to be honest, there are differences of opinion about that purpose. For us as Lutherans, there is but one purpose to music -- to glorify God by marrying tone and melody to the text so that one message is spoken. Music is not for performance or musical appreciation but for its ability to speak the Word in song, tone, rhythm, and chord.

If a hymn does that, for example, it becomes not just a song sung by many voices but a sacramental medium in which what is communicated is nothing less that the voice of God in human words and melody. If choral music does that, it is the same unique marriage of Word and music, performed for God, in response to His Word, to which we as congregation get to listen in, as if we were children listening at the door... God allows us this listening post but the music is not for us -- it is for Him whose Word is the object and purpose of music's song.

It is to this that one of my favorite anthems appeals with its title, "Sing Me to Heaven" -- if you care to listen (Sing Me to Heaven).

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