Saturday, June 25, 2011

Sing Me to Heaven....

It was both painful and healing to sing at our wedding as the processional hymn, the same hymn that had been sung at the funeral of my wife's mother.  In Thee Is Gladness served as both the musical framework for a family gathered in grief at an untimely death and the pattern of joy for two lives to begin as one.  Singing belongs at both weddings and funerals.Sadly, we do not sing much at either.  Families often bring in soloists to sing for us and the songs are generally less than salutary -- the latest pop fad or Broadway musical hit (spare me the Phantom and  "The Music of the Night") or we hear cd versions of their favs from the ipod (Country Western tear jerkers abound in funeral homes in my neck of the woods).  But we do not sing.
In the Apostolic Constitutions is a collection of eight treatises, Church Orders, dating from 375 to 380 AD, probably from Syria, most likely Antioch. Its author is unknown, though  some suggest it was the same author of the letters of Pseudo-Ignatius, perhaps the 4th century Eunomian bishop Julian of Cilicia.  There is this marvelous direction to singing in the Apostolic Constitutions, in the funerals of the departed, accompany them with singing, if they were faithful in Christ. For “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” (6, 30).

One of my favorite anthems, set by Robert Gawthorpe, is a prayer written by Jane Griner, set to music.  The pleading is rather haunting and mystical:
If you would comfort me, sing me a lullaby
If you would win my heart, sing me a love song
If you would mourn me and bring me to God,
sing me a requiem, sing me to Heaven
. . .

I would encourage us to sing more at weddings and funerals.  Singing not the pop songs sung in the shower by the departed or screeched while heading down the highway with windows down and radio blaring, but the songs of the faith.  Sing the hope that is within us when we say sweet goodbye to loved ones whose journey is complete while we still walk (by faith and not by sight).  Sing of the faith and of the One who is the third string in the three corded union that is holy marriage (and not sentimental songs of love that is sweet but fragile and weak).

At one such funeral (memorial) a week ago, we sang "Beautiful Savior" and "Sing with All the Saints in Glory" and "I Know that My Redeemer Lives" and "Children of the Heavenly Father."  Even for a crowd which was mostly non-Lutheran and whose experience singing in church probably minimal, we found songs that were accessible and the songs of faith which the departed had sung in the congregation over the years.  At one wedding the bride wanted no less than a half a dozen hymns sung -- not wedding hymns per se but the wonderful sturdy hymns of faith that had nurtured her faith from childhood.  We settled on three.

Accompany the departed with singing... indeed.  And don't forget weddings, either.  What better way to frame the start of a new couple's life together as husband and wife than with singing (in my own case, "In Thee Is Gladness" and "Now Thank We All Our God").  Grief and joy combine for the Christian into a common denominator -- the church's song!


Tom said...

You're right, we don't sing enough at these occasions. My brother got married last week and we sang "Thine the Amen" and "We Praise You and Acknowledge You". It was great!

Anonymous said...

What a good thought, singing even in grief is so uplifting. At the funeral of our son I was so grief stricken that I could not sing but the congregatioal singing touched my heart. Thank you God for the songs of believers

Anonymous said...

"families often bring in soloists to
sing for us" Not all soloists will
be singing pop hits or broadway
musical pieces, or country western
tear jerkers. There are some high
quality soloists in Lutheran circles
who sing high quality hymns and
anthems to bring dignity to our
weddings and funerals. Don't make
generalizations that insult our
Lutheran parishes with high quality
music programs.

Dr.D said...

For my parish, a funeral or a wedding must meet the same standards for music as are required for a Sunday morning. If it is not in the Hymnal, it is very doubtful that we are going to accept it, particularly if it is modern. These are times when we come before God, just as we do on Sunday, and there is no reason we should accept any different musical standards for these times. -- Fr. D

Lee said...

Kathy and I were married at the seminary chapel at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, just after the fall classes ended. Therefore, we were deep in the Advent season. "Rejoice, Rejoice, "Believers" was, and is, a great processional hymn for an Advent Wedding.

Anonymous said...

The literal translation of the Russian word for “requiem” is “singing off.” Although the Orthodox Church in America is quite different with regard to the joyful proclamation of the Gospel than their ancestor in Russia, this ancient “singing off” contains more confident joy than the church in Russia proclaims to its members on a daily basis. There are many “Hallelujahs”, something that is not quite common in our services. The music is four part acapella harmony, beautiful in its simplicity. I copied a recording of it I bought around 1970 on to a cassette – the last time I played it was this morning on the way to church.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart