Saturday, October 20, 2012

For the heavy lifting...

Hymn or ditty?  Personal taste?  Subjective appeal?  We are constantly told that this concern for the music of the faith (hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs) is a relative thing, a matter of personal appeal and musical taste, in which all of them are fairly equal options for our choosing.  Maybe not. 

Chaplain of the International Center Pastor William Weedon has put it concisely and clearly.  The difference between the sturdy hymns of old and those blessed new added to the heritage AND those eminently forgettable little ditties we sing only for a moment is their ability to do the heavy lifting -- to carry us in time of greatest darkness and even death itself.  We sing the ditties when we are in the mood.  Big whoop!  When we face the moments of greatest struggle and sorrow, these discardable ditties will not due.  We need something stronger.  And that is why the great hymns of faith endure.  They carry forth the noble victory song of the faithful by speaking clearly and powerfully the Gospel of the cross.  They sing in no uncertain terms the hope that is within us, passed down to us by the faithful who came before, and passed on by us to our children and our children's children.

Listen here to Pr. Weedon speak (from his Issues, Etc. liturgy series) so simply and profoundly about this difference.  When I hear things like this said so plainly yet eloquently, I am edified greatly.  I hope you will be as well.  Here Weedon's words parallel the great words of Dr. Norman Nagel who introduced Lutheran Worship with this timeless truth.

Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise. Music is drawn into this thankfulness and praise, enlarging and elevating the adoration of our gracious giver God. 

Saying back to him what he as said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure. Most true and sure is his name, which he put upon us with the water of our Baptism. We are his. This we acknowledge at the beginning of the Divine Service. Where his name is, there is he. Before him we acknowledge that we are sinners, and we plead for forgiveness. His forgiveness is given us, and we, freed and forgiven, acclaim him as our great and gracious God as we apply to ourselves the words he has used to make himself known to us. 

The rhythm of our worship is from him to us, and then from us back to him. He gives his gifts, and together we receive and extol them. We build one another up as we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Our Lord gives us his body to eat and his blood to drink. Finally his blessing moves us out into our calling, where his gifts have their fruition. How best to do this we may learn from his Word and from the way his Word has prompted his worship through the centuries. We are heirs of an astonishingly rich tradition. Each generation receives from those who went before and, in making that tradition of the Divine Service its own, adds what best may serve in its own day--the living heritage and something new. 

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