Sunday, July 28, 2019

Hymns that speak the faith. . .

A while ago someone complained to me about Lutheran hymns (humorous because some of the hymns that were the subject of their complaint were not Lutheran in origin but Anglican!).  "That is just not me or what I want to sing."  The complainer added that they wanted upbeat songs in church that made them happy to sing and reflected what they were feeling in the moment.  My answer did not address personal taste or preference or even whether or not they were happy.  My answer was all about content.

What should we be singing about?  Well, let me put it another way.  WHO should we be singing about?  Since Jesus Christ is our salvation, should not our hymns be about Him?  The sad truth is that many of the most popular songs used in worship (whether contemporary or classic Gospel songs) are more about us than about Jesus.  They focus on the feelings we have or the perspective we place upon our faith and they do this very effectively but their content is not what we ought to be singing.  We ought to be singing about our Lord, about His incarnation, about His holy life, about His teaching, about His suffering, about His death, about His resurrection, and about His coming again.

It is amazing how many songs and hymns used in Christian worship -- even those in common use -- have little to say about who Jesus is or about what He has done.  That is an epic fail for Lutherans -- whom some would credit for reintroducing hymnody to the Church!  The strength of the Lutheran chorale and the mark of classic Christian and orthodox hymnody from other sources remain the content -- what this hymns sings about who Jesus is and what He has done.

Now I would agree that there some more difficult melodies among these hymns with great content but none of them represent an impossible challenge for people to learn to sing and learn to love to sing.  Yes, it is true that a good parish musician can help make this easier (which is one reason why we should not be cheap when it comes to paying a good organist).  But the issue still revolves around whether the function of hymnody is for me to sing what I want and to sing hymns that say what I want to say OR whether it is for me to sing about who Jesus is and what God has done for us through His Son.

Some have suggested that during the distribution is a good time to let people have their sinful pleasures of hymns that sing what they want to sing and about themselves and their feelings.  The reality is that this is a terrible time to sing the happy songs about us.  At the very moment when we are receiving the Lord's flesh and blood, we ought to be singing about this great and grand mystery and what this blessed communion bestows upon us.  An awful lot of distribution songs and hymns do not have much to do with God or even about the Sacrament of our Lord's Body and Blood. To those planning the hymns for the service, the goal should be what does this hymn say and about whom does this hymn speak.  If the answer is not Jesus Christ and the salvation our Lord has accomplished, then that hymn or song is unworthy of the Divine Service. This is not about taste but about truth, not about preference but doctrine, and not about us but about Him in whom salvation is to be found.


Anonymous said...

I whole heartedly agree with this.

Janis Williams said...

Simple fact: The Divine Service is not about ME. It is about Christ, and His gifts to us in the service. Therefore, we sing of Him, what He has done, and done for us. The rescue of sinful beings by Christ’s death in our place is not happy; it is a serious thing. We are singing of serious, eternal things, not my feelings.

Also, there ARE happy songs. If we sing of resurrection, of life after death, of His life in us, How can we not be joyous? (There’s a whole other subject - happy vs. joy.)