When I was child, my family attended church on Sunday evenings. And if we were lucky, we would have a ‘Hymn Sing.’ For those unfamiliar with this term, a ‘Hymn Sing’ consists of a worship service where the content was, well, the singing of hymns.
At the church I grew up in, people would shout out the title of the song they were requesting as the current hymn wound down. As I recall, there was an art to knowing when to call out the next hymn. If you yelled your song request out too early, it wouldn’t be heard over the sound of the piano or organ. If you waited too long, Ms. Higgenpowers would shout out, “Just as I Am” and its 41 verses.
No one liked Ms. Higgenpowers.
But I digress. One Sunday, my song request was heard and granted. I had yelled out, “Pass it on” and the music minister signaled for the congregation to turn to my hymn. This hymn was relatively new to the Baptist Hymn canon. I loved it because, like me, it was a product of the 1970s. It was contemporary. It was fresh. It didn’t sound like the other hymns.
“I’ll shout it from the mountain top!” the song rang out. “I want my world to know, the Lord of love has come to me. I want to pass it on.”
Although I love many different expressions of music in worship, there can be no denying the power of the Baptist Hymnal in helping to shape my faith over the years. Congregational singing is a deeply moving experience for me as I know that it is for many of you. Yes, the language of the lyrics is sometimes antiquated. And yes, the tune may not be as modern as what we listen to in the car. But, the theology, the scripture, and the testimony of the faithful who have gone on before us is undeniably present in the hymns that we sing.
I feel the power of Easter when we sing, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.”
I am reminded of the rich and storied tradition of the Church when we sing, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
I long for the chord in the last refrain of “Holy, Holy, Holy” when we land on the bedrock phrase: “God in three Persons, blessed Trinity.”
The music that we sing in worship each Sunday has been sung by our brothers and sisters in Christ in so many different settings, and for so many different occasions.
“This Is My Father’s World” was once the theme song of Vacation Bible School when I was a child. “Morning Has Broken” was the hymn at an Easter Sunrise Service at the first church I served after seminary. I presented a framed copy of the words to “The Servant Song,” to Rebecca when I proposed to her.
I have seen parents who have lost their child sing at the funeral, “It Is Well with My Soul,” with tears streaming down their faces. I have heard students belt out, “Be Thou My Vision,” on retreats. I felt the ground shake when the organ played the downbeat of, “For All the Saints,” at my first chapel service at Princeton Seminary. I remember singing, “My Lord is Near Me All the Time,” with my father as we took refuge in our backyard shed during a ferocious thunderstorm.
“In the lightning flash across the sky His mighty power I see, And I know if He can reign on high, His light can shine on me.”
“I’ve seen it in the lightning, heard it in the thunder, and felt it in the rain; My Lord is near me all the time, My Lord is near me all the time.”
Yes, I know of God’s Good News because the Bible has told me so. But the music of God’s Church has given me a melody to remember it by. And for that, I am most deeply grateful. I can imagine that you feel the same.