Last week I conducted the funeral for Hildegarde Brammeier, wife of former ELCE Chairman Pastor Marvin Brammeier. They arrived in the ELCE from the US in 1957 and here – and heaven – are their homes. Because they’ve been involved in so much of the ELCE, many people from around the ELCE came to Coventry to honour Hildegarde, support Pastor Marvin, and give glory to God.
And it’s that glory that was evident in the words said – and in the words sung. I have heard a number of reports of the funeral and the committal and pretty well all of them mention the singing. We were blessed to have Rosemary from Good Shepherd to play at the church but she had to return to work and so we had the musi-cian that came with the crematorium for the committal. This service is brief and we sang ‘God loved the world so that he gave’ (571LSB). It was marvellously sung – lifted the roof almost – wonderful. Afterwards I went to thank the organist and he mentioned spontaneously that he had playing at the crematorium for a long time but the singing just then was ‘the best I’ve heard for years and years’. I smiled. (Inside I punched the air! Yes, we’re still the singing church!)
The Lutheran Church has been associated with music from its beginning. Luther prized music as an outstanding gift of God right next to theology. He wrote songs because the words – which are central – are delivered to us in ways that can ‘get to us’ and stay with us. I still think the old ver-sion of Matins I learnt at seminary is the best because I really like the music but the students at Westfield House have found it hard (in the beginning … and some never warm to it). Our musical heritage can be gently critiqued a la Garrison Keillor (“Lutherans are bred from childhood to sing in four-part harmony”) while choral music is studied and appreciated. Who doesn’t know of one of the best Lutheran theologians ever – Paul Gerhardt? Who hasn’t heard of Johann Sebastian Bach? And what seems to have been particularly important – didactically, theologically, and one can’t forget socially – is the congregational singing in the Lutheran Church.
What does the Church sing? We sing a new song! (Psalm 96) It can be hard to sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land (Psalm 137:4) but if the angels can do it, so can we! What did the angels sing above those shepherds?
Our songs can cover all of Scripture and delve into all of life but they are based on a new reality that God has brought about peace between him and us through the life and death of Jesus. That foundation – the gospel – shapes our lives and our words and thus our songs. That is why they can be sung in all circumstances – and especially, I would say, at a funeral. Sung quietly by one-self or with many others – sung loudly or softly – sung in harmony or sung approaching harmony – the music carries us and draws us to the words – that God loves and cares for us and is pre-sent with us – no matter the circumstances of our singing.
‘I will sing of the steadfast of the Lord forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations’ (Psalm 89:1 ESV). GS