It was a lovely Saturday online yesterday at the ELCE’s Day of Reflection ‘Singing our Christian Faith’. There was a wide range of songs and hymns – from centuries ago to ones written by ELCE members a few years! Each song had a story to go with it – when it came into being (we learnt about that) but, I felt, more importantly what we learnt was the story and memory revealed by the person who had nominated the song. It wasn’t just that it was a good song but that it was a good song for them because … and this is where it was simply lovely – hearing how the song and a moment or memory, person or place were fused together. Yes, often funerals and loved ones now in heaven were mentioned but there were also weddings and youth rallies and quite a bit of sitting on cold floors as a school pupil singing hymns.
Did you know Crimond is a place in Scotland? I didn’t. (Sorry, LSB users, but Crimond is the tune for me for ‘The Lord’s my shepherd’.) I also hadn’t appreciated that the song ‘The day Thou gavest’ was written at a time when the British Empire’s reach was such that people began to have a real sense of the globe and that whether we were waking or going to sleep there were others going to sleep or waking and this enriched or enhanced the catholicity of the Christian Church – that it is universal, global, all around the world. I think all of us were captured and captivated behind the poetry and imagery of Graham Kendrick’s ‘The Servant King’ in verse 3 … ‘hands that flung stars into space to cruel nails surrendered’. Such and more were the fascinating moments of the day. It was ELCE Secretary, Doreen Rosser, who hit the nail on the head when, among the comments at the end, she reflected how good and informative and enjoyable the time was but what she hadn’t expected was “how emotional it had been”.
It’s obvious once said because songs are emotional. Music and song accompany us as few things do because they resonate within us. We can carry them. They can express what is almost inexpressible. They can also work on us and shape us and influence us. They are powerful. Handle and use with care – which in Christian song writing means that the words will remain primary. Whether the words reflect our side of the relationship with God or declare to us – remind us – teach others – what God has done for us, it is important that they are clear in their task. For Lutherans we want to be clear about why, what, and how God relates to us and then our response because most of the time songs in the world and the messages in the world are about us and what we feel or do.
“Oh sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvellous things!” (Psalm 98:1a ESV) Christian songs for 2,000 years have been sung into their world and those that have resonated for later generations are remembered and treasured. The song writing still goes on – as it should! – singing into our 21st Century pandemic – internet – unequal – fearful world new songs for our time – that God in Jesus on his cross has done a marvellous thing and the life we live in our time is ‘full’ with Jesus (John 10:10). I suppose this just means more and more