singing in church

O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.

O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.

Psalm 95:1-7a

One thing among others which should characterize any gathering of God’s people as church is simply singing together. Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, as Paul put it (Ephesians 5:19). To sing is mentioned over and over again in the Bible, note especially the psalms and the last book, Revelation.

There are various types of songs and hymns. Songs of worship, praise, along with lament. Songs of testimony to God’s faithfulness. Special songs for such seasons as Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and Easter. And down to earth songs, expressing ourselves honestly and fully before God.

Ongoing singing takes commitment along with effort. I am not really a singing person myself, though if you get me into a congregation that is singing, then I’ll join in. And I’m not thinking of the big- what comes across to me oftentimes as productions of bands revving it up, hopefully not too loud, with large screens, and people moving and swaying to the rhythm, hands uplifted, tears in some eyes, and some singing. That’s okay, probably with real good. But instead, I’m thinking about simple singing together, yes, even from hymnbooks, with or without instrumentation preferably both. 

This is something I really haven’t given sufficient attention to over the years, and have not practiced much at all, certainly not enough. But part of what is given to us for our good, both individually in our lives, and corporately together. In and through Jesus.

 

the Psalms and a popular Christian mindset contrary to them

Once when leading devotions for our team at work, I asked them in line with Psalm 88 (which ends with, “darkness is my closest friend”), something like if a Christian could ever identify with such a thought, and no one raised their hands in affirmation. And the popular worship songs of today seem to exclude the likes of me, who readily admits to such struggle as not only isolated, but ongoing, certainly interspersed with praise and the Lord’s help in overcoming such.

As in the tradition of the church we need to regularly read the psalms along with the rest of scripture. In our church every week, along with an Old Testament reading (historical reading), New Testament reading (reading from a letter) and Gospel reading (the last and climax of all from Matthew, Mark, Luke or John), we have a responsive reading from a Psalm. And I have been reading the Psalms through every month.

But I sadly dare say that perhaps contemporary worship today, while it has much good, fails to some extent to reflect a worship which comes before God with much struggle such as we read over and over again in the psalms as well as in the rest of scripture, I would argue the New Testament not excluded. And I believe this is surely to our great loss. Although at the same time, I am appreciative of people who seem to live freely of the struggles which plague me, not that people around me pick that up, particularly if I’m in conversation with them, which I often find uplifting.

Michael Card has an excellent music album which is a brilliant exception to this rule, well worth your listen: The Hidden Face of God.

I might want to suggest that this problem is part of an aversion to scripture in general in what is called pop theology, or how the faith is taught (or I might want to say, not taught) to people today in the churches. We don’t want to face the hard things in scripture, or we might even want to ignore them or even explain them away. One of the strengths I’ve noticed in a great, relatively new resource, Our Daily Bread for Kids, includes hard things normally excluded in material for children, doing so in a wise, careful way. I think we should end up seeing God, not reduced at all in greatness and goodness, which I think is an unfounded fear found in Christians considering scripture today. I would guess that much of the time this is of course a mistaken reduction of God to the likes of us, the God who is love.

This all may be a case of a triumphalism which wants to press into the present what will only be true in the future. At the same time no one really lives there, and people who advocate such spirituality will for the most part acknowledge that, I think. We live in the tension of the “already/not yet.” And in that tension we find God to be gloriously great and gloriously good in and through Jesus.

the wonderful carols of Christmas

What is more special about Christmas than the wonderful carols we sing? I don’t want to list them, which would be rather long. I wouldn’t want to leave any of them out. Of course what is most special about Christmas is its meaning: the celebration of the birth of God’s son, Jesus, our Savior, Christ the Lord. And yes, the Messiah, the one who comes and fulfills God’s promises to Israel for the world. I am guessing that the thought that comes to mind, or prevails, when I think of Christmas is both some of the beautiful Christmas imagery surrounding and pertaining to Christ’s birth, and without a doubt, those wonderful carols. And probably imagining beautiful singing of them, preferably in church. Different kinds of beauty in singing, but one preference is the blend of all the ordinary voices lifting up their hearts to God in song. And the heart of God coming down to them through the songs.

Yesterday in chapel Bill Crowder shared with us the thought that our celebration of Christ’s birth in song should be practice in anticipation of the great celebration of the Lamb to come (Revelation 4-5).  I was struck by his thought that the Lamb is the name or title most often given to Jesus in the Revelation (28 times). Yes, that will be a celebration and a half, in awe and reverence in song proclaiming the wonder and beauty of him who sits on the throne and of the Lamb. The idea that singing the Christmas carols can be a practice now in anticipation of that, I think is a wonderful thought. I was reminded too of Handel’s Messiah, which wonderfully transports us into much of this majestic terrain in its contours and beauty.

And so let’s not forget the carols. They are something of the centerpiece of our tradition of Advent, as we remember and celebrate the wonderful coming of that little baby Jesus, so many years ago.

the beauty of liturgy

There is nothing I like better than a well thought out liturgical time of worship. The Anglican tradition is one of the Christian traditions which has provided us with this through the wonderful Book of Common Prayer. I am glad to say I have not only at least a fairly recent edition of it, but also a version of Thomas Cranmer’s 1549 edition, set for worship (The First English Prayer Book: The first edition since the original publication in 1549). Liturgy could be described as a set form of worship through scripture reading, song and meditation, as well as instruction.

One of our favorite memories together on our (I think) 23rd anniversary was finding an Episcopalian (American version of Anglican) church, making our way in late, and being led to the front row where a lady helped us work through the Book of Common Prayer in the order of the service. Rich in both scripture reading and liturgy, as well as in song, with the Eucharist at the end, and of course a sermon, it was one of the richest times of worship, Deb and I agree, that we’ve experienced.

Our present church values both the reading of scripture and liturgy. We have a professor who is rather steeped in this, and prays accordingly. So that this is modeled well for us.

Here is this morning’s liturgy, including a meditation.

The Anglican tradition is one of my favorite, in fact I might fancy myself as being an Anglican Anabaptist, or Anabaptist Anglican, but better yet, “simply Christian.” Would that we would simply call ourselves that, and agree to disagree on so many what I would call secondary issues. And learn to get along well even when the differences are more serious (in our perception, anyhow). The Anglican tradition is not only one steeped in beauty, but is a mediating one, yes, even between Catholic and Protestant. And thus pushes us toward the goal of Jesus’ high priestly prayer that on earth we in Jesus may all be one as he is one with the Father.

There should be both some spontaneity and freedom, along with liturgy, I think, in any given Christian service. A good number of churches from a number of traditions I think do this quite well.

Above all, liturgy mirrors the beauty of the same found in scripture. Of course good liturgy includes a lot of scripture. It is perhaps more than a bit ironic that churches which make the most of scripture in theory (“sola scriptura”) often seem to neglect it in practice with all too often limited reading. Sermons can be helpful, and in fact have an indispensable place, but God’s people need to hear scripture read. And we do well to learn to appreciate the beauty found in liturgy. So that we individually and together may be conformed more and more to the beauty of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.