I don't know about you, but I love music. There is always something playing in my house, whether it is on the radio, iTunes or on the record player. I also love to sing...so I especially like music that allows me to sing (and sometimes dance) along. There is something about music. It can move my body to dance, to laugh and even cry. I can relive memories through music and love when I hear a song in a new setting that brings me back to the first time I heard it. There are many songs that seem to express my feelings better than I can, or can connect with me when I feel no one else can.
Every Sunday at camp, all 10 summer when I was on staff, we would sing the first verse of Beautiful Savior as grace for the dinner meal. Every time I sing that hymn, no matter what the worship setting is (Indiana, Connecticut, Pennsylvania or some place else) I am immediately transported back to the dining hall at Camp Calumet in Freedom, New Hampshire on a warm summer day...just ready for another meal with good friends.
While songs and music can transport us to different places, sometimes we bring music out at a certain time and place, because it is 'tradition.' For me, Thanksgiving is not complete unless I have heard the original version of Alice's Restaurant Massacree by Arlo Guthrie. Growing up, we would listen to the 18 1/2 minute song as it covered the whole first side of the vinyl album. This past year, I knew I would be driving to see friends on Thanksgiving, so I downloaded it, just in case, but ended up catching it on the radio during my drive.
Not just at home, or while driving in the truck am I embraced by music, but also in worship.
For me there is unity, there is fellowship, there is the reminder of our connection through baptism as we chant the liturgy and as we sing old and new hymns together. It enhances the worship experience as we all lift our voices and 'Sing to the Lord a new song!' No matter how we think we sound or how we think others may hear us...in community we lift up a communal voice....joining our voices and hearts as one as we share the gospel message.
In John Bell's book The Singing Thing, the first section of the book answers the following question:
Why do we sing?
He suggests the following reasons.
1. Because we can
2. To create identity
3. To express emotion
5. To revisit the past
6. To tell stories
7. To shape the future
8. To enable work
9. To exercise our creativity
10. To give of ourselves
I think it's important to remember who we are when we gather together to sing. When we gather together to worship and sing, be it Saturday evening, Sunday morning, or midweek services during Advent and Lent, we are gathered together as the Body of Christ to proclaim God's word.
So while we are individuals in that space...we are united in baptism to proclaim God's word. We hear different scripture readings each week that guide our hearts, mind and actions to new ways of hearing the 'old, old story' that is alive in our world today.
John Bell writes,
"The discerning pastor or pastoral musician has to be able, for the good of the rest of the congregation and the integrity of the event, to help those choosing the hymns to distinguish the difference between what is individually evocative and what is suited for community singing." (p. 41)
The musical leadership at Trinity is guided by our weekly scripture readings so that the hymns sung and the special music that is shared helps the people gathered to sing and hear the gospel message. When we sing together in worship....we are not singing for the accolades of the congregation, we are not singing to glory of each other or to out-sing one another or to lift up days that that our nation honors and celebrates, we sing for no one around us, but we sing for the glory of God. The songs we lift up are another gift God has given us that we freely give back.
Who we are in the sanctuary shapes us for who we are outside of the church building...yes there are songs that we hear and sing in other places that share good morals and heart moving stories, that move us to laughter and tears that we would love to sing with friends...and share with friends at church, but I caution each of us...to listen to the words of the hymns we do sing and how they speak the gospel message to us. Listen to the gospel message we sing to others.
And watch how that message of an unconditionally loving God - molds us, our families, our communities and our world.