Whether it is the Beatles, James Taylor, Carole King, George Harrison, Boston, Jethro Tull, Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac, or the music of the 1940 and 1982 Hymnals: all of these have one thing in common in my life, when I hear music from any of these I am carried away to another realm where worries and fears dissipate and I am united with others, whether the artist; friends no longer with us; the audience; or, the congregation. Whether secular or religious music, I am united with another and find myself singing along---united to their spirit and the spirit of God.
Did you ever notice how easy it is to recall the words of songs you haven’t heard for 20 years? Our brains are filled with so very many songs. I guess that is why “Name that Tune” is back on television. I imagine that my memory is filled with hundreds of songs and hymns. When I hear them, memories and emotions come flooding back. Music has an unusual mnemonic power. For some reason we remember music much better than we do prose. With their timing and their rhyming words, songs and hymns are the most powerful devices that prompt and spark one’s memory. Did you ever notice that in Deuteronomy 31:19 how God tells Moses to write a song for God’s people so that they might remember His words which are found in the next chapter in the “Song of Moses”?
I’ve been thinking and praying about the incoming Biden/Harris administration and how the new President is calling for unity. The nation could take a lesson from the Church. We in the Church and especially within the Episcopal Church, have a way of creating unity, and doing so immediately as the service begins. The processional or opening hymn unites us from the first note Martha plays on the organ. That hymn is then followed by the opening acclamation where a dialogue begins between the priest and congregation. After the liturgy of the Word, led primarily by the laity, we proceed to the Liturgy of the Table where we all share one Bread and one Cup. We are united from the beginning to the end of the service and neither theology, nor politics, nor any minor slights matter or are considered--- we are one with one another and the Lord.
If you notice, the music within our liturgy unites us (even when we all agree that Eric has chosen a horrible hymn). I especially love when we get sing the Gloria on Easter Day after shaking off the dust of 40 days of Lent. It brings me such joy and I am carried heavenward with each of you. That is why we sing in church! Although there are appropriate times to listen to soloists or cantors within the liturgy, I prefer congregational singing and it doesn’t really matter whether or not you have a good voice; it matters that you have a song in your heart.
Do you remember the Congress gathering on the steps of the capitol right after the attacks of September 11, 2001? Besides the attacks, the singing of “God Bless America” united politicians of all stripes and many Americans wept, felt the strength in our unity, and vowed to remain that way. Unfortunately, that sense of connectedness did not last.
We sing in very many different times and places; concerts, football games, birthdays, weddings, and funerals. These songs and hymns bind us together, one to another. It permits us to be of one mind, one heart, one passion. As difficult as this year without singing has been, it was so gratifying to sing Silent Night together on Christmas Eve. Again, along with your spirits, mine was lifted heavenward.
As 2021 begins, I pray that the unity that God seeks for us and the unity we all desire allows each of our songs and voices to be heard. The psalmist writes in Psalm 133, one of the Hebrew’s original hymns (The Book of Psalms) “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity.” Again, Hymn 599 states, “Lift ev’ry voice and sing!” Please remember, that as Christians, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, and as Episcopalians, we are inextricably linked, and the lyrics of Hymn 420 remind us of the reason for this unity, its importance and its implications for us all:
1. When in our music God is glorified, and adoration leaves no room for pride,
it is as though the whole creation cried, Hallelujah!
2. How often, making music, we have found a new dimension in the world of sound, as worship moved us to a more profound, Hallelujah!
3. So has the church, in liturgy and song, in faith and love, through centuries of wrong, borne witness to the truth in every tongue: Hallelujah!
4. And did not Jesus sing a Psalm that night when utmost evil strove against the Light? Then let us sing, for whom he won the fight: Hallelujah!
5. Let every instrument be tuned for praise! Let all rejoice who have a voice to raise! And may God give us faith to sing always: Hallelujah!
May this new year find us vaccinated, united, and once again soon
be able to lift every voice and sing…whether it be a song on your
radio, a hymn in church, or a song in your heart.
Wishing you God’s peace, my love, and God’s song
in your heart…always.