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The Lovely Gift of Music

This week was another reminder for me about the power that music has.

There were several hymns we did at church on Sunday that reminded me of that.

During the summer, we've been singing rather than saying our Psalms. The hymn for Psalm 30 on Sunday was All With Joyful Exultation. The music is a Jewish tune and we sing it regularly with different words. But on Sunday, it wasn't just the words that were different, it was the whole piece. It might have been the setting of being in the chapel. Or it might have been because Oksana just got back from Israel and played it as a dance. But we had fun with it! Okay, we struggled a little to get all the words in, but we laughed about it, and we laughed with the joy and fun of the music.

The hymn after the sermon was O Christ, the Healer, We Have Come. The hymn tune caught my attention.

Did you know that all our hymns have tune names? Frequently they reflect the names of the original hymn they were written for (Adeste Fidelis, Balm in Gilead, Change My Heart). Celtic hymn tunes are frequently named after the areas or Celtic words (Abbot's Leigh, Bunessan, Hyfrodol). And some hymn tunes names tell you everything you need to know: Morning Hymn, Festal Song, Resignation, Tenderness.

The hymn tune that caught my attention on Sunday was Distress. The tune and words reflected that title.

There are several pieces of music to which I have a Pavlovian response of tears. Eternal Father, Strong to Save brings me to tears when I just hear the melody line. Sometimes by the third or fourth verse I can sing it, but I generally don't even try. I hear the melody and I dissolve into tears, and then laughter because it's such a silly and intense response to the music.

Let Us Break Bread Together, which we’ve been singing during Communion, has a similar effect on me, though I can make it through the song before I start tearing up. It was the closing song for my high school choir. I was surrounded by tenors and basses in the choir, so in my head I always hear the song in four-part harmony. It's the memory of that sound that brings me to tears by the end of the song.

We got people clapping for the final hymn, I’m So Glad Jesus Lifted Me, at least until they needed their hands to look at the words in the bulletin. I know we're not much of a clapping congregation, but the physical participation in a song can make a difference.

In my women's chorus this year we did a version of Will the Circle Be Unbroken. At one point in the song we were to hold hands with the singer next to us. And later in the song we were to clap. We hated doing it during rehearsal, it felt so silly. But during performance it was invigorating, and perfectly normal to do.

The topper for me this week was an image from the ELCA Youth Gathering being held in Houston. The gathering was 30,000+ high school age youth from around the country, together with their adult sponsors and support volunteers. Someone posted a picture of tens of thousands of people standing and singing Jesus Loves Me. It's a simple song, but the emotional difference between a few three-year-olds singing it, and 30,000+ young people singing it is incalculable. Sheer numbers can turn ordinary hymns into extraordinary experiences. Think 300 people singing A Mighty Fortress Is Our God at the Reformation 500 service.

So, this is just a reminder of the power of music to convey meaning, to involve us physically, and to absorb us emotionally. It can involve us a participant, as a performer, or as a listener. It is something accessible to all.

I, Doctor Martin Luther, wish all lovers of the unshackled art of music grace and peace from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ! I truly desire that all Christians would love and regard as worthy the lovely gift of music, which is a precious, worthy, and costly treasure given to mankind by God. The riches of music are so excellent and so precious that words fail me whenever I attempt to discuss and describe them....

In summa, next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits.... Our dear fathers and prophets did not desire without reason that music be always used in the churches. Hence, we have so many songs and psalms. This precious gift has been given to man alone that he might thereby remind himself that God has created man for the express purpose of praising and extolling God. (written by Martin Luther, 1538)

- Ann Warner

P.S.: If you have a favorite hymn, please let Oksana or Pastor Jason know, so that we can see about scheduling it into the worship service.

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