Sacred Spaces: The Hymnals

This reflection is dedicated to the Glory of God and in honor of Robert Turnage.

The assembly of the Lord God sings.

She sings the glory of God’s creation – like the stars at the foundation of the world. (Job 38:7) She sings with thankfulness for the works God has done for her and on her behalf – like Moses when God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt. (Exodus 15:1-22) She sings in her distresses, clinging to the only true hope found in her God – like David when he was in the “dust of death.” (Psalm 22) She sings praises to God even in the midst death because of God’s own assurance that death has been overcome – like Jonah from the belly of the fish. (Jonah 2) She sings because God has come to us in the flesh to sing with us – like Mary when she was visited by the angel. (Luke 15:46-55) She sings eternally the glories of the Christ who died and was raised for her:

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,

to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might

and honor and glory and blessing! (Revelation 5:12)

In the midst of Nazi oppression, oppression that would later claim his life, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “God has prepared for Himself one great song of praise throughout eternity, and those who enter the community of God join this song.” (Life Together) The song is God’s, not our own. The song began before we were knit together in our mothers’ wombs. If the Lord tarries, it will continue long after our children’s children are dead, buried, and raised again. But through the mysterious working of God, we join in the eternal, hopeful song of God here and know.

When we stand in our sanctuary, grasp our hymnals in our hands, and sing words from Scripture arranged by the saints who came before us, we join in a miracle. With each verse, we sing with a new song in new circumstances the ancient mystery of God’s intimacy with us. It was the miracle I joined as preschooler (one of my first memories of worship) when I joined in the singing of our Methodist congregation – even though I did not fully know the words or was able to read a single one of them. It is the miracle my son, a preschooler, joins when he sings, “Jesus loves me, this I know…”

It is the miracle of the eternal God that was sung by my friend, Robert, when his soaring tenor voice pierced through the thick liturgy of my ordination service on Holy Saturday to proclaim that even in the depths of our distresses (Jesus was in the tomb!) God’s song continues forever. It continues for his glory. It continues for us. And we sing with God.

“Comfort ye, my people,” saith your God.

Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem

And cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplish’d,

That her iniquity is pardon’d.

The crooked straight, and the rough places plain.

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