Music and the hospitality of Jesus
“ … as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, sing and make melody to the Lord in your heart, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:19-21).
Music has always been, is today, and — I believe — will be in our future, important to us in our worshipping life.
From our Reformed and evangelical heritage Martin Luther believed that music was the expression of the God-given harmony of the cosmos and a means of preserving creation over the forces of dissolution.
John Calvin describes music as one of the bright sparkling remnants of glory that has survived the Fall and is an enduring testimony to God’s goodness.
Five hundred years before the Reformation, Benedictine Abbess Hildegard of Bingen understood Jesus Christ as the Song of God.
Today we use music in myriad different ways, its primary use being to worship God.
Music is for us priest; at times absolving and then building up the people of God. It unites us in our praise. But music is also prophet. It can divide us as well.
It can describe our movement away from God and so then encourage us to confession and to return to God’s will in our lives.
Music also functions as proclamation, declaring and communicating God’s reign and salvation.
Music is our healer, the language of prayer. We are moved beyond words into the spiritual realm where grief, joy and hope can meet, nourishing our inner transformation.
Music is our preacher. We use music and its words to talk about God and how we describe and understand God’s relationship with us.
Music is our teacher. We remember and pass on our story through song and the scriptural witness of those who have gone before strengthening our place in the story of salvation.
But there is more to music because it is something we do together. We physically resonate when we sing. We resonate with our love of our Creator who loves us first, the One who loves all humanity, Jesus Christ and the joyous enabler, comforter and guide for our lives, the Holy Spirit.
We can build community when we sing together by sharing our emotions in song and, as Jesus lived for us in our world, so we can live as musical creators in and through God’s creating spirit.
Music is something to share with our neighbour. We are to sing the songs of other peoples, in different languages, in different places, in different styles, in ways that are not our first choice but we remember that all our songs are part of God’s creation and the work of the Holy Spirit throughout all time.
So music speaks to us of mission, announcing and demonstrating God’s reign when we sing the songs of others as an act of hospitality — the gift we see demonstrated by Jesus throughout his ministry and in his death and resurrection.
No era has been left without the Spirit’s guiding and teaching through music.
Michael Hawn, Professor of Church Music, Perkins School of Theology describes seven different types of congregational song and believes that we need to make use of all of them so that we worship across our tradition, from the different eras of salvation history.
John Bell, Church of Scotland minister and songwriter from the Iona Community, calls us to sing in our faith with confidence, writing new stanzas for our times.
So, what shall we to sing today?
I believe we are to sing the songs that build us as community, uphold us on our journey, offer us God’s transforming grace and hospitality, and so grant us the courage to move into God’s future together.
The Rev. Ann Perrin is Convenor of the Synod’s Music Development Committee.