Growing up, on the way home from church on Sunday morning’s, we would discuss the service. And one of the things that we always discussed was the quality of the hymns that we sang during the service (we were not very exciting people). Most Sunday’s we sang four or five hymns during the service, one opening, one sermon, two communion, and one
closing. And so we would ‘grade’ the quality of the hymns that we sang, based on whether or not we liked the hymns, how sing-able they were, and how long it had been since we last sang that particular hymn.
One of the things I noticed, much to my own disappointment, was that we seemed to sing the same hymns over and over, for no particular reason at all. There were four or five
hymns, which we normally sang during communion and as the closing hymn that seemed to come up every Sunday.
It was not until college, when on occasion there were hymn sings during chapel, that I came to know some of the richness of the music in the Lutheran church; and then during Seminary and regular chapel services, where the dam broke loose and the full rich heritage of the hymns of the church came gushing forth on my lungs that I truly realized how deep and vast the wonders of the hymns of the church truly were.
Consider that the three main hymnals in the history of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod: The Lutheran Hymnal, Lutheran Worship and Lutheran Service Book each have over 500 hymns apiece. Yes, there are many duplicates, but the sheer number of hymns, more then 700, at our finger tips is amazing.
These hymns cover every possible occasion, including the festivals of the Church Year: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost and the Saints days. But the hymns also cover both the beginning and the end of the day; there are hymns with somber
tones for more reflective times, and hymns with more upbeat tempos for more joyous times. There are hymns for mission and hymns for thanksgiving, and there are even hymns for Baptism, Lord’s Supper, and Confession.
These hymns are not just to fill time in the service; they are there to teach the faith.
Many times in those chapel services in college it was said he who sings prays twice. (That might be a Luther quote, I do not remember.) Else where it has been said that if the sermon falls short, the hymns are there to pick up the pieces, conveying the Gospel message loudly and clearly.
Knowing all of this, it is painful to go to churches where the congregation mumbles the hymns; or where the pastor starts cutting out verses because the hymn is to long; or the congregation only sings the same hymns week after week; or worst of all, where the hymns of the church are cast aside in favor of the newest catchy tune off of the radio.
The hymns of the church are something to be proud of, they are something to rejoice in, they are something that we should demand more of.
How should hymns be sung? They should be sung standing up. They should be sung loudly and in full gusto. All the verses should be sung, all the time. While listening to an online radio program the host said he had a member in his congregation who wanted to stand on his pew when singing a doxology verse of a hymn. God bless that man for wanting to exude with full joy and confidence the hymns of the church in praise and glory to God.
What kind of grades did we hand out for the hymn selection while I was growing up? To be honest, we were pretty tough graders: we docked a lot of points if we sang the
same hymn twice in the same month. I actually wrote the pastor a letter or two suggesting that we sing some different hymns. But on occasion, we did give out some A’s when the hymns met our standards.
Learning the hymns of the church, and singing a wide and full range of them, is not only more fun, but it is one of the most effective tools for learning the faith.
The result for me was that my favorite hymn growing up was ‘Thy Strong Word’, which is an amazingly sound hymn that does nothing but confess the Lutheran faith. Today, ‘Thy
Strong Word’ is still a top ten favorite, but now the list is jam packed with countless other hymns that do nothing but confess the wonders of the faith.
That is what hymns do, they confess the faith; they are creeds set to music. And when you
think about the hymns we sing in church in that manner, why would anyone ever settle for anything less, then the absolute very best?