by Peter Judd
In a church with a worship tradition sometimes referred to as the “hymn sandwich,” the singing of hymns has always been central. Through hymnody we sing our faith, and our faith is formed by it.
The texts boldly express what we believe, at least hopefully for the most part they do. But they also challenge us to grow by announcing new ways of understanding and responding to the Divine. In the 1981 Hymns of the Saints, we thrilled at new texts that moved us beyond our inward-focused, one-true-church identity. It was a good hymnal for its day and has served the church well. But that was 30 years ago, and we are now in the second decade of the 21st century. The church needs and deserves more. In October we will get it: a wonderful next hymnal titled Community of Christ Sings.
Launching this hymnal at the annual Peace Colloquy is fitting, for singing with the church in community is in the truest sense an act of peace. Singing texts that call us to be a peaceful people recommits us to the cause of Christ’s peace, and such singing hopefully prompts us to do peaceful things. But more important, the very act of singing the hymns and songs of the church is an act of peace!
Let me explain. We live in a divided and broken world, where violence is commonplace and the desire to get ahead at the expense of another’s well-being is typical. Differences between people too often create brokenness. The need for peace is obvious wherever we turn.
But the church has another way of looking at differences. We believe our brother or sister who is different than we—even being the source of irritation and anger—is God’s gift to us to enrich us. This is what community is about.
It is sometimes the place where the person we least want to be with sits beside us and sings the songs and hymns of the church with us. For those few minutes our differences become unimportant, even forgotten. We create harmony. I’m not just talking about the harmony of soprano, alto, tenor, and bass, but what happens when a group of very different people assemble and do something together. And the result is peace!
In those few minutes we experience the reign of God. We still may be aware of our differences as we sing, yet we sing anyway, not in spite of our differences, but because of them. And this makes our singing an act of peace.
Our congregations are not without brokenness. This is where people seek healing. For the few minutes we sing together, our focus is not on ourselves, our needs, or our hurts; it is on God—God the healer. Because we sing together, we are healers of each other’s wounds. Separation and differences yield to community and peace. And at least for a brief time, we fulfill our calling to live the peace of Jesus Christ.
Because we do peace in our congregations we are equipped to do peace in our broken world. If we aren’t a people of peace when we gather and worship, then we won’t be makers of peace when we leave.
In the hymns of the church we encounter rich diversity. Yet in singing them together we experience a unity that is the foundation of the church. Surely we can echo the words of a hymn that was new to us in 1981 and has become a favorite to many:
Through all the tumult and the strife I hear that music ringing; it sounds and echoes in my soul. How can I keep from singing? The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart, a fountain ever springing! All things are mine since I am his! How can I keep from singing?
—Robert Lowry, Hymns of the Saints 157
May our hymnody continue to bring us joy and peace as we keep singing together.