Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
Many of you are probably following the progress of the presidential campaigns this year. (Perhaps a few of you are trying everything you can to avoid them!) But either way, you probably caught at least pieces of both major parties’ national conventions as they’ve happened over the past couple of weeks.
I don’t know about you, but one of the things that stood out to me at both conventions was the shouting. Even in gatherings where people identify as belonging to the same group, there were voices raised against one another, aiming to not only disagree, but to disrupt and derail too.
And I found myself wondering: what is the Christian response to this political season where all these shouting voices highlight the divisions between us?
This week, we celebrate one particular answer: come to church and sing.
Singing is such a simple and normal act to us that it doesn’t seem remarkable. But today, I want to give you four reasons that our congregational singing is remarkable, a gospel response to the world’s brokenness.
Singing is an act of harmony. Singing is, at its very core, an act of collaboration. You use music composed by someone else. You sing the words written by another person. And unless you’re a really fabulous sight-reader, you know these songs that we sing in the first place because someone else sang them, and you were listening. And you can’t sing well if you’re not also listening to all the voices around you, to the instrument that’s leading you.
When we sing hymns together, we’re joining our voices with the cloud of witnesses in the whole Church; those alive and those who have died, composers, writers, singers, choirs, congregations. When the Spirit leads us into song, just as she led us into worship, she leads us into the company of all the saints and sinners that make up the great cloud of witnesses in the Church.
The writer of Colossians reminds us in our second reading: “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” It is this love of Christ that binds us together in perfect harmony, and we literally embody that love when we make harmony together.
Singing uses your whole body. One of the first things voice coaches will do with their students is to teach them to sing from their diaphragm, which is here, at the very center of your body. When you sing from here, it means that the words aren’t just in your mind, or in your mouth, but are vibrating in your whole body. It means they’re supported by the air in your lungs, the air that oxygenates every drop of blood in your body, air that our faith tells us was breathed into us at the very first by God’s Spirit. Singing is praying with your whole body.
According to the bible, singing is a fundamental and immediate reaction to God’s revelation. The text we sang in our first reading, Miriam’s song? She sings it right after the Egyptians have been swept into the Red Sea, in the moments after the Israelites, who believed they were on the verge of being re-captured, and enslaved once again, suddenly find themselves free. Miriam sings and dances with the joy of one who has found freedom when she was a slave on the verge of capture.
And in the New Testament reading today, we hear Zechariah sing his song in response to the news of Jesus coming among us. This is a man who was struck silent in the Temple because he doubted that God’s Word would come to pass, and this song marks the moment when his silence ends. After weeks of not being able to speak, the first words out of Zechariah’s mouth are a song that has been picked up and carried on by the Christian church throughout every generation.
The accounts of Jesus’ early life, in fact, read like a first-century Palestinian musical.
His mother, Mary sings, “My soul magnifies the Lord!” when the angel Gabriel announces the gospel good news to her. Zechariah sings, “In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us!” when his son John is born. The angels burst into song when they tell the shepherds in the field who is lying in a manger in Bethlehem. And Simeon, the old man in the Temple, sings, “Now Lord, you let your servant go in peace” when he first beholds the infant Jesus.
But the music didn’t end then. The gospels record that Jesus and his disciples sang on the night before he was crucified. Paul’s letters preserve what we think are some of the earliest hymns of the Christian community, and in Colossians, we are urged to keep singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.
Throughout the Bible, people sing because it suddenly breaks upon them what God has done for them. We are a people who believed that we are saved by grace alone. That nothing we do can ever earn the grace we’ve received from our God, and that no power or principality can keep up from the love made known to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. When we grasp that in our hearts, how can we keep from singing?
We sing in church on Sundays because Sundays are rehearsal. On Sundays, the day of Christ’s resurrection, we rehearse for the time when Christ will come again, and bring to birth a new heaven and a new earth.
And according to the Bible, this is what it will look like: when the prophet Isaiah sees in a vision the heavenly court of God, he sees angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim, flying around God’s throne, and they are singing a song: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; his glory fills the whole earth.”
And in the Book of Revelation, when John of Patmos sees all of creation bowing down before the throne of the Lamb, he describes them as singing the praise of the one who sits on the throne.
And when we gather on Sunday, the song that we sing as we prepare to receive the Lord’s Supper, is the same song as Isaiah heard: “Holy holy holy are you, God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of your glory!”
We sing that song not just because we believe it’s what we will be singing when Christ comes again. We sing it because we believe that when we sing it, in that holy moment when Christ comes among us, in, with, and under the bread and the wine, we are singing it in the company of the angels and the archangels around God’s throne. We are singing it in the company of the saints that have gathered around the shining river that flows by the throne of God. I am singing it not only with you, and with my mother, many miles away, but with my grandfather, who’s on the other side of the Jordan, and with the great-grandmother I never met, who’s probably singing it in Polish because she never did learn English. I’m singing it with Martin Luther King Jr. and Julian of Norwich and with the sea and the skies and the stars and the saints and the sinners and everything.
When we sing Holy, Holy, Holy, in the moment when the barriers between heaven and earth disappear and we glimpse, for a moment, God’s reign fully among us, fully realized, we sing.
In a world of shouting voices, we come to church on Sunday, and we sing. And in the center of our service, is the song of God come to earth, and through that song, God unites us with all of creation, in every time, and every place, and with the angels and archangels, with the church on earth and the hosts of heaven.
In the middle of a world full of shouting, God gives us songs. Songs that unite us in love and harmony with saints and sinners both living and dead, of every tribe and tongue, and with angels, and with clapping trees and leaping rivers.
People of God, come, let us sing to the LORD!