Sunday, December 05, 2010

hymn washing...

In my online sermon hunting, I have come across a fair amount of blog entries on hymns.  Now, I do not need any convincing as to the wonders of confessional Lutheran hymnody.  But I will say that I sometimes read those entries with a wee bit of fear and trepidation, since a common theme is questioning why don't the folk in the pew sing more.  A common pastoral lament if you will.

I am one of those folk in the pew who would most likely disappoint all those pastors; chief lamentee I would be.

The whys vary; they must.  They vary with me.  It would be easy to say that I oft do not sing because I do not know the tune, which would be true.  Although, some hymns have enough verses that after six or seven, I could at least join in on the last one.  It would also be easy to say that with all the liturgy singing that I do manage to warble, by the fourth or fifth hymn my asthma is bothering me and I wish not to trigger an attack during a Divine Service, which would be true.

When Sunshine comes on Sundays, we sometimes sing hymns together.  Not as often as she would like, nor I for that matter.  Although, if I were to ask her to sing a dozen to me, rather than with me, she would.  Manna will sing to me if I ask, and she will sing in German to boot.  Brother Goose has sung to me, though I need to get better at managing the brief time of our calls in order to squeeze in a couple more hymns.  This last call was glorious for all the Psalms we prayed together—oh the wonder of praying the Psalter with one who loves it as dearly as do I!  How about this one?  Sure, but then let's do that one!  Only all those psalms did mean just one hymn.  Bettina will; she sang Friday night when I was lost and scared and she couldn't yet get to a computer to Google Map where I was and guide me home.  I Am Jesus' Little Lamb.  All of them, not really questioning why.  The new pastor has really only sung once.  But, when I did dare to ask, he did not question either.  He just did.  Lord Jesus Think on Me.

You could think it makes no sense for someone who cherishes Lutheran hymnody to remain silent while others are singing hymns around her, especially after existing in the Sahara Desert of praise songs for far too long, praise songs lacking any depth of musical construction and chock full of personal pronouns and works righteousness thinly veiled with lots of "I love you, Lord!" or variations if that is what matters most in faith...the depth of our love, the breadth of our commitment.  [Balderdash!]  Maybe it doesn't.

The truth is that most of the time, when I am silent, I am basking in the washing of the hymn, the washing of my wounds, my hurts, my fatigue, my doubts, my illness with the sweet, sweet Gospel.  I suppose you could say that is selfish of me.  Maybe it is.

There are no good words for me to use to describe how it feels to be washed in the Gospel that way, at least how it feels to me.  I sit and revel as the Gospel is poured over me, soaking it in, finding comfort and peace and rest and refreshment and healing...and strength.

The strength is because, in addition to being washing in the sweet, sweet Gospel, I am joining in the confession swirling around me.  Much of the time, it is a confession I long to make boldly, but would stutter and stammer if left to my own, so acutely aware of my sin and my failure am I.  Yes, I am baptized!  I am baptized and forgiven!  But remembering that day to day is still a struggle, such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too high to attain. Oh, how the psalmist wrote the words of my heart in 139!

So, even when I am weak, I am still able to make the confession I long to speak because it is being spoken on all sides.  Before and behind and beside the Word is being proclaimed and me, for me.   Gospel for me.  Faith for me.  Love for me.  Peace for me.  Mercy for me.  Given for me.  Shed for me.  For me.  For me.  For me.

I will pray the Psalter at the drop of a hat.  Many weeks ago, I found myself in a place with a bunch of hurting people.  I found an empty room and opened my bible and started praying the Psalter because I was hurt and confused myself.  First one came.  Then another.  And a third.  I ended with five listeners.  Three Catholics, one Protestant, and one curious unbeliever.  None had ever heard the words of their heart being spoken for them.  None of them had ever been taught the sweet, sweet Gospel that permeates the Psalter.  It was heady stuff for them as I prayed for each of them in turn, putting their name in the psalm, changing pronouns and verb tenses appropriately.  Every single one of them asked me to do it again and again.  I prayed with their names, because it is easier to pray for another than for myself.  I prayed with their names, but I longed to pray mine.

I also sang hymns to them.  I will sing the 27 Lutheran hymns I know at the drop of a hat...that is, I will sing them for someone with alacrity.  Often, when it comes to singing for me, I am silent.  I feel the fraud, not worthy enough to voice one word of the confession found in the wondrous treasury that is our heritage of hymns. 

So, why am I silent in church much of the time?  Well, it is probably a given that I do not know the tune.  But that really is the specious answer.  I am silent because I am savoring being washed by the hymns.  I am silent because I am basking in the sweet, sweet Gospel.  I am silent because I long to believe, but my ex-Protestant heart still finds itself ensnared in the crushing failure of works righteousness.

The Divine Service, I have been taught, has two parts: the Service of the Word and the Service of the Sacrament.  For me, it has three parts:  the Service of the Word, the Service of Hymnody, and the Service of the Sacrament.  All three are laced with the sweet, sweet Gospel.  All three are laced with forgiveness.  All three are laced with healing.

Is it wrong of me to think that one of the ways God is coming to me in the Divine Service is having my brothers and sisters wash me with hymns?

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

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