I think that in years ahead, when this pandemic has faded into history, one of the things we will remember most about our changed worship is the absence of singing. Throughout the history of the Church, from its infancy (Paul wrote hymns, after all), Christians have lifted their voices to God in song, in praise, pleading and pain. For some, like me, songs and hymns express beautifully, in words that I sometimes cannot find, my love and worship of my God and Saviour.
What is thought to be the oldest hymn still sung today, ‘Hail gladdening light, of his pure glory poured’, is a hymn from the Byzantine era. It is in the oldest hymn books in my collection (The Methodist Hymn Book 1933) and in some that are modern (Singing The Faith, 2012). It is a short hymn, but the message is plain and powerful: the holiness of God, the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the divinity of the Holy Spirit.
The best remembered hymns have easy metre and rhythm, short verses, tunes that are mostly uncomplicated. That is as it should be; hymns were more than just praise and worship, they were intended from the start to instil the Gospel in those who could not read. It is therefore no surprise then that many had the simple message of God’s love, steadfastness, and care, and many times words directly from the Scriptures: ‘At the name of Jesus, every knee will bow’ (Caroline Maria Noel 1817-1877).
Of course, hymns, like any other music, evolve, become shaped by the context of the day. Some written in the height of missionary zeal during the Victorian era had lyrics that would be, quite rightly, rejected outright by future generations.
Modern hymns such as those from John Bell, Graham Kendrick and Stuart Townend have established their place in churches today, although I am told they do not always adapt well to the traditional organ.
Perhaps you, like me, remember singing hymns at school, and you can recall the words easily enough. So many have imprinted themselves on my mind, they are my companions when I go about from day to day, and give me a song in my heart. And when I struggle to concentrate when praying, saying the words of a hymn often helps.
Tomorrow I shall reflect on some more modern songs, but my challenge for you today is this: recall an old hymn, and write down as many words as you can remember. Or look one up; they are easly accessed on the internet, or you may have a hymn book at home. Then ponder on the words, remember singing them, enjoy this special gift from God. May you have a blessed day.