Singing hymns may seem to be inappropriate to recommend during this COVID-19 pandemic. The outbreak in South Korea originated in a large Christian worship gathering. A choir practice led to an outbreak of the virus in Washington state, with deaths emanating from that event.
This does not prevent us from singing our faith, whether in a family gathering, along with virtual worship, TV service, parking lot services or alone at home. Our singing can never be silenced.
Early in its history, the Christian church incorporated three liturgical hymns into her worship, hymns taken from Scripture and heard in heaven.
First, there was the Sanctus (Holy, holy, holy), which the prophet Isaiah heard in the temple, being sung by angels in Isaiah 6. In this liturgical hymn, we proclaim that we join heaven and earth in communion. It is also the basis of Reginald Heber’s famous hymn for congregational singing, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.”
Second, there is the song of the angels heard by the shepherds in Luke 2: “Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth.” At Christmas, we sing Charles Wesley’s hymn, “Hark, the herald angels sing,” giving glory to the newborn king. Other hymns reflecting the Savior’s birth include “Angels from the realms of glory.”
Third, there is the beautiful worship song titled “Worthy is the Lamb.” St. John witnessed this hymn being sung while he was exiled to the island of Patmos by the Roman government. On the Lord’s Day, John had been separated from his beloved community (probably Ephesus) when myriads of angels sang, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise.” Then all of creation joined in, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever” (Revelation 5).
In Revelation 7, a great multitude of the redeemed, whose robes have been washed white in the blood of the Lamb, sing: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” Then the angels’ voices join them: “Glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
These hymns have been incorporated into our communion liturgy. There is also a beautiful Norwegian hymn by Hans Adolf Brorson that reflects John’s experience, “Behold a host.” This hymn speaks of a band like mountains bright, arrayed in white, glorious around the throne of light, who have overcome great tribulation in his name and who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb.
Another Protestant hymn, based on Revelation, asks if you’ve been to Jesus for the cleansing power. Have you been washed in the blood of the Lamb? Are your garments spotless, are they white as snow?
I have always considered it a great joy to have in our Scriptures these songs from heaven, heard on earth by Isaiah in the temple, the shepherds in the fields and St. John exiled and alone on Patmos.
So, whether you worship liturgically or with congregational hymns, keep on singing the stories of our faith from Scripture.
Perhaps we can’t be with Isaiah in the temple on a high feast day, with incense floating up to heaven and the cherubim and seraphim flying back and forth, but we can be like a few shepherds gathered together on the hillside or alone and exiled like St. John of Patmos – because we are the church wherever we are. Keep on singing!
Pastor Carole Shelby is a retired Lutheran (LCMC) pastor and a member of the Park Rapids Ministerial Association.