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Why We Christians Sing

Isaiah 12:1–6

Pastor Mark Schlamann

Cantate
First Lutheran  
Tooele, UT

Sun, May 19, 2019 

IN NOMINE JESU

Christ is risen!  HE IS RISEN INDEED!  ALLELUIA!  AMEN!

Ever since the days of the Reformation the Lutheran Church has been known as the “singing church.” In the centuries leading up to the Reformation, any and all singing during Divine Service was done by the clergy and choir.  The laity was left as little other than passive spectators, as the choir sang the canticles, the hymns of the liturgy, and the pastor chanted everything else.  The worshipers not only did not sing, they sometimes could not even hear what was happening.  During the Words of Institution, the priest would whisper the words of our Lord over the bread and wine; the only way the congregation would know the bread and wine became the body and blood of Christ was by the ringing of the bell following the consecration of bread and wine each.

Think about this for a moment: imagine being here for Divine Service and not being able to sing praise to God, not being able to hear His gifts coming to you, the priest not letting “the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16).  Imagine being able to do little else than to just sit there as a bunch of human tree stumps.  There is a time in Divine Service for sitting (such as now), a time for standing, and a time for kneeling, a time for listening, a time for praying, and a time for singing.  The opportunities to do so are gifts from God, as He has gifted His Church with His Word, which serves as the sole basis for our liturgy and hymnody.  Take a look in our hymnal (not now) and see the Scripture references that accompany each part of the Liturgy and are listed beneath each of our hymns.  Hymnody is Scripture in song and prayer in verse.  Martin Luther, who restored congregational singing in Divine Service as part of the Reformation, said, “Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.” He also said: We can mention only one point (which experience confirms), namely, that next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise.  No greater commendation than this can be found — at least not by us.  After all, the gift of language combined with the gift of song was only given to man to let him know that he should praise God with both word and music, namely, by proclaiming [the Word of God] through music.

We are the blessed recipients of orthodox hymnody—that is, hymns that give proper glory to God in both text and tune…hymns that sing of what God has done (and continues to do) for His people out of His love for us in Christ.  We sing words that give God—and not us—the glory that rightly His (hence the term orthodox with a small “o”).  But like all other gifts, this gift of sacred music can be rejected.  Our hymnals have been treasure troves of truth, safeguarding centuries of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs for our use today, for it is through the Church that the song goes on.  But the truth we sing often clashes with what we want to believe for ourselves.  The glory we sing to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we want to give to me, myself, and I.  The right worship of God is acknowledging what He has done for us, but the sinful self-idolaters that we are want to remind God how lucky He is that we’re down here.  Rather than sing of what God does for us, we want to brag about what can do for Him.  We want to sing about that so-called “old-time religion,” one steeped in works-righteousness and not in the grace of God.  We are full of ourselves, just as the Israelites were full of themselves.  They continually repeated their cycle of disobedience, leading God to send His prophet Isaiah to speak words of wrath and condemnation upon them.

God sent him to preach Law to His rebellious people, but also to preach Gospel—good news!—to them when they cried out to God in repentance, Gospel to children whom He loved then and children whom He loves today, children like you and me—a love so deep that, seeing us through the blood of His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, He forgives us for Jesus’ sake.  How do we respond?  We respond in the words of Isaiah, of Scripture, of faith: “O LORD, I will praise You; Though You were angry with me, You anger is turned away, and You comfort me. 2Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; ‘For YAH, the LORD, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation.’” (vv. 1b-2) This salvation your Lord won for you on the cross as He bled and died for you, the same salvation He first gave you at your Baptism: Therefore with joy you will draw water From the wells of salvation. And in that day you will say: “Praise the LORD, call upon His Name…” (vv. 3-4a), the same Name He placed on you at this well of where you became baptized, the Name He gave you, marking you as His child.  And drawing from this well, we confess our sins, seeking God’s grace for the sake of Christ, and for His sake God forgives you all your sins.  So “cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst!” (v. 6); He is in your midst—here in His house!—coming to you in His Word and in His body and blood, forgiving your sins and strengthening your faith, so that, moved by the Holy Spirit, you would “declare His deeds among the peoples [and] make mention that His Name is exalted” (v. 4b), “for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12b), “the Name which is above every name, that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9b-11).

And why do we get to confess—to sing!—this great and strong Name of Jesus?  We get to sing because He died in our place on the cross to take away our sins.  We get to sing because destroyed death by rising from the dead.  We get to sing because Jesus is no longer on the cross or in the tomb.  We get to sing because your risen Lord has ascended into heaven to prepare a place for you and comes down to you in His Word and Sacrament to prepare you for your place in heaven.  We get to “sing to the LORD, for He has done excellent things” (v. 5a), singing until “all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God” (Ps. 98:3b), singing with those who have gone before us:

Lo, the apostles’ holy train Join Thy sacred Name to hallow; Prophets swell the glad refrain, And the white-robed martyrs follow, And from morn to set of sun Through the Church the song goes on. [LSB 940:3]

And we will continue to sing the Church’s song in heaven: “Sing with all the people of God, and join in the hymn of all creation: Blessing, honor, glory, and might be to God and the Lamb forever. Amen.  This is the feast of victory for our God.  Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia” (LSB 155: 3-4, refrain).  “Oh, sing to the LORD a new song!  For He has done marvelous things; His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory” (Ps. 98:1), victory that is ours in Christ, and THAT, fellow redeemed, is something to sing about, thanks be to God!  “Good Christian friends, rejoice and sing!  Now is the triumph of our King!  To all the world glad news we bring” (LSB 475:1)

Christ is risen!  HE IS RISEN INDEED!  ALLELUIA!  AMEN!

SOLI DEO GLORIA





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