Friday, June 15, 2012

Singing the songs you love

In February of this year, Fred Anderson was invited to preach at a worship service offered by the Presbyterian Association of Musicians Northeast Regional Gathering at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York. He chose as his text Mark 14: 22-26.

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives
Rev. Anderson’s sermon appears as the final essay in the current issue of Liturgy.
Praise sung to God lifts the spirits like nothing else. The Psalter is filled with exhortations to sing, not only in times of victory but also when one’s spirit needs renewal. Interestingly enough, though, as much as the older of our two testaments dwells on the power of song, the word song does not appear in the Gospelsonly its cognate, singing. But look at where it appears: between Jesus’ institution of the Supper and his taking the disciples with him to Gethsemane, just prior to his arrest. “After singing a hymn they went out to the Mount of Olives.” When we need assurance, strength, and the revival of hope, nothing fortifies the heart like song.

Full-throated, open-chested song offered to God as an expression of praise, adoration, thanksgiving, devotion, and hope is itself a sacrament. Though song is not one of the official two sacraments of Reformed theology or the seven of the larger church, as in “instituted by Christ for the sake of his church,” nonetheless, such song becomes a channel through which you and I encounter, experience, and participate in the life-transforming power of God at work in us.
 Some love to sing and others don’t. Oddly, that enjoyment doesn’t seem to depend at all upon whether or not one is any good at singing. Why do you suppose that is?

Fred R. Anderson (2012): Praying Twice, Liturgy, 27:3, 59.

Fred R. Anderson is pastor at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York, New York, and author of Singing Psalms of Joy and Praise (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1986).

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