Why does the church sing? It’s an interesting question, especially since we live in an age where singing together has become somewhat anachronistic. So, why do we do it?
There are many passages in Scripture that refer to music and to singing, but for the moment, consider just two of them. In Job 38:7, we are told that at the creation of the earth “the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy.” In Revelation 5:11-12, St. John tells us that in his vision of end times he heard “the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand…In a loud voice they sang ‘Worthy is the lamb who was slain…’” These passages illustrate an important point: that the church – God’s creation – has sung from the very beginning of time, and will continue to do so through the end of time. And we, God’s people, have the marvelous opportunity to participate in this song of the universal, timeless church… right here… right now…on this particular date and in this particular place.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Life Together, states it this way: “O Sing to the Lord a new song,” the Psalter calls out to us again and again. It is the Christ hymn, new every morning, that a community living together begins to sing in the early morning, the new song that is sung by the whole community of faith in God on earth and in heaven. We are called to join in the singing of it. It is God who has prepared one great song of praise throughout eternity, and those who enter God’s community join in this song It is the voice of the church that is heard in singing together. It is not I who sing, but the church. However, as a member of the church, I may share in its song. (emphasis added)
We don’t sing in the liturgy to fill time, or to get us in the right mood, or to entertain ourselves. We sing because Christ’s church sings. Christ’s church sings because faith sings. And faith sings because God has first sung to us! Zephaniah 3:17 tells us “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” This song is all at once a song of celebration, a song of love, a song of peace, a song of sorrow, and a song of victory. It is the eternal song, the song of all creation, the song of life eternal. It is the song which allows us to sing with boldness and confidence “I know that my redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.” (Job 19:25-27)
Luther does not mince words about this when he says “God has cheered our hearts and minds through his dear Son, whom he gave for us to redeem us from sin, death, and the devil. He who believes this earnestly cannot be quiet about it. But he must gladly and willingly sing and speak about it.”
Director of Music