During the winter of 1941-1942, Hitler lay siege to Leningrad. It was nightmarish. Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich and the Leningrad Philharmonic were eventually evacuated from the city. A performance of Shostakovich’s seventh symphony, dedicated to the city of Leningrad, was offered up on August 9, 1942.
Barely enough musicians remained in the city to perform it. The score was flown in over German lines, and musicians were pulled from the front lines to bolster the meager ranks of the musicians left behind. Why did this concert matter so? It was a vital show of resistance in a city where1.2 million people had been lost.
Music brings power. Power to inspire. Power to teach. Power to endure and resist. Power to become the people God wants us to become. We Christians find that power in sacred music. Picture Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his cell at Flossenburg concentration camp, running in small circles to stay strong. He measured how far he ran every day by how many verses of “A Mighty Fortress Is our God” he sang.
You and I don’t face such adversity. But music equips us to face our world. Music is the highest form of worship. This Sunday we repeat our “Hymnfest” from 2013. (We skipped 2014 with some of us off building homes with Habitat for Humanity.) This is not so much a straightforward “hymn sing” as a celebration of how our faith is both articulated and embedded within hymns we sing year in and year out
Have you ever noticed how sacred music–hymns in particular–open our hearts in probing and tender ways? We all have heartfelt ties with certain hymns. Maybe it was a hymn sung at your wedding, one you sang as a child at church camp, one sung at a time of national crisis, or upon the lap of grandparents. Maybe it was “Now Thank We all our God” last Thanksgiving. Maybe you remember departed parents as we sing “For All the Saints” early in November at All Saints.
This Sunday three laypersons as well as Dan Hague and myself will talk about hymns with a special place in our heart, telling the story of how that happened. After a brief narrative and prayer from each of us, we will sing the hymn together, and cycle through worship in this way, lifting up the rich hymnody of our tradition.
So if you find power in music–especially sacred music–this Sunday represents a change of pace. We’ll together weave our heartfelt faith and great music. We will also celebrate a baptism. Think of hymns you’d like to have sung in future years.
It’s not quite a Leningrad winter. But come join us as we seek to inject festivity and light into a dreary season when we can too easily find ourselves dragging.
The role of music cannot be overestimated. Certain songs like the “USC Fight Song” when in the Rose Bowl, things like that. However, for years I have kept Sunday church bulletins because, almost inevitably, there is at least one hymn that is or has been a long time favorite, some since childhood; which, in tandem with our marvelous organ and choir, can have a powerful, moving impact. I keep the bulletins because I don’t want to forget those hymns. One of the messages I’ve tried to convey in the NH church we attend when we can’t come south is the importance of the music program and of having at least one or two hymns people know and therefore can enthusiastically join in singing at each service. It brings everything together.