As spirits sag this dank time of year, am I the only one who indulges in “hymn therapy?” It’s a great way to treat what ails you. Hymn tunes and lyrics both can serve us as a God-prescribed salve for any situation. More than a psychological lift, hymns can feed spirits and heal our souls.
In fact, this Sunday is our Hymnfest, where we sing favorite hymns and hear from our people about what makes certain hymns our favorites. You are invited! Hymns are artful distillations of God’s richest truths, versified, set to music, and released within the mind, and from the mouth.
Hymns are theology in miniature, pointing us toward worship, testimony, dialogue, prayer, and praise. Their devotional richness bursts forth with rhyme and rhythm. Favorite hymns clear our minds, soothe our nerves, form our worship, capture our faith and resonate with praise of God. So what are your favorite hymns? We will hear from four members on Sunday. Here are mine.
How Great Thou Art. So this big hymn was written in my little Swedish Lutheran church where I grew up, less than 100,000 of us, nationally. We had pride of ownership in making such a big contribution to the American church….But I also recall my Grandma Rosenberger on the farm, working in her kitchen with the stove top and oven going great guns toward dinner, wearing a dress with an apron, and needing a brief break. She would march to her slightly out of tune piano, pound out some verses of “How Great Thou Art,” and then saunter back into her kitchen.
It isn’t the music or the verse of How Great Thou Art that makes it a favorite, but associations like these. Seeing her passion, in the way she belted it out. She was, by the way, church pianist.
All Creatures of our God and King. I love singing this every year at Blessing of the Animals. It represents simplicity in that outside setting, Max playing our small electric piano in the sunlight. It represents simplicity also in that originated with St. Francis of Assisi, giving away his riches, traveling the Italian landscape, and proclaiming the gospel of what it means to live life for God. Simplicity also in Francis’ love of nature, caring for all of God’s creatures. Francis composed it just before his death in 1225. Ironically, I fell in love with this hymn when I became pastor of a UCC Gothic cathedral in Columbus, Ohio. The church balcony contained a 3,800 pipe Beckerath organ. Singing it with a descant, hearing it in that majestic vaulted space, was a slice of heaven.
Lift High the Cross. I fell in love with this hymn at Yale Divinity School. It is in the supplement of our new hymnal. I hope we can learn it in the years ahead. Not only does the tune lend itself to amazing harmonies, it is everything a hymn should be. Lift High the Cross also represents the essential orientation of YDS. It remains a signature hymn there still, as Benjamin reminds me. You see, Yale College was founded when Connecticut churches were no longer willing to send their sons up to Harvard, which had shifted radically toward the vapors of Unitarianism. The centrality of the cross of Christ, celebrating it rather than hiding it, because of the shame it represented, are so at the very heart of Christianity. The hymn anchors me. It makes me smile.
What is your favorite hymn? Maybe you can tell it story of that hymn at Hymnfest next year.