Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ, greetings to you all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As we begin to slowly emerge from our time of “Safer at Home” and some are able to return to gathering in the sanctuary for corporate worship there is desire for everything to get back to “normal.” And so some of the precautions laid out by the Session allowing us to gather have been met with some questions and concerns.
Please understand that the Session feels the need to begin gathering again, but the news reminds us that we need to be careful and considerate of our situation. So please be patient and please be cooperative.
One of the more common questions has revolved around the music, particularly the singing of hymns and songs. I was asked, “why do we need to wear masks if we want to sing?” Well, the facts are that what we do know of the Covid19 virus is that much of the spread has to do with water droplets that disperse when we breathe and talk. The amount and the distance of this spread is increased by the act of singing. So, yes, we have asked those in the congregation to refrain from singing unless they are wearing a mask. This will cut down on the amount of moisture in the air of the enclosed space, at least this is the theory, and we believe it is worth it to us err on the side of caution.
“But if I can’t sing, how can I worship?” was the follow up question. There is no doubt that music has become an important part of worship. Certainly, we know from Scripture that when the early church gathered for worship, the “singing of Hymns and Spiritual songs” was included. And there is no doubt that music can be a powerful element of worship, otherwise, why would we include it?
However, I would challenge the notion that one cannot worship without music or singing. From the viewpoint of Theology, music is not a necessary element of the proper worship of God. Whole books have been written on the subject of worship, so I won’t go deep into the theology of worship and song here (there isn’t enough time or space). But rather, I would like to bring to mind two experiences that are worth considering.
Matt Redmond is a great contemporary singer and song writer of Christian music. We have sung some of his songs here at Santa Fe. One of those songs is “Heart of Worship” in which he sings the line, “When the music fades, all is stripped away, and I simply come. Longing just to bring something that’s of worth, that will bless your heart. I’ll bring you more than a song, for a song in itself is not what you have required… I’m coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about you, Jesus,” It is a powerful song and one of my favorites. Long after it became a favorite, the story of its origin was related to me.
As I understand it, the church he was leading was going great and music was a huge part of its success. But the pastor discerned that something was missing, something was lost. Rather than enhancing the worship of God, the music had become the focus of their gathering. So for a season, they gathered to worship with no music. They wanted to focus on the meaning behind and within the music. They sought to renew the purpose of worship as a time to praise God in community focusing on God and salvation in Jesus Christ.
It is easy to get caught up in the beauty and emotion of the music, but it should be the words that matter. Too often, we sing our hearts out, with little thought to the words that are passing our lips and what they mean. The old hymn writers began with the theology of the church and with Scripture, they wrote the words and then the music to help people sing and remember them. The music is great and powerful, but the words should be the most important part.
The movie “China Cry” came out in 1990 and tells the story of Sung Neng Yee (now known as Nora Lam). She was born into wealth, the daughter of a prominent doctor and attended the prestigious Presbyterian School run by missionaries. Though she learned more than she realized, she gave her religious education little thought. When the Japanese invaded, she lost everything, following the war with Japan and the civil war between the Communists and the Nationalists, she was happy to become a good Maoist. But the regime’s consolidation of power brought her family under suspicion, because of their wealth and education, and her involvement with “the Presbyterians.”
Facing this persecution, her faith, all but forgotten, was rekindled and she found herself reclaiming her faith in the face of punishment and death. One of the scenes that has stuck with me is the worship gathering scene (here is the link: https://youtu.be/woSUpQ3OnEg). Unable to sing aloud for fear of discovery, they silently sing “Take My Life and Let it Be” focused not on the tune, but the meaning of the words.
I love music, even though I struggle to play the stereo and people ask me to turn off the microphone. But in worship, it’s the words that matter most. In this time as you are asked to refrain from singing aloud or in my case, “making a joyful noise”, take this opportunity to really pay attention to the words and what they mean, to us as a community of faith and to you as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
In time, we will all be able to “sing, sing out loud” and when we do I hope this time of devotional focus on the words will makes those hymns and songs more powerful to you than ever before.
May the blessings of God, the peace of Jesus Christ, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Mitch