Sing to the Lord, you children of God, for you are baptized into Christ. And who is Christ? He is the Son of God, true God and Man. And He is the Passover Lamb who has been sacrificed for you. His Blood now marks your door, but, see, this same Blood of Christ also touches your lips. How, then, shall they not sing, when your lips are thus cleansed, and you are forgiven and set free?
Death is here served notice that you belong, not to him, but to the Lord, the Holy One of Israel. For Christ is also your great Redeemer, whose right hand and holy arm have worked salvation for Him, for you and all His people, for His Name’s sake. He has truly done marvelous things, and He is with you in steadfast love and faithfulness. By the wood of His Cross He has defeated the tyrants who held you captive; He has broken the chains that bound you; and He has opened the way before you, through the water into freedom, into life.
You are baptized into His Exodus. Therefore, sing to Him, sing praise to Him, and bless His Holy Name. Come into His presence with thanksgiving; enter the courts of the Lord’s House with songs of praise. For the floods have lifted up their voice, and the waves of many waters worship Him. So let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it. Let all the earth break forth into joyous songs and sing praises. As also the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven sing to the Lamb upon His throne; who was slain, and yet, behold, He lives. For He has redeemed you with His precious Blood; He has purchased and won you for life with God; and He has saved you for the singing of this Song, here in time, and hereafter in eternity.
You know this Song. You do. You know the words and the tune. You infants and nursing babies, you are not excluded, for the Lord Himself opens your mouth to show forth His praise. You little children, sons and daughters, young men, old men, and ladies, this is your Song. It is taught by the Spirit of Christ Jesus, who sings to you by the Gospel. He has sung to you by the washing of the water with His Word. He sings to you from the Holy Scriptures and the Catechism. He sings to you in the Creeds and in the prayers of the Church, in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.
He sings to you at the Altar and in Holy Absolution. He sings the forgiveness of all your sins, the Peace of Christ for you, reconciliation with God and with your neighbor, and your Sabbath Rest.
This is the New Song, which the Spirit of Jesus sings for you; and which you also now sing by the same Spirit. Do not receive this grace of God in vain, nor make it bad. Dear little Mockingjay, as you have heard this Song, now echo it and sing. Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, and let that be your verse and chorus all the time, in every place. Rehearse it with your words and with your actions. Let His Gospel be the tune that you sing, His mercy the melody of your whole life.
For as the Spirit sings the Song of Christ into your ears, and through your ears into your heart and mind, into your body and your soul, so do you bestow the same Holy Spirit upon your neighbor by the singing of this Song that He has taught you. Your lips and tongue become the vehicles of God Himself, as they reverberate with His Words of love and forgiveness.
You parents, sing to your children, and you children, sing to your parents. You husbands and wives, sing to each other. You brothers and sisters in Christ, sing together in peace and joy, in the fellowship of one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all. And as you sing, so also live. Let the New Song that you sing resonate in everything that you do.
For in this New Song, Christ Himself is with you, bestowing the Spirit and all the good gifts of the Father upon you. Everything that belongs to Him, is sung to you in this Gospel, and thereby given to you. As this Word is in your ears, in your mind and in your heart, so is the Lord Jesus near you. And He is with you, also, when you confess this Word and sing this Song with your own lips.
That is the Truth, even though it seems and feels as though He were absent, as though He had gone away and left you all alone. In the world around you, there is trouble and pain: people who are hurting, and people who are hurting you. And in yourself, in your own life and actions, there is much to suggest that you and Christ Jesus are not very close, and that you really don’t know Him at all. In your sorrow there is an overwhelming sense of emptiness and loneliness. In your anger there is no righteousness of God. In all your terrible fear, it appears that Christ has deserted you.
So maybe you don’t feel much like singing; or at all. Or, maybe you’d just rather sing the blues.
There is a reason that sad songs say so much, that so many of them have been written, and that, for all their melancholy, those are the songs that strike the heart and stick. Often they bewail the pain and sadness of goodbyes, which everyone experiences and knows, and the music helps you to feel it tangibly, to taste it on your lips, so that the person you are missing is almost present in the song: almost, but not quite; not really. It seems almost cruel, but misery loves company, and so you savor the bittersweet comfort of knowing that someone else has hurt the way that you are hurting.
If silly love songs are always popular, the sad songs of lost or unrequited love are more poignant.
So long as your beloved is still “out there” in the world, there is mingled along with sadness the hope of his or her return, of reconciliation and recovery, of love requited. Sad songs seize upon that hope as a kind of plea, a cry for pity. But death intrudes even there with even greater sadness, which suffocates whatever little hope you may have had. You can hardly catch your breath to sing anything then; whatever words you do manage get caught in your throat. After all, isn’t death the permanent departure and the ultimate distance between you and those you love? Whether you had the chance to say “goodbye” or not; and whether you resolved what needed to be resolved, or not.
There are plenty of songs about that sorrow of mourning and regret. Some of them simply play upon emotions, and your reveling in that kind of manipulated grief — making yourself feel sad — becomes a way of trying to atone for your guilt over missed opportunities or unamended wrongs. Other songs simply wail and lament, because there is nothing else that can be done or expressed in the face of death. That sadness feels good, and it offers some measure of comfort; not because of any hope, but because sadness is all that you have left. Sadness fills your heart, and the song helps you to bring it out and examine it, even if you have to rely on someone else to sing it for you.
There are plenty of people who seem to think that Lutheran hymns are like those kinds of songs, those laments. After all, how many clichés are there about Lutheran “funeral dirges”? We do sing of death, no doubt, and we certainly do take a sober and serious approach to mortal life in a fallen world, which withers and fades like the grass. But that is not all there is to what we say and sing. We do not mourn as those who have no hope. We do not weep and wail as though death were going to get the last word. We know, even through our tears, that sorrow will be turned to joy.
The Truth of the matter is, that the Word and Spirit of Christ enter into that sorrow — into that terrible hurt and pain — into the depths of despair, and into the darkness of death and the grave. God the Father was His source, and back to God He ran His course. But into hell His road went down, and back then to His throne and crown. That is how He turns it all around. He does not deny the departure of death, but He goes the distance, and then He returns with you and all His people in hand. That is the journey of which He speaks to His disciples, His return to the Father who sent Him: not that He is leaving you, but that He is coming to get you, by way of the Cross, in order to bring you home to the Father, in and with Himself, in His Resurrection from the dead.
That is the story our poets sing, the Psalmists and the best of the Church’s hymn writers across the ages. That is the New Song of David and Asaph, of Luther and Gerhardt, of Nicolai, Heermann and Rist, among many others. It is the Song of the Cross, and of the Resurrection of Christ Jesus. It the Song of real hurt and pain, of sorrow, grief and loss, but also of the Gospel, of comfort, joy and peace. It is sung from the depths of woe — it is sung from where you are in misery, anger and fear — but so does it also rise up with Christ to be sung in the hope of His mercy and forgiveness.
Music itself, which is a good and perfect gift of God, as part of His good creation, participates in that journey of Christ; for all of creation is redeemed, raised up, and renewed in His Resurrection. Music surely knows the fall into sin and the sadness of death, but now it also knows the glory of Christ and the power of His indestructible life. Thus, as Luther well knew, music with its beauty, with its artistry and grace, is able to chase away the devil and to cheer up the sorrowing spirit.
When such music carries the Word of Christ, how much more then does it bring healing and life. For then it truly bears the Life-giving Holy Spirit, as St. Paul teaches the Church in his Epistles.
The Spirit sings Christ Jesus to you, as I have said; not only with the poetry and melody of Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, but with the Gospel itself, in all the many ways that it is proclaimed and administered in the Name of the Lord Jesus. For the Word of the Gospel itself, which is the Word of Christ, is the music and the Song which give you life, no matter how it may be spoken, chanted, or sung. Like Aslan singing Narnia into existence in The Magician’s Nephew.
That sweet Song of the Gospel carries Christ from the Father to you, and the Spirit of Christ Jesus, because it conveys to you the same faith and life once delivered to the saints and Apostles of old. It implants the same Word of God in you, in order to save you from death and give you new life.
If you have forgotten the Song — if you have lost the Words or failed to take them to heart — He who sings the Song to you has not forgotten. He remembers the Song, as the Father remembers His Son; and He still sings the Song to you, because He remembers you in faithfulness and love.
Rest assured, you do not carry the world upon your shoulders, no matter how heavy it may feel. But this Song of Christ and His Spirit lifts you up and carries you: out of sin and sorrow, out of the depths of death and despair, and out of darkness into Light, to God the Father in Christ Jesus.
For Christ Himself, the Word-made-Flesh, He is the New Song that is sung to you in the whole Gospel, throughout His Church on earth and in your Christian home. And He is the New Song that you now sing, by faith, as He opens your mouth to pray and confess His Word.
He is your Song, and He is your Strength in the singing of His Gospel, because He has become your Salvation. He has accomplished everything in Himself, in His own Body of flesh and blood, by His journey from the Father to His death upon the Cross, and in His rising from the dead and His ascending to the Right Hand of the Father. He is the Sacrifice of your Atonement, and now He is your Song because He is your Sacrifice of praise and your sweet-smelling Incense of prayer.
It is to your great advantage that He has thus returned to the Father, for He has done so as your Great High Priest, on your behalf. All that He has, whatever is His from the Father, and everything He does, it is all given to you and becomes yours in this Song of the Gospel. Therefore, you also rise and return to the Father in Him. Even now that is so, although you make that journey, as He has done before you, by the way of His Cross, which is sorrowful. But do not be afraid. For He has taken your sad song and made it His, so that His New Song of the Resurrection may be yours.
The Name that has been sung upon you in the waters of your Holy Baptism — in the preaching of the Holy Gospel of Christ Jesus, in the Word of Absolution, and in the Benediction — that is the Name which you now sing, by His grace and by His Spirit, in calling upon the Lord your God. And as surely as Christ is risen from the dead and ever lives to intercede for you before His God and Father, so surely are you heard, and you are saved, by the same God who is your own dear Father in Christ. For His Name is exalted in Christ, His Son, and you also are exalted in Him.
So, too, the Word that is here sung to you — the Word of the Word-made-Flesh, with which He gives to you His Body to eat and pours out His Blood for you to drink — this is the Song that now rings in your ears and sings upon your lips; which resonates in your heart and mind, and in your flesh and blood. For He is both the Singer and the Song, who sings to you the forgiveness of all your sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the Love of God the Father, unto the life everlasting.
To Him be the worship, the blessing and honor and glory and praise, forever and ever. Amen.
A sword in the hat is better than a foot in your mouth. All the better if it is that double-bladed sword that slices and dices between bone and marrow. But I have always liked to sort things out by thinking out loud with friends and colleagues. And since my opportunities to do so are limited, I figure I can multiply my thinking and sorting here.
Married 31 years, my wife and I have had ten children born to us (six boys, four girls); we have another son and daughter by marriage (and will soon have another daughter by marriage), a son who went ahead of us to heaven from the womb, six grandchildren and counting. I was ordained in 1996, and have been the pastor of Emmaus since then. I have a Ph.D. in Liturgical Studies from the University of Notre Dame (2003), and an S.T.M. from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana