I’ve taken to playing hymns on the piano in my spare time. It’s a tricky mental exercise for me because I never could get the hang of accompanying a voice on the piano, even my own. Regardless, I still like to try. Singing is fun and the music in my old Episcopal hymnal presents a challenge.
What’s amazing though is that sitting down with the hymnal is never just a mental exercise or something to kill the time. It always turns into a period of reflection and awe. There is a wonderful thing about hymns, you see. They are so old. For many people, this is the precise reason why they reject hymns seeking a more contemporary tune with which they can better relate. I don’t judge. People worship in all different ways. This is the way the Lord likes it. But I feel it is a mistake to reject hymns under the naïve understanding that they are outdated and therefore useless. This is more than a mistake; it is a travesty. Each time I open the hymnal, even to songs I have played a hundred times, I am constantly struck by the almost celestial relationship between the melody and lyrics. A good hymn recounts the love affair with love himself, the everlasting relationship that stirred millions of minds, hearts, and souls for generations. The fact that they music can be hundreds of years old indicates to contemporary audiences that God’s love is ageless, transcending both time and space.
Take this hymn for example. I was playing this last night, and it inspired this post. Love Divine, All Loves Excelling. Read the lyrics first as if it were a poem. If you know the Lord, or even if you don’t, pray the words, mean them. Then listen to this choir sing them.
1. Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven, to earth come down,
Fix in us Thy humble dwelling,
All Thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
Pure, unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation,
Enter every trembling heart.
2. Come, almighty to deliver,
Let us all Thy life receive;
Suddenly return, and never,
Nevermore Thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve Thee as Thy hosts above,
Pray, and praise Thee without ceasing,
Glory in Thy perfect love.
3. Finish then Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be;
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in thee:
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.