A couple weeks ago I had to miss Sunday morning worship due to a family emergency. I didn’t think missing one worship service would be too detrimental. I listen to an online daily devotional, keep a prayer journal, and attend a weekly Bible study. Turns out, what I missed was the music.
Congregational singing and music offerings by choirs or musicians help to form us as Christians. We sing together, being formed together as the worshiping body of Christ. We sing scripture and hymns inspired by scripture. We sing prayers, how we hope God will form us into the Church and use us for God’s mission in, to, and for the world.
Sometimes the worship music is powerful, leaving a mark on us far beyond the worship service. A friend of mine said how much he wished I could have heard the music on the week I missed – and then repeated it again, how the music was so good and he really wished I’d heard it.
The shared experience of listening to music and singing together are important practices of faith. They remind us of who God is, tell us again the story of Christ’s life, and help us focus afresh on being open to the Holy Spirit. As I turn the pages through my United Methodist hymnal, so many of the hymns bring to mind worship services – from my childhood, at camp, on mission trips with friends old and new, at funerals for dear friends and family members. Some hymns remind me of powerful experiences of worship and prayer.
Open to the Holy Spirit in Song and Sign
Sometimes the gathered community for worship is close friends, and other times they are fellow disciples that we don’t know very well. Yet our shared worship helps to form us as disciples and gives us strength for the journey. I went to a Christian education retreat over 30 years ago, at a center in the Texas Hill Country. It was a bitterly cold weekend. A handful of people gathered in the tiny stone chapel one night, with a single candle lit on the altar, throwing shadows up on the wooden cross on the high stone wall. Someone started to sing “Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me….” Others joined in, breaking into harmony. It was a holy moment, one that I’ve never forgotten.
I didn’t sing along in that small chapel, but instead I joined along in American Sign Language. It felt right to be quiet and let the others’ voices lift up our shared worship. About ten years later, I was privileged to attend a gathering of the United Methodist Congress of the Deaf at Lake Junaluska in North Carolina. Hymns and worship were signed and led by Deaf choirs, and again, I was moved by the presence of the Holy Spirit – only this time, I kept my voice and my hands still as others’ gifts of worship blessed me. Another holy moment I’ve never forgotten.
On countless mission trips I’ve sung familiar hymns with Methodists around the world, with familiar tunes but in languages I don’t know. The blessing of shared worship is a gift of the Holy Spirit to God’s Church in the world, empowering us to be sent out into the world to be a blessing. Share your favorite hymn below!