One of the elements of my life that I miss here in Portugal is the choir at my church. I do love the congregational singing at the church we are attending, but, for me, nothing beats the harmony of different voices singing together, united in their joy for the Lord, bringing the whole church to its collective feet in a sense of oneness with each other in our love for Jesus Christ the Lord.
A gospel song has the ability to create a feeling that our hearts are beating as one, along with our Savior and our God. The melody and the music combine to send praises upward into the heavens and downwards into the uttermost parts of the earth, eliminating the separation between those in heaven and those on earth who love the Lord with their whole hearts.
The songs of glory tend to evoke in us a sense of God’s joy and goodness, and when we know the words and sing along with the choir, we become one in our praises, and the glory of the Lord fills every nook and cranny of the building and of our hearts and souls. I am reminded of 2 Chronicles 5:13-14, which states, “The trumpeters and singers performed together in unison to praise and give thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals, and other instruments, they raised their voices and praised the Lord with these words: ‘He is good! His faithful love endures forever!’ At that moment a thick cloud filled the Temple of the Lord. The priests could not continue their service because of the cloud, for the glorious presence of the Lord filled the Temple of God.”
Many a time I have seen people sit very still and quiet, with nary a response to the preacher’s message, meaning no “amens” or “praise the Lord,” just silence. It would be so quiet that you could almost hear the proverbial pin drop in the church. Everyone seemed to be in their own world, separated in their thoughts, becoming simply an aggregate of people with nothing in common.
Then, the organist would hit a note that sent one’s soul soaring even before the choir started singing, the pianist and the drummer would join in with a beat that made it impossible to stay in your seat. When the music had touched the hearts of the people, the choir would start in with a rousing gospel song, one with a message that each heart felt as recipients of God’s mercy and grace in the past, and suddenly, the separation between people would fall away, the silence would be eliminated, and the noise of joyful clapping and singing would usher in a moment of unity unlike nothing I have even seen.
Looking at each other with smiles of joy and the wonder of being in this place together at that particular moment of grace from God, the praises would go up to God, acknowledging the goodness and mercy of God through Jesus Christ the Lord! With gladness and thanksgiving in each heart, the commands of Colossians 3:16-17 are fulfilled: “Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.”
I remember the sense of separation between people in America when the young white male shot nine members of the church in Charleston, South Carolina after a Bible study. I was so despondent that so many decades after the Civil Rights Movement had ended, racial hate was once again in the forefront of the news. I wondered how we as a nation could feel united once again across racial lines.
And then, at the funeral of the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of the church, then-President Barack Obama delivered a message of hope. Although I enjoyed the message, it was when he suddenly started to sing the great gospel hymn, Amazing Grace, that my heart and soul were touched, and I started to feel such joy and hope for the nation.
The preachers behind him were startled when the President started to sing, and one by one, they stood behind him and sang with him. Then, the whole church, filled with people of every race, started to sing in one voice that wondrous hymn of grace and mercy:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found. T’was blind but now I see. T’was grace that taught my heart to fear, and Grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed. Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come. T’was grace that brought us safe thus far, and grace will lead us home.
As I looked at the people united in their singing, I was so proud of the President, for he understood that a song has the power to unite us in ways that very few other elements can. In that moment of communal praise and confident hope in the amazing and wondrous grace of God, hate lost and love won, as people across all of the socially constructed categories of difference came together in one voice, proclaiming that the grace of God would save us as a nation from the anything, including hate, that tries to separate us.
Yes, songs are powerful, and I believe that is why so many of the Old and New Testament scriptures command us to use our voices together to usher in the glory of God among us. Psalm 98: 1 states, “Sing a new song to the Lord, for he has done wonderful deeds. His right hand has won a mighty victory; his holy arm has shown his saving power!”
Not only those on earth are admonished to sing a song, but also every creature everywhere, for Revelation 5:13 tells us, “And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang: Blessing and honor and glory and power belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever.”
What great moments of unity and joy seem to ensue when the people of God sing together songs of praise and thanksgiving to their faithful and awesome God, acknowledging Him as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Singing in oneness allows the power and glory of God to be felt throughout the earth. As we become one in Christ Jesus by lifting our songs upward, hate, injustice, violence, and all manner of evil will lose, and hope, love, mercy, nonviolence, and justice for all will flourish to the ends of the earth. What a day of rejoicing that will be!