Friday, August 08, 2008

1800's Hymns

The funeral yesterday evening for Milly was crowded with non-members. Our insurance agent sat in front of me. The librarian was a couple rows in front of him. Our neighbors across the street were there too. Milly's kids are involved in the community, and their friends and neighbors turned out to support them in their time of grief ... and were blessed (whether they know it or not) to hear the good news of Jesus' forgiveness preached to them in a way that non-Christians too could hear it.

There was a discussion recently over on Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds about hymnody. Some pastors made the case for choosing only the best. Other pastors made the case for allowing people some of their "old favorites" from the hymnal, even though there are stronger hymns that might better vivify faith. Pastor Cwirla called the Favorites "ear candy." Pastor Stuckwisch pointed out that the hymns people have learned by heart are very very dear to them, and unless they are just plain terrible, it is not wise for the shepherd to take away those precious hymns. (Seconded by the woman who is still deeply saddened that there are far too few stanzas of Gerhardt's Christmas and Advent hymns in LSB!)

The hymns at the funeral tonight were "God Loved the World So That He Gave" and "Rock of Ages" and "Abide With Me" and "I Know that My Redeemer Lives." Those are not particularly Lutheran hymns. They're fairly ecumenical. Lots of the non-Lutherans knew these hymns. Even some who have fallen away were still familiar with these hymns. Some of the songs we sang tonight would not pass muster for some pastors. They aren't the strongest choices of hymns available. A few of them have that schmaltzy feel that is so common to hymns from that century ... and which is a big part of what endears those hymns to many people.

But you know what? Those hymns still speak the Gospel. "Nothing in my hand I bring. Simply to Thy cross I cling." "Christ Jesus is the ground of faith who was made flesh and suffered death." "And justified by Jesus' blood, thy Baptism grants the highest good." "What but Thy grace can foil the Tempter's power?" And people knew those hymns. Those familiar hymns could reach folks where something "better" probably would not have.

And isn't that the point?

20-25 years ago I could not have fed my husband the vegetables and whole grains that he willingly and appreciatively eats now. It was a long, slow change-over. Sometimes I would decide [boom!] we were going to start eating right, and no more of this monkeying around. Sad to say, it wasn't only my husband and the kids who had taste-buds revolting at that sudden change to what was good for us; I revolted against my own proclamation. We needed to adjust. We needed to slowly change our palates. And we're not where we "should be" yet. Probably never will be.

No matter what our minds know is good for us, we still want what we want. It may be mac&cheese. Or it may be less-than-stellar hymns. But as long as the bulk of the hymnody in a congregation is excellent and strong, even the "pretty okay" hymns can still have redeeming qualities.

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