Thursday, August 23, 2012
I can remember how Mom's side of the family came together within hours for mutual support. My grandpa had a stroke and fell to the floor. Over the next few hours, we learn the doctor’s prognosis. Grandpa had three days to live. Now, I don’t know how your families handle tragedy or ways they share mutual consolation. But, Mom’s sisters and brothers along with dozens of cousins flock to the comfort of hymns, of memorized Scripture passages and prayers—both together and in our private devotions. Back in 1996 when Grandpa died, we didn’t congregate around the computer waiting for the next Facebook update on his condition. We didn’t look for the next email blast while we waited out the four days between his fall and his death. WE did what we always did when one of us suffered. We came together. Sure, conversations about politics and current happenings in our lives dictated much of those days. But, as the hours grew late and long and as we sat by Grandpa’s bedside we rallied to memorized hymns and Bible verses for encouragement. AT one point, my uncle blanked out on a verse he thought he knew. He asked for my help. I wracked my brains and sang the verse after the one he wanted. Ouch! I was glad to help bring consolation but, I didn’t sing the desired verse. Since then, I have made it a priority to memorize hymns, sometimes in full, sometimes bit by bit. Not that it’s a requirement, but the memorization of hymns does have its benefits. First, in times like I described, we can use hymns to soothe someone’s troubled conscience. Whether a relative suffers momentary loss or chronic anxiety, familiar hymns speak in pithy terms the Gospel’s free assurance. They proclaim peace in words that we ourselves may struggle to articulate. I think of times when someone has a favorite hymn. Whether we see them on their deathbed, during a regular pastoral visit, or just swinging by their house, we can bring them solace and cheer in words and phrases they know well. I’ve known family and friends who, upon hearing a hymn or part of the liturgy, sspoke or sang it with me and others. Secondly, memorizing hymns helps apply the Scriptures on which they are based to our daily lives. In the section on daily prayers, the Small Catechism encourages us to begin each day with “a hymn like that of the Ten Commandments….” Memorized, that hymn may aid us in our desire to dig into less familiar parts of the Bible which are chocked full of straight up Law and Gospel. In other words, hymns teach us simple words with which to unfold passages that seem intimidating. For me, LSB 462, stanza 2 explains Jesus parable of unbinding the “strong man,” which I had not grasped so well until hearing that hymn. Memorizing such words helps keep the Bible’s richness and depth in our hearts and minds. What did Paul and Silas do in Philippi’s maximum security prison? They sang hymns, probably from memory and received our Lord’s consolation based on His Word through them. So, when we have that moment at the work place or when the children scoot off to school, hymns can help us put that week’s readings from Church in our heads. They are nice way of keeping the Bible memorable in our increasingly busy lives. Thirdly, and similar to last point, hymns help explain in simple words a article of our Christian faith we may find difficult to understand. When I began learning about our Lord Jesus’ two natures—God and man in one Christ, hymns such as “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” taught me pithy ways of thinking on certain points of our Church’s creeds. AS I grew up, I learned the connection between Christmas and Christ’s cross from Scripure first and then through the hymn, “What Child Is This?” Memorizing these hymns helped me begin to retain the teachings and Bible verses pertinent to any topic of doctrine. I have to laugh and yet say with all seriousness that one of the most important things I learned in college and seminary was how to navigate the hymns and hymnals of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Now, I understand that memorizing anything may prove to be challenge for many of us. Memory work causes some Confirmation students and their parents to shake in their shoes. So, there’s no time limit or rapid pace to memorizing hymns for personal use. Take them one verse or a half verse at a time—while your working out, cutting the grass, or taking a few minutes’ relief down the hall and to the left. AS I write and work from home, I find myself memorizing and singing hymns between the projects that I do or as I walk about in my apartment. So, give memorization a try. For the word of Christ does dwell with us richly until the Word Himself comes to take us to heaven forever.