Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Dear Christ Church Family,

Did you know that, right now, there are people out there trying to determine which hymn is the greatest of all? We might wonder why they would bother except that most of us know the power of a great hymn in speaking to our spiritual lives. They have often become our favorites. Paul had some favorite hymns too, and in our epistle lesson today, he quotes one.


Wednesday, April 29, 2020                  RCL Daily Office Readings, Year 2

AM Psalm 38

PM Psalm 119:25-48
Exod. 19:16-25

Col. 1:15-23

Matt. 3:13-17

Saints Days

Catherine of Siena

Colossians 1:13-20, 21-23: A great ancient hymn, and some supplemental theology. How do we determine a great hymn from a merely good one? Well, do you have a favorite hymn or Gospel tune? Most of us do. So, what is it about your favorite hymn that makes it special to you? Perhaps it’s the music itself, or perhaps a particular phrase of music or of words that may repeat, or the totality of its message, that makes it full of meaning for you.  

Then again, maybe it’s not the marvelousness of the music or even the depth of the words, but something else altogether, such as a cherished but now distant memory that returns whenever you hear that hymn. Of course, a hymn could be a favorite just because you know most of the words and the tune is one you can sing. Whatever your reason for loving your favorite hymn, it’s your favorite and no one else’s opinion will ever dissuade you from loving it.

So, again, how do we determine a great hymn from a merely good one, or a just OK one? I tread carefully in asking this question, as none of us want our judgement questioned in this area. Nevertheless, there is a group that seeks to question all of us in our hymn judgement. They even question each other’s judgement. Last year a large and growing group of a few hundred professional musicians started having a running (singing? accompanying?) debate to determine the greatest hymn ever. The group is spread out across the country and beyond, but most are centered around the National Shrine (Roman), and the National Cathedral (Episcopal). The debate takes the form of a Hymnal Bowl, complete with March Madness style playoff charts that pit one favorite hymn against another, where everyone debates, defends, offends, then votes for the winner of each match-up. Each stage winner then advances to the next play-off slot. This continues until only one hymn is left as the victor over the hundreds of initial entries and is crowned the Greatest Hymn Ever. The fact that the Bowl play-off has been replayed several times already since it started last year shows us yet again that no one, not even this group, will let someone else’s opinion dissuade them from loving their personal favorite.

So why am I bringing all this up about hymns? Because Paul, in today’s Reading from Colossians, reminds us that the Church has had favorite hymns from its beginning. It may not be easy to see it from the English translation, but the words Paul is reciting in verses 15 through 20 are from one of the most ancient of the Church’s hymns.

Its tune is long since lost to us, and its meter and rhyme would be hard to restore, but the part we have still leaps and dances off the pages of this Scripture: its message. With enraptured joy it sings of the wondrous person of Jesus Christ: that he is the visible image of the invisible God, that he is the one through whom all things were created, that all powers and all things that are, ever were, and ever will be, are in his charge, that he is the reason all things hold together, that in him we see God, and because of him our lives are restored to God in love and peace. For Paul, what makes this hymn great is its unbridled praise of Jesus, and Jesus’ love shown to us through his Cross. This must have been a favorite hymn of Paul’s. He clearly expected that just reciting it would move the souls of the Colossians toward the restoring, healing, life-giving presence of God.  

So, back to the question: how do we determine a great from a merely good or just OK hymn? Maybe that’s the wrong question. Perhaps any favorite hymn or Gospel song has the potential to be great. If it moves our souls to Jesus and his love, that is enough to consider it great.