How Can We Keep from Singing?
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; October 10, 2021
20th Sunday after Pentecost
Our reading from Acts provides a snapshot of the early church as a community of believers, caring for one another, living in harmony, and worshiping God. The most important work of believers then—and now—is to worship God. We gather around the Word, the Baptismal Font, and The Lord’s Table. We may gather under the stars, or around the campfire. We may gather in person or virtually. We listen. We pray. We sing. We, of all people, have reason to rejoice. Truly, how can we keep from singing?
God’s people have always sung because music is an essential part of the work of the people of God. Scripture’s first record of singing comes from the lips of Moses. You recall the story. The people of God are captives in Egypt. Hearing their cries for justice, Yahweh sends Moses to bring them out of bondage. After a battle to the death, Pharaoh agrees to release the captives, only to have a change of heart and come after them. But God parts the waters and allows the children of Israel to escape Pharaoh’s army—an army that, ultimately—drowns in the sea. Joy bursts forth from the lips of Moses. “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation.” Then Miriam, Moses’ sister, takes up her tambourine, and joins the song as the women dance around her. Having witnessed the mighty power of God, Moses, Miriam, and the Israelites sing to the Lord. How can they keep from singing?
Hannah longs for a child, but she is barren. In desperation, she cries out to the Lord, and vows that if God gives her a son, she will give him back in service to the Lord. God hears her prayer and Hannah bears a son. When she brings young Samuel back to the temple a few years later—making good on her promise—she prays a prayer that we know as “The Song of Hannah.” “My heart exults in the Lord…there is no Holy One like the Lord…there is no Rock like our God.” The Lord blesses Hannah with three more sons and two daughters. Hannah experiences the power of God in wondrous ways. How can she keep from singing?
In good times and in bad, David turns to music. He plays the lyre to ease King Saul’s troubled mind. Later David sings songs of praise and songs of lament. David lives life in extremes. He sins greatly, yet he loves the Lord with all his heart. And the Lord loves David. Oh, the wonders of God that David witnesses. How can he keep from singing?
When the Israelites turn their back on God and are exiled in Babylon, they fear they have lost their song. But even from the darkness, their songs rise to the heavens. They are, after all, God’s people. How can they keep from singing?
In time, Gabriel brings the good news of God’s salvation plan to young Mary, who is understandably confused. But the angel reminds her that nothing is impossible with God. Humbly, Mary responds, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord.” When Mary visits her elderly relative, Elizabeth, who is with child, Mary sings a hymn of praise that we know as the Magnificat. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” Mary is chosen to be the vessel for the Holy Child. How can she keep from singing?
Jesus grows up, is baptized, and begins his mission to bring salvation to the world—a mission that will cost him his life. Before his arrest, Jesus eats the Passover meal with his disciples. At the table, Jesus takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them saying, “Take, eat, this is my body.” He takes a cup and gives it to them saying, “Drink from it; all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Then, after singing a hymn, Jesus and his disciples depart for the Mount of Olives.
The early church continues praising God, singing hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs. We’ve been singing ever since. Our songs serve as companions for the journey. They guide us through the church year. They give us words in times of joy and in times of sorrow. Still, we gather. Still, we sing, for we are God’s children, siblings of Jesus, filled with the Spirit of God. How can we keep from singing?