The Wardrobe of Easter: Singing Together
In the weeks since Easter, we have been noting in this column the several Christian practices which St. Paul commends as appropriate for those who have "been risen" with their Lord. In this week’s column we highlight the practice of singing.
In these meditations, we have been noting in this column the several Christian practices which St. Paul commends as appropriate for those who have “been risen” with their Lord. Taken together, these practices and habits make up, he says, the uniform of Easter (cf. Colossians 3.12). Each practice is a fresh, clean article of clothing which Jesus’ followers ought to dress up in daily and gladly wear for all to see. In this meditation, we highlight the practice of singing.
Singing throughout time
God’s children delight to sing their faith. They've been doing so for a long, long time. In the Old Testament era, as pilgrims made their annual autumn journey toward Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles and ascended the temple mount in David’s royal city, they broke forth into spontaneous song and delight before God’s face.(cf. II Chron. 6.2-6.11) God, in turn, was glad to hear them sing. A heavy cloud of God’s presence filled the entire temple area, and the Divine glory overwhelmed the people.
In the New Testament era, in direct response to the fact that Jesus had risen in triumph over death, Paul encouraged Jesus’ followers to tell the astonishing good news wherever they went. Even more appropriate than telling about what had happened to them, Paul called them to break forth into song about it: “….as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with thanksgiving in your hearts.” How, in fact, could they do anything but open their mouths in jubilant acclaim and praise?
Without interruption the melody of the Christian chorus continued on into the era of the early church. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-c.215 AD), a pagan highly educated in classical Greek philosophy and literature who converted to the Christian faith, found his purpose for living—and his voice for singing—when he began to follow Jesus. He encouraged his fellow believers to sing to the Lord their hearts’ gratitude. Their meals, he said, ought to be festive—a “thankful revelry”—and their entire lives a “holy festival.” When Christians sing together, said Clement, they become joined to the celestial “divine choir.” And God delights to listen.
The practice and habit of singing, thus, belongs as one of the central pieces of apparel in every Christian’s Easter wardrobe (cf. Colossians 3.1, 12, 16). It is something they eagerly put on and wear daily—or ought to, at least. A plodding, monotonous person who professes to believe in the Triune God, and who is able but refuses to sing about what God has done for her or him, that person is jarringly discordant. Their response is utterly inappropriate to what has happened to them. They are perhaps little better than or different from the atheists of whom Steve Martin once crooned: “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs.” (He once reportedly held out before his audience a single sheet of paper, blank on both sides, and jested: “Here’s all the songs in the atheist’s hymnbook!”).
Voices to honor
At home, at work, and on every path along which their Lord leads them, mature Christians whose voices allow them to do so are quick to open their mouths, to tune their voices—and their hearts—to sing to the delight and honor of the God who in love has created them; who gave himself up for them; who rose for them; who ascended for them; who poured forth the Spirit upon them; and who, at their life’s end, promises to take them home. They find that they cannot do otherwise. They must sing—they simply must.
And when they do their singing here on earth, daily and amid the circumstances in which God has placed them, God’s children are tuning their voices in brief rehearsal for the full concert which is soon to follow. When the Lord returns in triumph and his Kingdom breaks forth in the full grandeur of its complete appearing, then saints and angels shall mark the glad inaugural day appropriately. They shall lift their voices in a jubilant “new song.” Together they shall sing:
“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals,
because you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God
saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;….
John the apostle recorded what he saw and heard in that vision:
“Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders, they numbered myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice,
‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
to receive power and wealth
and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing. (Rev. 5.11-14)
And the song of these saints and angels will go on forever.
Howard Marshall is correct: “Praise and worship are the constant accompaniments of true faith, and the glory of God is seen amidst an atmosphere of joyful song.”
Hymn: Alleluia! Alleluia! Hearts to Heaven
Alleluia, alleluia! Hearts to heaven and voices raise.
Sing to God a hymn of gladness, sing to God a hymn of praise.
He who on the cross a victim for the world's salvation bled,
Jesus Christ, the King of glory, now is risen from the dead.
Alleluia, Christ is risen! Death at last has met defeat.
See the ancient powers of evil in confusion and retreat.
Once he died and once was buried; now he lives forevermore—
Jesus Christ, the world's Redeemer, whom we worship and adore.
Christ is risen, Christ the firstfruits of the holy harvest yield,
which will all its full abundance at his second coming yield.
Then the golden ears of harvest will their heads before him wave,
ripened by his glorious sunshine from the furrows of the grave.
Alleluia, alleluia! Glory be to God on high;
alleluia! to the Savior, who has won the victory;
alleluia! to the Spirit, fount of love and sanctity;
alleluia, alleluia! to the triune Majesty.
Words: Christopher Wordsworth, 1862, alt., P.D.
The Wardrobe of Easter Series
This series was written to be read in the following order: