Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Different Sort of Glorious

"There is a very important connection between the Church’s worldview and the Church’s hymns. If your  heart and mouth are filled with songs of victory, you will tend to have an eschatology of dominion; if, instead, your songs are fearful, expressing a longing for escape – or if they are weak, childish ditties – your worldview and expectations will be escapist and childish.
Historically, the basic hymnbook for the Church has been the Book of Psalms. The largest book of the Bible is the Book of Psalms, and God providentially placed it right in the middle of the Bible, so that we couldn’t miss it! Yet how many churches use the Psalms in musical worship? It is noteworthy that the Church’s abandonment of dominion eschatology coincided with the Church’s abandonment of the Psalms."

- David Chilton

Last week as we sang Psalm 63 in English metre to Thomas Tallis' familiar third mode melody, I was impressed not only by the nature of the music and its powerful words but also the nature of our assembly, gathered in a circle, singing ancient words of longing and praise for our Lord.

When I was little, Emily read a book aloud to me, parts of which I will never forget. The book is called St. Bartholomew's Eve (by G.A. Henty) and recounts the story of the French Huguenots, their mission and the persecution they endured throughout the 16th century. In the story, the hero hears singing in the woods and discovers a Huguenot church meeting. The Huguenots are singing hymns of praise to God and studying His word together at the risk of their own lives, since meeting outside of a state church was prohibited. The author paints such a vivid description of the scene I was convinced I had seen an illustration, even though, as far as I can tell no significant painting or drawing representing this aspect of history exists. The Huguenots are gathered in a circle, their faces uplifted, fearlessly singing. In the story, as was the case for most Huguenot gatherings historically, the city authorities discover their meeting and slaughtered them without respect for age or position. Only a few escape who were perhaps protected by men at arms or missed in the general uproar.

Generally, when we think of glorious music we imagine grand, state-sanctioned church productions of Handel’s Messiah or Kyrie Eleison or Saint Matthew’s Passion. Most American’s have grown accustomed to worship music productions so noisy they can’t even hear their own voice.

Perhaps we have forgotten a different sort of glorious, the kind that comes from impassioned believers producing imperfect but heartfelt music. Believers who have tasted persecution, counted the cost and embraced the trial before them, produce an entirely different sort of music. The average church attendee comparing our assembly last week to a grand church production complete with perfectly balanced sound and acoustic sensitivity would perhaps be dissatisfied.

But if you put on a different set of glasses you would see patriarchs earnestly seeking God’s truth with their families gathered around them, mothers holding babies in their arms who will change the world, sons and daughters embracing their family’s mission with joy and energy, families who love the kingdom of God, singing out of the conviction that the ability to worship God in sincerity and faithfulness to His Word is an immeasurable privilege. And it is glorious! The kind of glorious that relishes the battle and rejoices in the eternal victory of God.

O Lord, My God, Most Earnestly

Psalm 63

Thomas Tallis, 1567; alt.

Psalter, 1912
rev. Psalter Hymnal, 1987

O Lord, my God, most earnestly I seek Your holy face,
Within Your house again to see the glories of Your grace.
Apart from You I long and thirst and naught can satisfy;
I wander in a desert land where all the streams are dry.

The loving kindness of my God is more than life to me,
So I will praise You all my days and pray continually.
In You my soul is satisfied, my darkness turns to light,
and joyful meditations fill the watches of the night.

Beneath the shadow of Your wings I sing my joy and praise.
Your right hand is my strong support through troubled nights and days.
All those who seek my life will fall; my life is in Your hand.
God's king and people will rejoice; in victory they will stand.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Independence Day

For the last week, we have commemorated the 150th anniversary of that great tragedy the battle of Gettysburg and for me history has rarely been more alive. Today is Independence Day ... a day of thanksgiving ... though many have forgotten exactly what it is we are to be thankful for. We visited the Pennsylvania State Capitol building in Harrisburg this afternoon. The legislature is not in session and the effect of the deserted grounds was almost chilling.

The city of Harrisburg feels rather more weighted than distinguished by the emerald-domed edifice. Even with a crowd about it, that capitol seems dead. For a moment, with the sun baking my face and my neck kinking so my eyes could scale the summit and the gold image that crowns it, the architecture transported me to stand before the crumbling ruins of Rome and Athens. "Confidence of man in man is the fundamental sanction that upholds every secure title to wealth," one inscription read. Here man has made a name for himself...and here he tears himself down with his own hands.

"He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision."

Here rubbish littered the bottom of dry fountains and so "Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked." There we crossed the street before wide stone stairs scaling the height to great carved doors and in the shadow of imposing Corinthian columns and gleaming white statuary a shiftless character sprawled unconsciously across the crumbling steps of a tumbled-down shop. Now we read an inscription beneath the honorary statue of John Frederick Hartranft, the minion of tyrants, now a vague mention of knowledge as the seat of justice over some leaf-strewn bench.

Such strange ironies are scattered over the stone and wood of this thing made with man's hands. Here a lion spews water fiercely from a drain pipe across from a door carved with images of productivity and industry. There an eagle, that flagrant emblem of aggression and coercion, perches over a gate along with the face of the god-fearing William Penn, the father of this commonwealth that is his namesake.

"Let tyrants and slaves submissively tremble
And bow down their necks neath the juggernaut car"

The capitol's stark white walls glared wearily on the grimy streets and buildings before it, almost as if were tired of housing an empty shell. It is the Fourth of July...our Independence day...and yet while the white opulent structure, supposedly the seat of the defense of justice - the state - looks vacantly out of bared doors and window sashes sporting cobwebs, a rock concert shakes its foundation from two blocks away.

Last to be paused before is a complete replica of the Liberty Bell, bound by some pragmatist advocate of certain kinds of public silence to hang still and silent, yet with the ringing words of almighty God emblazoned on it nonetheless..."proclaim liberty throughout the land to all the inhabitant thereof." I can knock on it with my hand and its voice sings...muffled like the distant tolling of a lament, echoing over the public square. One day perhaps it will ring again once more...if it is allowed to endure until that time when all things are made new. When the last stones of man's dead works are shown to be what they always were and lie crumbling in the dust before the piercing glare of the living God, we will no longer need these sobering reminders to fear and obey Him.

"Down with the eagle and up with the cross!
...Shouting the battle cry of freedom!"

“Woe to him who builds a town with blood
and founds a city on iniquity!
Behold, is it not from the LORD of hosts
that peoples labor merely for fire,
and nations weary themselves for nothing?
For the earth will be filled
with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea."
~Habakkuk 2:12-14

The proclamation of true freedom is certainly a battle cry.  To what end do you build this Independence Day?