After a false start some months ago, we are beginning our lessons in congregational singing, this time with a more complete plan in place. We hope to continue most, if not every Lord’s Day evenings in which we do not observe the Lord’s Supper. The point is not simply to help us all to sing better – both to honor the Lord with our best and to include everyone as completely as possible in this part of our worship – but to prepare us for a more sophisticated approach in the months and years ahead. Singing is fundamental to Christian worship and has been from the very beginning. Ours in a singing faith in a way no other faith is. Others have their chants, to be sure, some sing almost not at all, but Christians sing and sing and have always sung beautiful music to the glory of God. Singing serves several purposes. It glorifies the words we speak, it renders them more beautiful and power, it helps us to remember them, and it sends them deeper into our hearts. God made us to sing, a fact we take entirely too much for granted. But if those things are so, then we ought to prepare ourselves to sing as well and as beautifully as we can. And that is what we are after in these short lessons. We intend to sing differently in some ways when we have completed this course in congregational singing. More on that later. But God is present to receive our worship, has given us the ability to sing to his praise, and so, surely, we ought to do that as well as we can.
Tonight we begin again with singing in harmony. Harmony is important for several reasons. First, it is beautiful, as anyone knows who has heard singing in harmony, and Christian worship ought to be beautiful, as beautiful as we can make it. That honors God who made music and made it beautiful, but it also more powerfully lifts our hearts to him. We all know how beauty affects us, stirs us, and pleases us, and beautiful music in particular. But more than that, harmony is a reflection of life as God made it. He made women’s voices to be different from men’s and some women and men to sing higher than others. When we sing in harmony we reflect the wisdom, the genius of God who brings a more profound unity out of a rich diversity of life. Unity is not sameness, but a perfect order. Nothing so powerfully expresses our common life, the essential mystery of Christian life as koinonia, as does our singing in worship. Surely it is remarkable that four notes can be sung at the same time and the result be not disorder, but even more perfect order than would be achieved if only the same note were sung. Harmony is the pattern of life in the kingdom of God: all of us with our great differences finding unity in the body of Christ, all of us contributing our distinct part to the whole. To that end, sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses are all able to contribute what they have been given to contribute when a congregation sings in harmony. Our various persons, gifts, abilities, individualities – tone quality, musical range, and so on – are contributed to the whole. Indeed, I have often told you that, standing in the front of the church as I do, I do not hear individual voices, but one sound, a sound composed of many sounds, but the more beautiful for the diversity that creates that almost mystical unity!