Homesick For Hymns

Having collected Christian music since the early nineties, I have amassed a very extensive collection. A couple of years ago I began moving it all to my computer and now have some 5,200 songs in MP3 format. This respresents the bulk of the collection with the exception of sixty or eighty cassettes. I have some of the best and worst of Christian music. I have albums that have won grammies and albums that have been sent to me just because people couldn’t believe music that bad was even possible and wished to share it with me! Strangely, though, over the past months I have grown increasingly tired of my music. Though I certainly hope this is not the case, is it possible that I am growing out of rock music? This is something my parents told me would happen some day. I do think they were motivated in telling me this by a desire to have me spend my money on more worthwhile pursuits than spending it all on albums. It could also just be owing to the fact that I have not spent much money on music in recent months and my collection is growing a tad stale, but with the sheer quantity of music I have at my disposal, it shouldn’t ever be stale!

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Last week, on a whim, I purchased Hymns Triumphant, volumes 1 and 2 from iTunes. Together the albums total almost 60 tracks (either full songs or pieces of songs) and the albums clock in at over 2 hours. The music is performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, one of the best orchestras in the world, and the vocals are performed by the Amen Choir. When I was young my mother had the first of these albums, and she listened to it often, so listening to it now is a trip down memory lane. I love the hymns, and though I was raised on a steady musical diet of hymns, I think my love for them goes much deeper than mere nostalgia.

For the past few days I have listened to these albums almost exclusively. The more I listen to them, the more I find myself in awe of the power and beauty of these songs. I find myself homesick for hymns! In recent years, many churches, including my own, have pulled back from hymns, believing them to be irrelevant to our culture, and hence to the church. While we still sing them occasionally, they are supplemental rather than staples of our musical diet.

It seems to me that the average hymn is somehow much more grand and more beautiful than the average worship song (and of course there are exceptions). Perhaps it is that over the past several hundred years, the church has effectively weeded out the worst of the hymns – those that had poor content or poor music. Maybe this is why music of the past seems more consistently beautiful than contemporary music. There must be some sort of Darwinian survival of the fittest happening in Christian music, for I know that when I listen to these hymns, I am consistently moved to tears and, even better, moved to worship.

I am simply unable to listen to “All Hail The Power Of Jesus’ Name” without breaking into chills. The beauty of the words, combined with the orchestra and the choir singing forth God’s praise in full throat is almost too much – it is very nearly too much beauty for me to comprehend. When I hear this same choir sing “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” I feel like I have stepped right into heaven and am listening to the heavenly choirs sing forth their never-ending praise to God.

Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!
Our triumphant holy day, Alleluia!
Who did once, upon the cross, Alleluia!
Suffer to redeem our loss, Alleluia!

When the choir follows the strings up and down, finally rising to a trimphant Alleluia! I marvel at the way that the hymn writer was able to open paradise just a little bit.

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia!
Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia!

I am left to marvel. What, short of a glimpse of heaven, could cause mere men to write such heartfelt words? What, short of coming face-to-face with Christ Himself, could inspire men to create such beauty? I guess the simple fact remains that this is exactly what happened. These men saw glimpses of heaven and came face-to-face with their Savior through the Scriptures. They became aware of their own depravity and were left in awe of the perfect, unsurpassed greatness of the Savior. God gifted them in special ways to record what they learned and experienced, and these have become the treasures of the church of Christ.

Now I know that God examines the heart, and to Him the heart is far more important than the music or even the words. After all, even the most beautiful words can be sung by an unbelieving person, and from an unsaved heart even beautiful words have no real significance to that person. Yet somehow these hymns seem to transcend the choruses and worship songs of our day. Somehow they seem to be just a little bit closer to something. Perhaps it is that they seem to somehow capture the majesty of worship in a way choruses cannot. Perhaps it is that they are usually easier to sing and are created specifically for corporate worship. I can’t say. I know that when I picture in my mind the great throng of worshippers before Christ’s throne, they are singing songs of such beauty that even the grandest hymn cannot do them justice. But perhaps these hymns comes as close as sinful hearts can create and sinful ears can be priveleged to hear.