Psalm 98 begins "Oh sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things!"
The Lutheran church has long recognized that her hymns are one of her greatest teachers, second only to the Holy Scriptures. Martin Luther got the ball rolling in that direction by writing a large number of exceptionally powerful and deeply theological hymns. These powerful hymns and others like them fulfill the claim of the Augsburg Confession that they "teach the people what they need to know about Christ." Christ and His atoning suffering and death were at the center of each hymn they wrote. Thus the church does not sing about herself, about how we feel, or for entertainment, she sings to be taught. It is also worth noting that the Lutheran church has been called "the singing church" because of the emphasis that has been placed upon the hymnody of the church.
Add to that the fact that Martin Luther wrote hymns to replace the Kyrie, Gloria in Excelsis, the Creed, and Sanctus in the church's worship service celebrating the Lord's Supper. These parts of the liturgy had been sung in Latin for centuries by people who no longer had a good idea what they were saying nor what the words meant. Luther's substitutions written in the language of the people, along with his other hymns helped to unfold the deep faith of the Lutheran confession to the people of the church. The mass itself was now treated as it was intended to be, that is, as a gift of grace that granted the believer God's forgiveness of sins (hence the term "Divine Service"). We still have the basic outline of Luther's work in Divine Service setting 5.
Often times the hymn writers wrote out of their own profound suffering. For example, Paul Gerhardt lost his position as superintendent of the churches of Berlin, and his wife and his children died of the plague during the Thirty Years War, yet he still wrote the profound hymn, "Commit Whatever Grieves Thee" (TLH #520). LSB has seventeen of Gerhardt's hymns all of which are worthy of our congregation's song.
With that background I hope it is clearer to you why I choose the hymns I do for Divine Service. I have a great love for hymns and our current hymnal, Lutheran Service Book. I believe it is the best hymnal the LC-MS has produced to date (though I must confess that not every hymn in it is a homerun). The most important criteria for hymn selection has to do with the words of the hymns. Does it convey the main point of the Scripture readings for that Sunday? Does it reinforce what I am preaching? Is it a hymn of theological substance? I never choose a hymn based on how it makes me feel or whether it is easy to sing. Some of the best hymns need to be learned and though they are sometimes more difficult to sing than others, I find it amazing how many of those difficult hymns quickly become a congregation's favorite hymns as they learn them.
Choosing the hymns each week does put me in a difficult position sometimes, as on one hand I have people telling me they don't like the hymns we are singing because they are not the ol' time familiar ones. On the other hand, I have people who don't want to sing the same old hymns all the time. So I offer this compromise, if you have a hymn that you would like to sing you are welcome to request it. Email it to me or write it down (otherwise I am apt to forget) and if it fits the aforementioned criteria I will take it into consideration and we may sing it. Requested hymns are often sung during Distribution.
To aid us in our appreciation of good hymnody we will make use of a bulletin insert entitled, The Singing Church, which gives the background to the writers, Scriptures used, and other information about our hymns. I hope that you will read them.
~ Pastor Christensen