Why do we sing?
There’s this image I love from scripture. When the Israelites first built their temple, up on Mount Zion, they would gather at the bottom of the hill, form themselves into a procession, and then march up the hill, into the temple, singing their songs. We know this from the Psalms that are labelled, “Psalms of ascent.” They were written precisely for this purpose: to ascend the hill of Zion, singing their way into worship. The famous hymn “We’re Marching to Zion” takes its cues from this ancient tradition. And even still, in high liturgy churches, many gather outside the doors, singing their songs, marching in.
But that’s only part of the image I love. In the year 587, the Babylonians came and destroyed the temple. They left no stone on top of another. The glory of their temple was ruined. The people, hauled off to Babylon in captivity, had their last visual memory of the temple as a ruined, destroyed place. Imagine your church, or a sacred place you love. Now imagine it destroyed; a heap of ruins. This is the reality for the Israelites.
But, in the year 537, upon their return from Babylon, an amazing thing happens. They gather at the bottom of Mount Zion, looking up at their ruined temple, and they sing. They march up the hill, the temple mount, singing their old songs, marching among the ruins as if the temple was still there. They sing songs like this,
“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.”
Can you believe that they still sing? They sing no matter the destruction, no matter the desolation. They sing because they are God’s people and God is theirs. They sing because they can see God’s redemption and they trust God will take care of them.
Even in the midst of destruction, the people sang “The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.”
Why do we sing? Because God is in the midst of our desolation, doing great things; and so, we cannot keep silent. We must sing!
And so sing we do, tonight. Let yourself be moved to sing along, let the joy in your heart overflow no matter the destruction and desolation you know, for God is in the midst of our lives, doing great things. Indeed, we can sing with the ancient Israelites, “The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.”
That’s reason to sing, for as the Old Testament scholar and poet Walter Brueggemann notes, we are a people who must sing to God. Hear his poem, and let it be a mantra for our evening of singing:
“We are a people who must sing to you, for the sake of our very lives.
You are a God who must be sung by us, for the sake of your majesty and honor.
And so we thank you,
for lyrics that push us past our reasons,
for melodies that break open our givens,
for cadences that locate us home, beyond all our safe places
For tones and tunes that open our lives beyond control and our futures beyond despair.
We thank you for the long parade of mothers and fathers who have sung you deep and true;
We thank you for the good company of artists, poets, musicians, cantors, and instruments that sing for us and with us, toward you.
We are witnesses to your mercy and splendor; We will not keep silent…ever again.”
Don’t keep silent. God is in the midst of our desolation, doing great things. And so, sing.