I’ve been to several funerals already this year, no doubt an indication of my age and being the wife of a Pastor. Of course, Psalm 23 is a familiar and comforting reading that is often used. Meditating on Jesus as my shepherd has reminded me of this lovely hymn that expresses God’s agape love for us.
My friend Nancy’s email about music made me think about the simple children’s song, “Jesus Loves Me.” Although my mom couldn’t communicate much during the last years of her life, she could still sing, and the old hymns and Christian songs were favorites. Jesus Loves Me always brought tears to her eyes. My husband and I had a good Christian friend who asked that this song be sung at his funeral. I think he felt its’ simple message captured the essence of his faith. He’s not the only person who ever felt this way. Karl Barth, a Swiss Reformed minister, who was know as one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century was once asked to summarize all the words he had written about theology. His answer?
“Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
The words of this song were first published in a novel entitled See and Seal by Anna And Susan Warner. In the story a young boy named Johnny is dying. His Sunday School teacher comforts him by making up this little song. The novel became a best seller in the 186o’s, and the song, set to music by William Bradbury, became the best-known children’s hymn of all time.
Last night I received an email from my good friend, Nancy, who is also one of our faithful readers. She mentioned that she had been at a funeral and the music was just lovely. In her words:
In keeping with the blog, I went to the funeral yesterday of a dear friend from church. It was the most singing at a funeral that I have ever experienced, and it was perfect. One of the songs we sang was the “Hymn of Promise” that I had sent to you. And we sang a medley of last verses of six old hymns that all spoke of heaven and Jesus coming to “take us home.” There were more hymns- all were affirmations of faith and hope.
This made me think about the songs that uplift me in times of grief. One of my favorites is “I Know that My Redeemer Lives.” It’s an Easter song, based upon Job 19:25-26
“I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth, and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God,
Whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”
I can’t imagine anything more comforting and hopeful than that word picture. Here’s the whole hymn, in case you don’t know it:
“My heart which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.”
What about you? Have you ever been comforted by music in a difficult time? We’d like to hear your thoughts.
“Praise the Lord!
For it is good to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious and a song of praise is seemly.” Psalm 147:1
The Bible tells us that singing is good; Martin Luther said music is a gift from God. Numerous studies also tell us that singing and music are not only good, they are good for us. Here are some examples:
- Music education, even at a very young age, improves visual, verbal and communication skills
- Music keeps an aging brain healthy. It’s exercise for the brain and promotes better memory and mental agility
- Music causes your brain to release dopamine which improves your mood, and reduces depression and anxiety
- Music strengthens the heart and has been shown to improve the recovery time of patients after heart surgery
- Music improves sleep quality
- Music boosts the immune system and reduces pain
My advice? Go to a church where you sing and make a joyful noise to God at least once a week. You’ll be happier and healthier.
Years ago the Via de Cristo accountability group I was in spent time discussing our prayer life. One fellow in our group shared how each morning, he played a CD of favorite worship music. He paid close attention to the words as well as the music and considered it a time of prayer. That was eye-opening for me! Music as prayer!
I took his advice and starting playing Christian music on Saturday as I cleaned the house. Soon a time of drudgery was transformed into a peaceful place of communion with God. I encourage others to try this — listen to music when you’re doing mindless chores, driving, or just taking a break. Speak to God in the words of the song, and let Him touch your heart in the same way. God doesn’t care how we talk to Him, He just wants us to do it.
“…be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.” Ephesians 5:18-20
Have any of our authors or readers also used music this way? Tell us about your experience.
In 2004 I served on my first Via de Cristo coed team. I had been a pilgrim in 2001, then served on women’s teams after that (my first being led by Joan Culler!), but this was my first coed team. Due to some unexpected problems, the team had been formed late. I had not met the rector (head of the team) before, but he was looking for a female who would serve on the music team and I was willing to give it a try.
The rector, a man named Andy Foor, instantly became a dear friend (Andy is like that). I remember so clearly that whenever we were leading the singing, Andy would step into the aisle between the tables and walk toward the music team, and he would smile – and when Andy smiles, so does everyone around him. I started smiling as I sang – with a joy that goes beyond ordinary smiling – and I continued smiling when singing praise music for a long time afterward.
The reason this is significant is that I was one of the music team at today’s Ultreya (a reunion gathering of the Via de Cristo community – ours are held every other month). And the reason that is significant is that it’s the first time I’ve led music since my surgery last summer (almost the first time I’ve held a guitar). Leading music takes a lot of energy, and I have to steward my energy carefully as I continue to recover.
Still, I thought I’d try it for this short period of time (actually, I thought I wouldn’t risk it, but God said, “Why not try?”). We sang only a few songs, but the room was full of unity and joy. As I heard the words, as I looked at the faces of old friends and new, I started to smile again and felt that joy in my heart – the joy of the presence of the Lord.
Sing to God, sing in praise of his name, extol him who rides on the clouds; rejoice before him—his name is the Lord. (Psalm 68 4)
The Song of Simeon, or Nunc Dimmitis (dismissal or departure) is can be found in Luke 2:29-32. It is a joyful canticle (hymn appearing in the Bible) sung by Simeon when he recognized Jesus as the Savior, the one for whom he has been waiting. Most assume Simeon was an old man, but we really don’t know; the Bible doesn’t tell us that. We just know that he was righteous and devout and the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die before he had seen the Christ.
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word;
For my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.
I’ve always loved this passage. Lutherans sing or recite it after communion, to remind ourselves that like Simeon, we are now also waiting for the Lord’s return. It speaks of faith and salvation and brings a sense of peace.
“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my heart pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Where can I go and meet with God?
This is one of my personal favorites. The beautiful imagery speaks of a desire to know God that is equivalent to thirst. The deer’s search for water is central to its’ very existence, and our lives depend upon God in the same way. My study Bible (the Life Application Bible, NIV version) calls Psalm 42 and “antidepressant.” I agree, it’s a wonderful way to lift up your spirit; and yes, there is a musical version: