This Sunday marks the return of regular congregational singing. It puts me in mind of the great one-liner attributed to St. Augustine: “To sing is to pray twice.” That is, the content of the songs we sing constitute a prayer, and the art form of singing constitutes prayer in and of itself. Scripture identifies singing as a particularly important part of worshipping the One True God. Think of the heavenly worship scene that we read last week in Isaiah 6, where the mysterious angelic beings with six wings hover above God’s throne perpetually singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Think of the Psalms, all of them songs meant for singing that frequently encourage us to sing God’s praises. Psalm 95:1: “Come, let us sing to the LORD; let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation”—is representative of dozens of similar verses. In the New Testament there is the curious story of St. Paul and his fellow missionary Silas, who are arrested in the Greek city of Philippi and thrown in jail. They can’t sleep due to the horrible conditions. So, in the middle of the night, they sing praises to God. Their singing gives way to an earthquake the only effect of which is that the prisoner’s chains rattle off and the jail doors open (Acts 16:25-30).
There is something about singing, especially singing in a group, that transcends the moment. Singing is more than the sum of its parts. Something happens that is greater than the physical description of a collection of vocal cords producing sound waves. There is something unifying about singing together in a group. It produces a solidarity that is an important part of our worship and our Communion with God and each other.
The simple act of singing a hymn together has been sorely missed lo these 14 months. I’m glad to be able to sing with you once again. This isn’t a return to exactly how things were before the pandemic. This is a new phase, a new normal. But it does mark a return of sorts. Our singing voices were in exile, and now they can return to lift our hearts, and our spirits toward God. It is a strange irony maybe, but I think congregational singing—which may transmit the virus if not done carefully—is an important part of healing our collective pandemic trauma. The psalmist said it best:
How good it is to sing praises to our God!
how pleasant it is to honor him with praise!
The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem;
he gathers the exiles of Israel.
God heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:1-3)