Image by PinkMoose via FlickrI had a precious time in the Scriptures with my two youngest children Sunday morning. It was a divine appointment. We were supposed to be at the first hour of church/Sunday School, but we just weren't able to get it together in time. My hubby took our oldest to youth group, but the two youngest stayed home with me and got ready late.
And somehow I just knew that God wanted to meet with us.
When the kids were ready, we sat down in the Living Room and opened the book, "Don't Waste Your Life" by John Piper. I read to them from it, and some good conversation came out of that.
Then I got out the old hymnal and went looking for a song that would fit what we'd been discussing. I came upon "Jesus is All the World to Me," and I knew I'd found what I was looking for. I knew I wouldn't be able to sing it. I get too choked up. But I figured I could at least read the words to the children.
I got partway through, and suddenly the tears came. It worried the kids a bit, until I helped them understand that these were caused by joy, by beauty. In the end, those tears added a great deal to the sweetness of our time together.
Why can't I sing hymns any more? Why the huge lump in my throat, and the streams from my eyes?
Partly its the joy of seeing old friends. The songs themselves, I mean. So many precious friends rest hidden in between the covers of that old hymnal...friends that filled my mouth not just on Sunday mornings, but throughout the week. Friends that visited me over the radio. Friends that I sang next to my dear Nana in the choir loft, where she taught me to sing harmony. So many friends that I haven't seen in far too long. They've been replaced in church services by the new songs on the block.
I miss them. And when I get to sing them again, it's too sweet to bear, especially when we slow down and sing them at a pace that lets me savor the words.
Sometimes the tears come because of old associations. Faces of those long gone, who once stood beside me and sang those sacred words with me. That's true of all the old familiar hymns, because I sang them all with my loved ones so many times. But there's one hymn in particular that slays me because of a very strong tie to particular people. I had never even heard "Be Thou My Vision" until my uncle and aunt chose that as their "life song." They had lived far from the Lord for decades, but had repented and turned to Him, and then felt called to the mission field in Ireland. "Be Thou My Vision" was sung at their dedication service, and in my heart it is forever linked with them.
My uncle was killed in a motorcycle accident several years ago. I can't help but weep when I sing that song now. Or rather, when I mouth it. I can't actually sing it around the lump in my throat.
Partly hymns make me weep because of the deep meaning of their words. Modern songs sometimes can match their earlier counterparts for depth and richness. "In Christ Alone" is an exceptional example of a song almost too good to be new. I'm thankful for those types of songs, and glad that we sing them in our church. Some of them bring tears, too.
But there's a slightly different taste to the tears that come from the old hymns, and I've recently realized what it is.
Think of a movie that has made you weep because of its happy ending. Think how the fulfillment of the promise of joy at the end felt so moving, especially contrasted with whatever hardships had to be overcome to get there.
That's what I feel from the old hymns. When I sang them as a child, they were unproven theories. Untested promises. Unfelt praise to an as-yet unknown God. I enjoyed them then, but they were only implanted seeds. I could not yet taste the fruit of promises kept.
Now I taste it.
Oh, the hardships I've known on my way here! The grief, the heartache, the overwhelmedness... and all of that only makes today's joys sweeter. Jesus is becoming "all the world to me." I've spent time "In the Garden," and I know there really is delight in His presence there. I've truly come to cherish "The Old Rugged Cross." Jesus is becoming my vision. "Trust and Obey" is starting to take root and blossom.
And all of the old associations become more precious. It's not just that I used to sing that song with Nana. It's that Nana now enjoys, with unveiled face, the God about whom we sang. And call me corny, but I feel a growing kinship with people I've never met, people perhaps in long prairie skirts and bonnets, singing the same words a hundred years ago. I feel as if my voice joins in a chorus that stretches back through time, all affirming the eternal goodness of our mighty God.
And when you boil it all down to its main point, it's really Him. The greatest sweetness of all is not just that promises were fulfilled, but that He fulfilled them. I feel no kinship with anyone who sings hymns only out of religious duty. I sing in chorus with those who love Him, who cherish Him, who praise Him, many of whom now see Him face-to-face. He is the promise of the hymns, and the fulfillment of them. He is their melody, and their harmony. He is their heartbeat.
Why do the old hymns bring tears? Because they touch me with the music of the One I love.
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