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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Exodus 15:1–11, 20–21

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord: “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name. “Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he cast into the sea; his picked officers were sunk in the Red Sea. The floods covered them; they went down into the depths like a stone. Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power—your right hand, O Lord, shattered the enemy. In the greatness of your majesty you overthrew your adversaries; you sent out your fury, it consumed them like stubble. At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up, the floods stood up in a heap; the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea. The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them. I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’ You blew with your wind, the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters. “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, doing wonders? Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. And Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.” (NRSV)

Why do we sing in worship? It is becoming very rare to sing anywhere else these days, and sometimes singing in worship is even becoming rare. There was a time not so long ago that families sang popular songs and hymns at home for their own enjoyment. While it is becoming a countercultural activity to sing in worship, singing in worship actually goes back thousands of years.

At Exodus 15 we read the heading “The Song of Moses,” meaning this text was indeed meant to be sung when it was written and even today. But why sing this text or anything in worship and not just read it? It is because by adding music we can layer emotions onto the text that make it more powerful, more memorable and meaningful. For example, reading the words “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” does not come close to the impact of singing those words to the familiar carol by George Frideric Handel.

Also, by adding a melody to the text it becomes more memorable. We all get melodies stuck in our heads when we sing, especially hymn tunes, which are meant to be sung and remembered so that we can carry them with us as mantras, prayers wherever we go. The other reason we sing in worship is that the very act of singing brings us into one breath, and it has been shown that after breathing together for a short period of time even our heart beats become synchronized together, so singing together creates community in powerful and subtle ways that no other activity can do. For these and so many other reasons, I am thankful every time a congregation sings really well together.

Lord, thank you for the gift of singing together so we can come closer to you and even now join in singing the heavenly chorus sung by the angels. Amen.

Written by John W. W. Sherer, Organist and Director of Music

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