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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide thee,
though the eye of sinfulness thy glory may not see,
only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,
perfect in power, in love and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All they works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea.
Holy, holy, holy! merciful and mighty!
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

     Reginald Heber's "Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!"
     from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

After one year in seminary, I spent a summer working as a seminary intern at a retirement residence. I was given the responsibility of leading worship for residents who lived with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. My supervising chaplain advised me to select hymns that would be well known to this group of residents. “The more familiar, the better,” he said. I took his advice.

Just prior to the start of the worship service, the staff helped me to gather the residents into a large activity space. As the residents arrived for worship, it seemed to me that each was in his or her own world. Even though I knew some of the residents by name, they did not seem to know me or those seated next to them. I wondered what, if any, sense of community could be formed in this time together.

I remember preaching a short sermon and all the while feeling like I was blabbing on and on and regretting that I hadn’t made the sermon even shorter. There was no eye contact made by the worshipers. I could not know if they were aware of me or of each other.

When the sermon ended, I began to lead a hymn—this hymn—“Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!” The most remarkable thing happened. Even before the first stanza was completed, Mr. Jones, whom I had never seen except in a wheel chair, whose hands had always been so gnarled with arthritis that I could never properly shake it, whose head had always been bowed low, with his chin tucked into his chest, suddenly stood up straight and so tall, with his arms and fingers straightened by his side, and his head forward and eyes up. His voice joined mine; he knew these words by heart. Two seats down from him sat Mrs. Williams, and she too sang with us. I had never heard her speak before, but now I could hear her voice so beautiful and clear. Others in the room sang too.

It was in that moment of song that I felt the Spirit enliven us and bring us into corporate worship. It was for that moment, perhaps the only moment of the week when Mr. Jones, Mrs. Williams, and others were able to participate in our life together, that I gave thanks to God.

God, I give you thanks for the way your Spirit works through song. Put our words to music, Lord, so that our whole selves can be instruments of praise to be heard in the fellowship of your people. Amen.

Written by Joyce Shin, Associate Pastor for Congregational Life

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