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Sunday, September 6, 2015

Today’s Reading | Exodus 15:1–21

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?
 You stretched out your right hand, the earth swallowed them.

"In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed;
    you guided them by your strength to your holy abode.
 The peoples heard, they trembled;
    pangs seized the inhabitants of Philistia.
 Then the chiefs of Edom were dismayed;
    trembling seized the leaders of Moab;
    all the inhabitants of Canaan melted away.
 Terror and dread fell upon them;
    by the might of your arm, they became still as a stone
 until your people, O Lord, passed by,
    until the people whom you acquired passed by.
 You brought them in and planted them on the mountain of your
        own possession,
    the place, O Lord, that you made your abode,
    the sanctuary, O Lord, that your hands have established.
 The Lord will reign forever and ever."

When the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his chariot drivers went into the sea, the Lord brought back the waters of the sea upon them; but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground.

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, but these moments of singing together are pretty much gone now. While in some places it is becoming a countercultural activity to do so, singing in worship goes back thousands of years.

At Exodus 15 we read the heading “The Song of Moses,” meaning when it was written—and even today—this was meant to be sung. But why sing this text—or anything in worship—and not just read it? It is because by adding music to the text we can layer emotions onto it that make it more powerful, more 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. I frequently get melodies stuck in my head—as we all do—and particularly hymn tunes that 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 heartbeats 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, as often happens at Fourth Church.

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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