When Words Are Not Enough: Learning From the Early Church
Worship can and should be expressed in every aspect of our lives. While songs are certainly not the most important expression of worship, they have been a feature of individual and collective worship for thousands of years. Humans seem to be hardwired to sing—allowing our hearts to express so much more than our heads alone are able to do; drawing us closer to God and to one another. This week we will look at songs of worship recorded in the Christian scriptures, and explore what they can teach us about how to worship through song in our own cultural context.
The writer of the gospel of Luke includes three songs by people directly associated with the birth of Jesus: Mary, Zechariah and Simeon. Their songs celebrate God’s faithfulness in fulfilling the promises made to their ancestors, and express hope for justice for the oppressed and blessing to all nations through the arrival of the Messiah. Letters written to early church communities contain passages that appear to be quotations from hymns or poems, particularly focused on the beauty and mystery of Christ. “Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:18) express our gratitude to God, and are also used to teach and encourage followers of Jesus to live as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. Finally, we will consider the declarations of God’s holiness, power, and justice found in the book of Revelation, and consider how the imagery used in apocalyptic literature can expand our imaginations, but may also be at times unhelpful.