How does the church respond to happiness or sorrow? It uses its voice and its voice is the hymn. The hymns of the Church possess what is most important to the body of all Christian Saints. Now, what is voiced at different times may be voiced in different ways, but ultimately - hopefully - there remains the salvific message of Christ crucified.
Today there are many ways to express the extreme happiness that the church feels. In fact, this could cause a problem for future generations of Christians. For us, here in America, we have it good. The Church is protected from governmental persecution and sorrow and toil and trouble do not rear its ugly head as it did during the early persecutions of Christians. We have better medicines today, unlike the widespread deaths caused by the Plague, the Black Death. So we have in essence become unaware of what hard-times really are, and to what brink sorrow and toil and turmoil can bring the church.
These happy songs seem to flow out of different parts of Christendom. Christ Tomlin wrote "How great is our God" (voted Worship Song of the Year for 2008) and truly God is - although not necessarily for the reasons Tomlin describes. Martin Luther writes "Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice" (Nominated for best Worship Song in 1523, but lost to "You are stupid laity and don't know Latin" by the Pope Clement VII) and truly we should rejoice. But what of times of sorrow? What of times when things aren't happy and bright? How then does the church respond?
It seems that today's Christianity has no answer for this. All it knows is happy happy joy joy. It doesn't fully understand sorrow. And truly, neither do I. Yet, while I may not fully understand the extent of sorrow, when sad times do come, a solid part of Christendom does understand sorrow and how to handle it. And that solid bit of Christendom that holds to Lutheran hymns and Lutheran hymn writers gives the church its voice in the times of sorrow. How?
Well, Luther wrote "Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice", but he also wrote "In the Very Midst of Life" a hymn which tells of the sorrows and tribulation a Christian faces. In the Hymn the answer is Jesus Christ to all sorrow and woes, yet tells us this very clearly and with a fitting tune to the occasion. In the 17th Century, Paul Gerhardt gives even more life to this voice of sorrow trusting in the promises of God. With a hymn like "Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me" there is no doubt that Christ is the focus of all things and we can cling to him even in times of sorrow. The text and the tune are appropriate for the occasion.
These texts and tunes for sorrow come out of times of great grief and sorrow and they give comfort to us today in times as sorrow as well. Rejoice then, that Lutheran hymns still hold a firm voice for the Church in times of sorrow which cling to Christ and the salvation he has won for us!