What is your favorite hymn? What is the hymn that speaks to your heart? The one that encompasses your experience of God in your life? The one that sits in that special place in your memory that feels like home? Take a moment to hum the melody and turn the words over in your mind. What is it about that particular hymn that speaks to you? Don’t worry if you can’t quite put your finger on it. Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th century German mystic and composer, wrote often about music and about how awareness of God is embedded in the movement and harmonies of music. “Music,” she said, “stirs our hearts and engages our souls in ways we cannot describe.”
Hymns are so much more than songs. They are worship, poetry, theology. They are an attempt to reach a little closer to touching on who God is and how we experience God working in our lives: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” Hymns are educational. We learn about scripture and about the stories of our Christian faith through hymns: “Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!” And, hymns are aspirational. We sing what we want to see and feel. We sing the Gospel. We sing of a world in which God’s justice and peace are realities for all of creation. “Let us build a house where love can dwell, and all can safely live, a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive. Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace; here the love of Christ shall end divisions: All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.”
My favorite hymn – the one that speaks to my soul and sings out who God is to me – is one that may still be unfamiliar to many. It was written in 1998 by New Zealand poet and hymnist, Shirley Erena Murray, and inspired by the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” drafted by the U.N. General Council in 1948. Murray wanted to connect the global concern of Christianity with the global concerns of the United Nations and, really, all of humanity. About this hymn, she says: “I couldn’t find anything to reflect a broad overview of human rights in any hymnbook. You can see that I have used some of the very basic ideas of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the right to shelter, safety, food, and later, the right to a job, to freedom of speech and worship. I’ve tried to put them in a context which relates directly to the Gospel, but without excluding those who are not of the Christian faith. . .. ”
Ms. Murray saw the Gospel news of abundance and the reality of the abundance with which we have been blessed by our creator and challenged us to think about what it would mean to live in a world in which that abundance was truly shared at a truly communal table. Her words:
For everyone born, a place at the table;
For everyone born, clean water and bread,
A shelter, a space, a safe place for growing,
For everyone born, a star overhead,
And God will delight when we are creators of justice
And joy, compassion, and peace.
Yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice,
Justice and joy!
It is no accident that the center point of Christian worship is – and has always been – the communion table. This is the place where we remember how Christ calls us to live in the world. We are called to come to the table together, to break bread and to remember who we are and whose we are. We are called to create space at the table for all of God’s children to join in the feast. We are called to break down the barriers that prevent people from sharing in God’s abundance and to build ever expanding tables at which all are welcome. We are called to be creators of justice and joy!