A Pandemic Hymn (or Anthem?)

As I grew up, I found many of the hymns we sang at the Methodist Church to be onerous, at least for a kid. It seemed like most of the classic hymns were comprised of 5-6 stanzas and we sang all of them (except if the preacher was long-winded, then we only sang the first and last verses of the closing hymn – “music” to a middle schooler’s ears).

Did you know that states have a “State Hymn?” Minnesota’s hymn is Hail! Minnesota. I remember the first time I heard the U of M Marching Band sing Hail! Minnesota a capella at their indoor concert in Northrup Auditorium some 50+ years ago. I got the chills. (They apparently continue the tradition – Listen here.)

The definition of a hymn: a religious song or poem of praise to God or a god; a formal song sung during Christian worship, typically by the whole congregation. Its origin? It comes from old English, via Latin from Greek humnos “ode or song in praise of a god or hero.” New Testament writers spoke of the use of hymns in corporate worship. Example: Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts, Colossians 3:16. (By the way, my appreciation for the classic Christian hymns has improved significantly since my middle school days!)

A synonym for hymn is anthem. An anthem, by definition, is a rousing or uplifting song identified with a particular group, body or cause (i.e., a choral composition based on a biblical passage, for singing by a choir in a church service). At the Methodist church, the choir sang an anthem each week, which I enjoyed much more than the hymns. Sometimes they gave me chills.

Early in March as COVID-19 was descending upon us, reshaping the world as we knew it, an anthem for the pandemic was birthed. It was written in late February as a collaborative effort by Cody Carnes and Kari Jobe (husband and wife) with Elevation Church’s worship team. They collectively sang and led the song at an Elevation Church worship service on March 1st. It was an instant hit and likely you’ve heard it – The Blessing. If you haven’t heard it, you must. If you have, I encourage you to listen again (as I am doing as I write this).

My first hearing of The Blessing wasn’t the Elevation Church debut. The first rendition I heard was a virtual YouTube video put together by Christians from 65+ United Kingdom Churches specifically as a blessing over the UK. It gave me the chills! I’m sure it gave me “the chills” because it was the first time I had heard the song. But, more importantly, it was an obvious labor of love to the nation. It seemed so selfless and genuine – something us Americans could maybe learn from the Brits!

Most importantly, The Blessing came directly from scripture (remembering that the definition of an anthem is a choral composition based on a scripture passage). That scripture passage? The well-known blessing we often hear at as a benediction to worship servicesfrom Numbers 6, known as the Priestly Blessing. The Lord told Moses, to tell Aaron and his sons (the priests), This is how you are to bless the Israelites:

The Lord bless you
    and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
    and give you peace.

If you find yourself feeling a bit whelmed as we enter into month 7 of disruption, I would encourage you to ponder the significance of the words of this blessing. Listen to either of the renditions as you ponder these words that come directly from God. Hopefully it will give you peace. Or the chills. Or maybe both!

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Curt Hinkle

I am a practical theologian. A theology that doesn't play out in one's everyday life is impractical, or of no real use. A simple definition of theology is the attempt to understand God and what he is up to, allowing us to join him in his work.

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