“Spirit, open my heart to the joy and pain of living. As you love may I love, in receiving and in giving. Spirit, open my heart.” (ACS 1043)
As the first pandemic weeks turned into months, I found myself (gratefully) immersed in hymnody, working with All Creation Sings, and presenting hymns on Facebook for our Synod. Unsurprisingly, the hymns I thought I knew well became “new again” due to the unprecedented times in which we were living. Quite a few of them spoke directly, though I imagine unintentionally, to the times. We surely have great text writers, but how could they know what 2020 would bring, and write such exceptionally prescient words and phrases?
The texts that resonated most for me all happened to be by living, female text writers. The hymn quoted at the beginning of this blog post, for example, was written by Ruth Duck. Admittedly, joy is a rare commodity in pandemic times and there was, and still is, pain for so many—and yet . . . and yet. I cannot sing the hymn without tears flowing freely.
Likewise, “Now the Heavens Start to Whisper” by Mary Louise Bringle brought just the right tone during Advent, a season that finally felt like a liturgical home for the pandemic—a time of waiting, watching, hoping, crying out, and repenting. “Christ, eternal Sun of justice, Christ, the rose of wisdom’s seed, come to bless with fire and fragrance hours of yearning, hurt, and need.” (St. 3, ACS 901)
As my mind has shifted to take in both the joy of a return to in-person worship and the lament of those we have lost, two hymns often come to mind, one to coax us into our reawakening, and one to give us the sure ground we need as we take next steps.
“Lift Up Your Heads” (ACS 1032)—text by Susan Briehl—speaks to all the longing, hope, and, yes, joy that I believe is coming: “Lift up your hearts, your great Amen; Mercy feeds her guests again: bread enough to break and share, festive wine that scents the air. Oh, taste and see what once was lost rising in this feast of love.” (St. 3)
Finally, the last stanza of “Rise, O Church” (ELW 548) by Susan Cherwien sets us firmly where I believe we need to be as we navigate post-pandemic times. May we commit ourselves to this.
“Service be our sure vocation; courage be our daily breath; mercy be our destination from this day and unto death. Alleluia, Alleluia. Rise, O church, a living faith.” (St. 4)