The Importance of Hymns of Lament

by Julie Grindle

“Sometimes our only song is weeping, our only sound a gasping breath . . .” (ACS 1050)

This is the first line of a new hymn in All Creation Sings, the upcoming worship supplement from Augsburg Fortress, found in the subsection “Lament.” Along with other new hymns in All Creation Sings, and their siblings in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, they are powerful source material as we grieve widespread sickness and death, old inequalities and fresh injustices. Hope itself can seem lost.

I, perhaps like others, have struggled to find my voice in this time of pandemic isolation and profound loss. I cry out, “How long, O Lord?” Instead of finding release in singing, my throat has become constricted, as I consider what friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and fellow siblings in Christ are enduring. More and more often, I find myself turning to a group of hymns that are more unfamiliar than I would like to admit. After all, I don’t want to dwell in my sadness, my anger, my hopelessness, do I? Wouldn’t these hymns just highlight these feelings, making me feel worse?

On the contrary, I believe these hymns are the way to rediscover our voices, painful as that may be—and find our way to hope, healing, and new life.

“O God, why are you silent? I cannot hear your voice . . .” (ELW 703)

I have had this conversation (which has seemed one-sided) any number of times in these difficult months. When we feel that all is hopeless, we can wonder these things internally, but this hymn allows an expression that is at once an exclamation, a cry, and a prayer, much like the psalms.

“God weeps with us who weep and mourn; God’s tears flow down with ours . . .” (ACS 1054)

There is comfort here; just as when a friend sits by the side of a loved one who is mourning a loss, God’s presence and common emotion can be a balm in difficult times. This hymn reminds me I am not alone. I am loved and seen in my grief.

“The Love that called creation good all goodness still is bringing. This Love turns death again to life and silence into singing.” (St. 4, ACS 1049, “Before the Waters Nourished Earth”)

We are not alone at any time, even in the hardest moments. The One who loved us from the cross constantly loves us back to life, hope, and love. And that is something to sing about. Thanks be to God.

Posted on Oct 8, 2020 9:00:00 AM
Filed Under: Hymnody, Filed Under: Music Ministry,

Julie Grindle

Written by Julie Grindle

Julie Grindle is a lifelong church musician, accompanist and teacher. After serving as musician to Lutheran congregations and ecumenical partners for 35 years, Julie is now the Assistant to the Bishop for Candidacy and Mobility in the Upstate NY Synod (ELCA). She is the immediate past-president of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians. In the past year she has written for Sundays and Seasons, Living Lutheran and the ALCM publication CrossAccent, and is a former member of the ILS (Institute of Liturgical Studies) advisory board. She currently lives in Baldwinsville, NY, with her husband, David. They have two sons in college, Will and Tom.