Food. Water. Shelter. Oxygen. Not much is required for a human being to exist. Appropriate nutrients and an appropriate atmosphere. That is essentially what we need to survive.
We human beings, though, are created for life, not mere survival. God has created us for communion with Him. As such, God gives us far more than we need to survive, far more than simply oxygen, food, water, and shelter. He gives to us lavishly and generously, leading us to live a good life of joy and hope. Like so much else that is unnecessary to existence, music and song are gratuitous gifts from God, generously bestowed upon us not to help us survive but to help us live.
The past few weeks in school, my students have been memorizing the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.” In his Small Catechism, Luther asks, “What is meant by daily bread?” His answer encapsulates more than just those things necessary for survival:
Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.
Luther’s explanation shows us that to live a good life, humans need more than just the basics. We need community, and for that community to function well, we need all these things included under the words “daily bread.”
These gifts from God provide us a joyful life, a life full of beauty. When Luther refers to “daily bread,” he knows that God does not provide us merely with what we need to survive; rather, He gives to us generously. He gives us gifts that are a reflection of His beauty and goodness. So it is with God’s gift of music. Music is not necessary to survival, not necessary to mere existence. No, it is a gratuitous and lavish gift, meant to bring us joy and delight. It is not necessary for survival, but it is good for life.
Like the Lord’s Supper, music is a very human way God helps us to grasp His love and the knowledge of salvation. We have not physically seen Jesus, although we have eyewitness accounts. We were not there when He was crucified or when He rose again. We have not been to heaven and have not seen God Himself. But God gives us music as a reflection of the goodness and beauty of His presence. The words of the songs, Psalms, and hymns we sing proclaim the story of salvation, and the music gives us an aural expression of the story while also appealing to our human emotions.
Music Is Active
Music and song express our faith in a living and active way. Music is, by nature, full of movement and energy. By singing our faith, we experience the living, active nature of faith. Music is robust and lively. Even slow and ponderous songs have forward movement and involve energy in their execution.
Music proceeds from life and feeds life. Only living things can make music—humans and birds, for example. Even instruments must be played with the breath or the action of a living thing. At the same time, music feeds life. It injects joy and energy into the people creating it or listening to it. It makes us lift our voices, clap our hands, and tap our feet.
Our culture today is one of death. We see this in very obvious ways, to be sure, but this culture of death also has a sneaky way of inserting itself into the lives of people and communities today. The blatant disregard for anything good and true and beautiful is not only tolerated in some places but also celebrated almost everywhere. Those who speak against this death, those who celebrate, promote, and protect the good, true, and beautiful in this life, are themselves shamed, hated, cut down, persecuted.
The significant detail missed by those who celebrate a culture of death, however, is that they have already been defeated. Death has already been defeated. A culture of death seems to be living today, but by its very definition it cannot last. Although we who celebrate and uphold life, truth, beauty, goodness, and the Christian faith seem to be a losing minority, increasingly downtrodden and frustrated by the world at large, we are truly the only ones living. The rest of the world merely survives, relying on their basic human instincts and celebrating the meanest sort of existence. We live, celebrating with lasting joy that is full of life.
Our music is a key component of this life. It proclaims that which bestows this life, namely the goodness of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our music is not full of discordant texts of sinful endeavors and ultimate misery and dissatisfaction with life, offering little to no answers for the suffering we experience. No, our music is full of life, joy, hope, truth, goodness, and beauty. This does not mean it is all happy; rather, it tackles unhappiness and suffering head-on and offers answers full of hope and truth.
As we approach Lent, we see this music of life in all its glory. It is music and text that proclaims a most painful suffering and death. It does not shy away from the abuses Christ suffered. It does not shy away from our own sinfulness and wretchedness. Rather, it tells us that these are true. And then it leads us to see the glory of Christ’s resurrection and the life given to us. It is a music of life for a people of life.
To see all of CPH’s beautiful Lenten music, proclaiming the full story of Christ’s suffering, death, and wonderful resurrection, click the button below.