Can you think of a song, a hymn, a piece of music that is so intertwined with a personal experience, that you cannot think of the song without thinking of the experience?

When I hear the hymn “Abide with Me,” I am immediately at my father’s graveside on the day of his funeral and burial with my mom, my sister, and our children, laying this beloved man to rest in the soil of the same township in which he lived and toiled his whole life — a full life of obedience, love, and faithfulness.

Or when I hear Mozart’s 39th Symphony, I am immediately transported to Seattle, Benaroya Hall, The Seattle Symphony, a chilly, drizzly northwest winter night, sitting in the upper level on the left, with a beloved companion – moved to tears by its complexity, its repetitiveness, its energy, and its life.

When I hear John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” I am immediately back on Minnesota Cottonwood County Road 13, turning onto a gravel road, a mile from home, the place I grew up, the place of my heart – looking to the northwest – the lake, the trees, the half-mile driveway – and then I am there, turning the last curve as the sun sets and memories of generations rise and fall in the dimming light.

What about you? Can you think of a song, a hymn, a piece of music that is so intertwined with a personal experience, that you cannot think of the song without thinking of the experience?

Music does that. It sinks deeply into our hearts, our souls, our bones, and it takes us places that we have once been, transporting experiences long past across time and space, from then, into the now so that those experiences can live in our hearts again.

As a child, my family always ended the day with family devotions. Sometimes we read Bible stories. Sometimes we made our way through a book, teaching us something about God and God’s people. Sometimes we read something particular to a season of the church year — Advent and Lent especially. Other times we used devotional books, with a reading for each day, brief, but reflective, thought-provoking.

Of the times that we used devotional books, one sticks out in my mind. My mom had used it in her devotional life before she was married. We used it as a family more than once, God’s Song in My Heart, by Ruth Youngdahl Nelson. It takes hymns of the faith, one per week, and offers meditations, reflections, and thoughts for daily life based upon each verse – often one verse per day.

From this devotional book, I learned that God’s people sing — in all times, all places, all circumstances. God’s people sing when life warrants our praises and when life suggests that there is no reason at all to lift our voices in song. God’s people sing in joy and in sorrow. God’s people sing in hope and in despair. God’s people sing on the mountaintop and in the wilderness.

God’s people sing in certainty and in confusion. God’s people sing in faith and in doubt. God’s people sing in life and in death. God’s people sing in all times all places, all circumstances. Even if they cannot sing, God’s people sing!

It is Homecoming Week this week here at Valpo. On this coming Sunday morning at the close of worship, we will sing a hymn that for generations of Valpo folk brings them back here to this university, whenever they hear it, whenever they sing it, wherever they are. We have dubbed it “The Valpo Hymn,” even though it certainly is not particular or unique to us. Christians around the world sing it, but for Valparaiso University, it is an iconic testimony to an assertion that through all of the chances, changes, struggles, triumphs, setbacks, and sojourns that we encounter together — God is still God. Therein, and there alone lies our hope.

The hymn? “O God our Help in Ages Past.” I commend it to you today. In a world marked by as much by conflict as communion, by as much antagonism as agreement, by as much hatred as harmony, may it be a reminder that in all, and through all, God is still God. God will be true to God’s promises. God is our help, and our hope.

 

O God our help in ages past,

Our hope for years to come,

Our shelter from the stormy blast,

And our eternal home:

Under the shadow of your throne

Your saints have dwelt secure;

Sufficient is your arm alone,

And our defense is sure.

Before the hills in order stood

Or earth received its frame,

From everlasting you are God,

To endless years the same.

A thousand ages in your sight

Are like an evening gone,

Short as the watch that ends the night

Before the rising sun.

Time like an ever-rolling stream,

Bears all our years away;

They fly forgotten, as a dream

Dies at the op’ ning day.

O God our help in ages past,

Our hope for years to come,

Still be our guard while troubles last

And our eternal home.

Text: Isaac Watts, 1674-1748, alt.

 

For generations, this hymn has been God’s song in our hearts at Valparaiso University. Perhaps if it isn’t already, it will become God’s song in your heart, too.

Blessings for a grace-filled Homecoming Week.

+Pr. Char

Sept. 27, 2017

Rev. James A. Wetzstein and Rev. Dr. Charlene M. Rachuy Cox serve as university pastors at Valpo and take turns writing weekly reflections.

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