Teaching, Admonishing, and Harmoniously Singing
Today, I want to begin with a passage in the New Testament that refers to the music that we employ in worship, music which gives us an opportunity to experience music through our ears. This is from the third chapter of the letter of St. Paul to the Colossians.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
St. Paul says here that our lives should be guided by love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. When relationships are in perfect harmony, that means that everyone is getting along peacefully and joyfully. Many people living together as one, united in harmony.
Earlier in this letter to the Colossians, St. Paul said that in Christ, all things hold together. And in his letter to the Ephesians, he said that God had a plan to unite everything in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth. Christ can hold all things together, and unite everything in heaven and on earth, because he is Love itself, Love that has become a human being. Christ is fully God and fully man, in harmony.
God — Father, Son, and Holy Ghost — is the model of harmony. The three persons of the Trinity have perfect love; they are love. And our salvation through Christ allows us to join that perfect harmony. So we should strive to make that harmony visible in the life of the Church. That’s what St. Paul is urging his readers to strive for. In other words, our life together should be beautiful.
In addition to the harmony that we have in relationships, “harmony” is also term we use a lot in music, when it means the sound of two or more musical notes heard at the same time. When a group of people sings what we call a “chord,” we sing three or four or more notes. There are many notes in harmony, but one harmonious sound. When we hear notes sung together, we can hear that they are in a kind of relationship. I like to say that harmony in music is the sound of love.
On Monday, I talked about how all of Creation is a work of God’s love, and that there is a close tie between love and beauty. All of Creation is formed by relationships. Beauty is one way of describing the quality of good relationships, of love. When we hear musical sounds that have a good relationship with each other, we experience with our ears and minds an echo of the harmony that is at the heart of the life of God.
Now, here’s a slightly odd thing. You may know that you hear sounds because sounds are vibrations that cause your ear drums to vibrate, and then some tiny bones in your ears vibrate, and those vibrations are converted into electrical signals that are sent to your brain. But it all starts with something vibrating, either the string on a musical instrument, or the vocal chords and air cavities in a person’s body, or (in the case of a pipe organ) a column of air held in each of the pipes.
When I sing a sound, I’m causing parts of your ears to vibrate. And when when people sing together, especially when we sing beautifully written music beautifully — harmoniously — we cause each other to experience that harmony together. We serve each other with beauty. God has made the world of sound and the way our bodies work so that in singing together, we come to experience what it means that we are in fact as the Church one body.
I think this experience of harmony — of the sound of love — is one reason why the people of God have always used and will always use musical harmony to teach and to express praise together. St. Paul talks about teaching and admonishing with songs (admonishing means giving guidance about how we should live). So once again, as we did in Psalm 19 yesterday, we can see in these verses of the Bible that truth, goodness, and beauty belong together. Teaching, admonishing, and harmoniously singing.