Wild Air

“Let all mortal flesh keep silence, / And with fear and trembling stand. / Ponder nothing earthly-minded, / For with blesssing in His hand, / Christ our God to earth descendeth / Our full homage to demand.”

The words seem oddly out of place in a world that rejects the very concept of God, yet wants to be buddy-buddy with Jesus.   I always play the first stanza of this great and ancient hymn full organ.   It is music to sweep away earthly thoughts and to replace them with mystical glory.

The mysticism is jarring, as perhaps it should be.   In discovering many of nature’s secrets, our culture has decided that our world is ultimately understandable, and that we don’t need a Creator God.   In much the same way, we don’t need  ultimate Truth or ultimate Law to guide humanity.   All we need is to be nice to each other and to respect each other.   (How nice.)   We look to God only for personal support because the  only aspect of our lives that we don’t think we understand, after, all is our inner selves.  

So, many of our churches have abandoned the unknowable for the comfortable.  

There is a well-known modern painting of Jesus.   We’ve all seen it.   Instead of  an internally-lighted Christ standing at the door and knocking, or the mighty and mystical God  of the Sistine Chapel bestowing  the gift of life to mankind,  this painting depicts a young, virile Jesus with an open, friendly smile.   It is this very appealing (and very real) aspect of God that many churches have embraced, sometimes to the exclusion of the God described in a later stanza of the same hymn:

At His feet the six-winged Seraph, / Cherubim with sleepless eye, / Veil their faces to the Presence,  / As with ceaseless voice they cry, /Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia Lord Most High!

In many churches, music mighty and mystical has been replaced with music mundane.    

So, how has our abandonment of the God of  cherubim and seraphim served us?   We know more about the universe than we once knew, certainly.   But  each expansion of knowledge has  simply pushed the outer boundary of the knowable a  bit farther out.   The more we know, the more we know we don’t know.  

Cherubim and Seraphim just aren’t warm and fuzzy.   Thinking of Jesus as our “bud” is.   But the problem is we NEED a God that is bigger than we are.   We NEED a God we CAN’T understand.   Only a God we CAN’T understand can understand what WE don’t understand.   Understand?

Which brings us to music in the church.   Of course we need “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” or “Our God is an Awesome God.”   These are sentiments (and I use the word intentionally) we can understand.   But music should take us places we can’t understand.   It should provide a voice for the Word of God.   It is not a toy.   It is not a drug.   It is God speaking.  

“For the wonders that astound us,/For the truths that still confound us,/Most of all that Love has found us,/Thanks be to God!

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