I had a professor in college who, one day, stood up in front of class and exclaimed, “Those Lutherans! And their hymns! You walk into any Lutheran church in Europe and it’s just ‘A Mighty Fortress’ all over the place.”
I tried not to get defensive because ‘A Mighty Fortress’ is a jam (even with it’s sometimes-questionable theological stances). Also, a couple weeks after my prof said that, my friend went to Europe (after losing his passport in the mail and causing a kerfuffle, but that is neither here nor there) and when he came back told me that yeah, European Lutheran churches are all Mighty Fortress’d out. But that just made me wonder more–what is it about music, and hymns, that are so important to Lutherans? Why does it have the presence it does in our worship services?
Even working at a summer camp, songs were how we really taught kids scripture. Songs were what, when I encountered other Lutheran camp counselors, we shared and compared. I remember singing ‘Blind Man’ once with counselors from five other camps and we had five different ways to sing it. We didn’t care. Lutherans love their music.
(Seen here: crazy camp Lutherans singing for fun after an hour long song-a-thon)
But why, Sophie, do Lutherans love their music? What, Sophie, is the point of this article? Well, I don’t know if you knew this, but I am all about the hot takes. And the hot take here is this: through music, Lutherans experience a spirituality and a connectedness with the spirit of the trinity that is missing elsewhere in Lutheran worship.
Martin Luther once said, “next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.”
It is through music that Lutherans allow themselves some way of experiencing the Holy Spirit. We are, traditionally, a bunch of Germans and Scandinavians. We can trace our roots back to farmers, which means, generally, we are realists. We want to know why and how and who. We don’t get caught up in a bunch of stuff we can’t see. The Holy Spirit, more so than God or Jesus, seems like something we cannot see or even really understand.
But music changes that. There’s a feeling, deep in your bones, that happens when everyone is singing (yes, even if they’re singing A Mighty Fortress). More than any other part of worship, it is when a congregation sings that we become a collective whole, when we become the church.
Music equalizes us. We are all a part of the joyful noise, and no one voice is greater. Music moves through us, it fills the senses—the vibrations and sounds and bad breath of your pew neighbors—much like the Holy Spirit.
So perhaps Lutherans like music because it allows us to access something that so often, our heads refuse to let us feel. Perhaps we like music because we all suck at singing, and at least in a choir, nobody can really pick us out. Perhaps we like music because 500 years ago, Martin Luther was like “music is super important,” and so we just went with it. But I think we like music so much because it fills us in a way that scripture, sermon, and prayer cannot. Music is scripture and prayer and sermon, but it is spirit too. It is something that we start life with and end life with, and by incorporating music into our services, it becomes a way to live our lives as well.