Emily Brink’s article (p. 18) reminds me of a time almost three decades ago when synod, the annual leadership meeting of our denomination, had to ratify the predecessor to our new songbook (Lift Up Your Hearts). That was the “grey Psalter Hymnal” many of us still have in the pew or up on our screens. Back then, synods did more micromanaging. As a delegate I was assigned to the advisory committee that was to propose to synod what it should do with each and every hymn in the book. It was the most edifying committee I’ve ever served on. We sang our whole way through the entire hymn section, noting which songs we thought needed revision, a thumbs up, or a thumbs down.
The most difficult decision, one we debated endlessly, was whether or not to advise synod to include a perennial favorite hymn, “I Serve a Risen Savior.” Throughout the process the song had been included, tossed out, reintroduced, and tossed out again. Reason? The closing line in the refrain goes like this: “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.” That line was perceived by many to be subjectivistic, basing our belief in the resurrection on our own (subjective) experience rather than on the (objective) Word of God that clearly tells us that Jesus rose. Others argued that the hymn does not actually deny the importance of the objective truth of Scripture, but that it merely highlights the reality that the Holy Spirit also confirms the truth of the resurrection in our personal experience (our “hearts”). But, of course, the song doesn’t actually say that.
The advisory committee finally agreed that subjectivism in our times is enough of a threat that synod should toss the song out.
What happened when that recommendation actually hit the floor is my all-time favorite synod moment. Our reporter, Rev. Roger Kok, dutifully moved to have synod drop “I Serve a Risen Savior” from the proposed hymnal. After some back and forth debate, it seemed clear that the grey hymnal would be lighter by at least one song. Then an elderly delegate took the microphone and gently asked: “Mister chairman, before we ditch this song can we at least sing it?” The chair shrugged his shoulders and said, “Why not?” Emily Brink sat down at the pipe organ and led the body in such a thrilling, soul-stirring singing of “I Serve a Risen Savior” that it nearly brought down the thousand ceiling lights in Calvin College’s Fine Arts Center.
Roger Kok, clearly a veteran reporter, spied the writing on the wall well before the echoes of “He lives within my heart” had died away. He vigorously waved his white handkerchief in surrender. The rest is history: “I Serve a Risen Savior” went on to be a favorite in the grey hymnal and has been adopted with nary a peep of protest in Lift Up Your Hearts.
As long as the Holy Spirit still finds ways through and around our “due process,” I have hope for our church. Like brother Kok, may those among us who have ears to hear, hear. And may the rest of us receive the grace to listen to them.
Enjoyed this article?
Don’t miss this week’s must-read articles:
- Tell A Better Story
- ‘Rebirth’ for a Wisconsin Church
- Book review: A Church Called Tov, by Laura Barringer and Scot McKnight