Christian Hymns: For Church, School and Home was published by the Norwegian Synod in 1898. The title is a good reminder that the hymnbook is not simply for use on Sunday mornings in church, but is a welcome companion also at school and at home.
In the opening prayer of our liturgy (Rite One), we ask God to open our hearts by His Holy Spirit “that through the preaching of His Word we may be taught to repent of our sins, to believe on Jesus in life and death, and to grow day by day in grace and holiness.” The hymnbook is a useful resource for that daily growth.
Home: The Catechism encourages us to begin and end each day with prayer and devotion, using Luther’s Morning and Evening prayers: “I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son…” Just as the Sunday sermon should not be just a little pep talk that we forget the rest of the week, the hymns we sing and the liturgy we pray can encourage us in our daily Christian life. Sometimes the words are directly from the Bible. Sometimes they are Scriptural truths, recited or sung in poetic language. Regularly singing strong hymns, especially our Lutheran chorales, will impress those truths into our memories. Children love to sing, even hymns that some people consider “too hard.” In the preface to the Lutheran Hymnary, Junior, in 1916, our forefathers wrote:
The songs of childhood should be essentially of the same character as the songs of maturity.… Old age delights in the songs learned in childhood.… The songs of Lutheran children and youth should be essentially from Lutheran sources. The Lutheran Church is especially rich in songs and hymns of sound doctrine, high poetical value and fitting musical setting. They express the teachings and spirit of the Lutheran Church and help one to feel at home in this Church. … We should teach our children to remain in the Lutheran Church instead of to sing themselves into some Reformed sect.
Many people pray at mealtimes. At home, it would be easy to add a hymn to that prayer. Hymns 599-601 in ELH are table prayer hymns. Our ELH is arranged so we can review various hymns each Sunday and not just our favorite few. At mealtimes, we can use the Office of Prime or Compline (page 108 or 128) and review the Small Catechism (page 31).
Morning and evening prayers for daily and weekly use are included in the Hymnary (pages 167-171) as well as prayers for worship (page 40). The Litany and Suffrages are beautiful and traditional prayers that cover many circumstances of life (pages 137-141).
Psalms have been prayers of the believers at least since the time of Moses. They express every human emotion and situation. They teach us to pray in church and at home. Praying one psalm a day, a part of a longer psalm, or the whole psalter in a month (page 195) is a beneficial exercise. Or take one hymn a week to pray and meditate.
School: The hymnbook has a role in Lutheran schools and homeschools and in Sunday School. Opening with a prayer and a hymn, a Psalm, or part of the Sunday liturgy helps children learn and review what we do in the church service. It helps to welcome them into the communion of saints.
We can learn church history by studying various hymns or hymnwriters in their various eras of history. One can ask: Why do O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and O Lord, We Praise Thee and Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow and This Is the Feast sound so different from each other? What caused Paul Gerhardt to write Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me? Much about Christian doctrine and history and Christian life can be learned by studying these hymns and the life and work of various hymnwriters.
Children love rhyme and learn it more quickly than we think. Even in my college classroom, I often use a Scripture passage or song to begin each class for a month at a time. Rather than assigning the memorization, it just happens through the frequent recitation.
Church: The hymnbook is for the choir as well as the congregation. The choir can sing hymn settings by Bach, Psalms, or parts of the liturgy in elaborate or simple forms. This can add a beautiful color and variety to the service and gives the congregation a chance to listen. In many places, the congregation already sings in four-part harmony.
When is the last time your congregation sang an unfamiliar hymn? The choir can help us learn hymns that are less familiar in a particular congregation. How many hymns can be “new to us” that are already in our hymnbook?
In liturgy and hymns, we sing words that come from Moses, David, Solomon, Simeon, Mary, and the angels (Glory to God in the highest). “To sing is to pray twice.” This saying is attributed to St. Augustine. Even if we don’t “sing” a hymn out loud, the poetic form gives us a different way to see and hear and pray the divine truth of Scripture.
Psalms, Prime, and Compline are fitting devotions for church meetings. Reviewing the Catechism and the Augsburg Confession keeps the teachings of the church always before us.
Want to learn more? els.org/resources/worship is very helpful. Hymnary.org has gathered information about hymns and hymnwriters from many sources. There you can find full texts of many hymns and their original forms, as well as helpful older books like Hymns and Hymnwriters of Denmark by J. C. Aaberg, and The Story of Our Hymns by E. E. Ryden. The Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal by W. Pollack and Library of Christian Hymns by John Dahle were companions to The Lutheran Hymnal and the Lutheran Hymnary, the predecessors of ELH, and are helpful if you can find a used copy.
Concordia Publishing House has recently published a very extensive resource. Lutheran Service Book: Companion to the Hymns has thorough research on many hymns and hymnwriters found in Lutheran hymnbooks.
Pray, Praise, and Give Thanks. Alongside our Bible, the hymnbook is a way for us to read and pray God’s Word each day. Through this proclamation of God’s Holy Word, we are taught to “repent of our sins, to believe on Jesus in life and death, and to grow day by day in grace and holiness.” We learn to love God with all our heart and soul and mind; to pray, praise, and give thanks; to hold His Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it; and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
The hymnbook can be our comfort and companion when we are sick, homebound or in difficult times of life. When our memories fail us in old age or through disease, the words we learned in childhood will remain with us. In such times, we might not be able to maintain a conversation, but the pastor or family and friends can comfort us with the Lord’s Prayer or by singing a hymn. We may even be able to join in.
In song and faith, we praise our Maker, Redeemer, and Comforter, who has washed and cleansed us in Holy Baptism, who invites us to pray to Him, who feeds us with His body and blood given into death for our sins, who will raise us to sing in the choirs of heaven.
Lift up the voice and strike the string,
Let all glad sounds of music ring
In God’s high praises blended.
Christ will be with me all the way,
Today, tomorrow, every day,
Till trav’ling days be ended.
Praise the God of your salvation.
(Philip Nicolai, 1597; ELH 167:6)