Hijacked by a Hymn
Today I watched a man get hijacked by a hymn. A man from our church, who is a retired music professor and church musician, is teaching two back-to-back Adult Sunday School classes on the hymns of Lent and Palm Sunday. We sat down together earlier this week to look at which hymns he would introduce: old familiar hymns, old hymns set to different tunes, new hymns, and then just some great texts. We had about 50 adults in the sanctuary, young and old, having fun singing under his capable leadership.
Then he stopped mid-way in the class to give some background information on a 17th century English hymn writer, Samuel Crossman. This hymn, he said, will not be sung, but read. The poetic lines are so strong and powerful, that he asked Dr. Paul Willis, English Professor at Westmont College, to read the text of: "My Song Is Love Unknown".
There is little more powerful than to hear a man of letters read text. Paul read the entire hymn, not with drama or force, but in a cadence and style that allowed the words to swirl around and fill the room with devotional fragrance. The text of stanza one went like this:
"MY SONG IS LOVE UNKNOWN, MY SAVIOR'S LOVE FOR ME;
LOVE TO THE LOVELESS SHOWN THAT THEY MIGHT LOVELY BE:
BUT WHO AM I, THAT FOR MY SAKE
MY LORD SHOULD TAKE FRAIL FLESH AND DIE?"
That is just the first of six stanzas. When Paul was done reading, the teacher, sitting in front of me, did not move. For maybe 15 to 30 seconds, he just sat there. Then standing, facing us, his eyes were red and filled with tears. Slowly, haltingly, he read again the first stanza. He'd been hijacked by the sheer pwoer of the text of this old hymn. For 342 years this hymn has been hijacking believers with the power of Christ's gift of his life for us. Would that I could be hijacked more often by great hymns and songs, old and new.