Make Music to the Lord
By the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, June 6, 1999

Readings

Psalm 33:1-11, 20-22 Sing joyfully to the Lord

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
It is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the Lord with the harp;
Make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
Play skillfully, and shout for joy.
For the word of the Lord is right and true;
He is faithful in all he does.
The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
The earth is full of his unfailing love.

By the word of the Lord were the heavens made,
Their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
He gathers the waters of the sea into jars;
He puts the deep into storehouses.
Let all the earth honor the Lord;
Let all the people of the world revere him.
For he spoke, and it came to be
He commanded, and it stood firm.
The Lord foils the plans of the nations;
He thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever,
The purposes of his heart through all generations....

We wait in hope for the Lord;
He is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
For we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord,
Even as we put our hope in you.

Revelation 15:2-4 A song of praise to the Lord

And I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name. They held harps given them by God and sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb:

Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways, King of the ages.
Who will not honor you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship before you,
For your righteous acts have been revealed.


Arcana Coelestia #8337.2 Music and spirit

It is well-known that some types of musical instruments are used to express one kind of natural emotion, and other types to express other kinds--and that when an appropriate melody is played, it actually does stir our emotions. Skilled musicians know all about this, and make good use of it.

This comes from very nature of sound, and its connection with our emotions. Humans first learned about music, not from science and art, but through the ear and its sharp sense of hearing. So it is clear that our musical ability does not come from the natural world, but from the spiritual world. It comes from the correspondences of things in the natural world with things in the spiritual world, which flow into them in an orderly pattern.

Musical harmonies in their various forms correspond to states of joy and gladness in the spiritual world. And states of joy and gladness there spring from people's loves--which in that world are loves for what is good and true. So we can understand that musical instruments correspond to the joys and pleasures that go with spiritual and heavenly emotions.

Sermon

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love. (Psalm 33:1-5)

Last weekend I had the pleasure of being on staff for the Memorial Day Youth Retreat co-sponsored by the Swedenborgian Church Youth League (national) and our Youth League here in Bridgewater. Thirty-three young people and staff gathered at Blairhaven Retreat Center on Kingston Bay for a weekend focusing on the topic, "Music and Spirituality." There were a lot of people there, a lot of energy, and, of course, a lot of music!

Today we end our regular church year on an upbeat note (excuse the pun!) by focusing our service on music, spirit, and, of course the Lord. I would like to thank our special musicians today: Patty Woofenden on flute and Ted Foster on piano and organ. Music isn't something we can just talk about. Music is something we have to experience!

In fact, as Swedenborg points out in our reading from Arcana Coelestia, music did not come from some scientific study of the effect of tones and rhythms on human beings. Nor did it come from a conscious effort to create a musical art form. Both science and art can help us to develop our music. But even today, when science and art have progressed to an impressive level, the inspiration for practically all music still comes directly from the human heart, and is guided primarily by the human ear.

This is another way of saying that music is an expression of our spirit. Music expresses the feelings in our souls--both positive and negative--and communicates those feelings in a way that can stir the same feelings in others. Instrumental music, especially, is almost pure feeling, with only the structure of the music to add an element of human thought processes; whereas vocal music combines the thought and poetry of words with the emotions of melodies and harmonies.

In other words, music "corresponds" to the deeper songs of our hearts and minds. This is not a mere mechanical symbolism, but a genuine correspondence: the music is an actual expression in outward form of the deeper feelings and thoughts within us. We do not have to be trained in music theory to know when a piece expresses happiness or sadness, grief or joy, exultation in victory or the crush of defeat. These feelings are right in the music, and they stir the same feelings in us when we hear the music--if we are in a state of mind that can be receptive to those feelings.

Yet Swedenborg brings us even deeper than seeing music as an expression of our inner loves and emotions. In a step upward, he ties music specifically to our spiritual loves:

Musical harmonies in their various forms correspond to states of joy and gladness in the spiritual world. And states of joy and gladness there spring from people's loves--which in that world are loves for what is good and true. So we can understand that musical instruments correspond to the joys and pleasures that go with spiritual and heavenly emotions. (Arcana Coelestia #8337.2)

Of course, not all music stirs in us the joys and pleasures of spiritual and heavenly emotions. Some music expresses just the opposite. Music does have the ability to carry us downward into the entanglements of physical pleasures separated from their spiritual source, and also into black states of hopelessness and despair. But these types of music represent a corruption of the musical art, and not its higher origins.

The greatest pieces in all types of music--classical, folk, rock, and so on--are those that reach up toward the spiritual level of existence. They are the pieces that lift the human soul to the spiritual and heavenly emotions of love for one another, of joy and satisfaction in making others happy, and especially, the greatest pieces of music are the ones that lift the human soul to God. In another place Swedenborg writes:

When the religious people of ancient times gave glory to the Lord, they did it through songs, psalms, and various kinds of musical instruments. They experienced a joy surpassing all other joys when they called to mind the Lord's coming and his saving of the human race. (Arcana Coelestia #8261.3)

It is no accident that the greatest and best-loved music of all times is the music that expresses the supreme joy of the Lord's coming into our world and into our lives. Here in this church, we have over four times our regular church attendance at our Christmas Eve service. Why? Well, the sermon is shorter that evening. . . . But mainly, we come to church in throngs on Christmas Eve to experience the joy of the Lord's coming into the world. And on that evening we experience the Lord's coming, not only through words that touch our minds, but through the wonderful music of Christmas--those favorite songs and carols that touch the deepest chords of our soul. This is the joy that is expressed in the thirty-third Psalm:

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
It is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the Lord with the harp;
Make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
Play skillfully, and shout for joy.
For the word of the Lord is right and true;
He is faithful in all he does.
The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
The earth is full of his unfailing love.

We are all here in church because have felt the Lord's unfailing love during the course of our lives. Or perhaps we are here because at the deepest level of our soul, we long to feel the Lord's unfailing love. As we contemplate the struggles and the pain in our own lives and in the world around us, we also long to have our lives and our world filled with the righteousness and justice that the Lord loves. And we know that our world will be filled with the love and justice of the Lord only when, as it says in the Book of Revelation, all nations come and worship before the Lord (Revelation 15:4).

Here in this church we have many reasons to sing joyfully to the Lord and shout for joy. The Lord has carried our church through a year of growth for our building, for our programs, for our numbers, and especially for our spirits! We as a congregation have put in a lot of work to bring our church to where it is today. Yet we know that without the Lord's presence in this congregation, we could accomplish nothing at all.

It is good to end our church year with music. It is the music of praise to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, from whom all joy and blessings come. Let us offer our gifts to the Lord with joy, and go out from the Lord's house with a song of praise in our hearts. Amen.

Music: The Meadow
1999 Bruce DeBoer