Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Song the Angels Can’t Sing

Once upon a time, when my husband and I were courting, I had this strong urge – yes, courting couples have to deal with strong urges. I had the urge to serenade my husband.

Late one night, with a moon shining overhead I wanted to stand beneath his bedroom window (or beside it seeing as he lived in a bungalow) and sing a love song. If I had been able to play any musical instrument, I might have given into the urge but as it was I wasn’t sure that I could convince a guitar playing friend to help out. Well, let’s be honest here, I think she would have been more than up for it as she was a romantic at heart. I am not always as courageous as I would like to be. I find it hard to get beyond the people-will-laugh-at-me stage.

I regret not doing it. There are just some things you need to do just because the moment will never come again. Some events, like falling in love, just need to be marked. I know that it is supposed to be the man that does the serenading – but it would never have occurred to Joe to so something like that. I wouldn’t claim to have a pitch perfect singing voice so perhaps it was all for the best.

I picked up a book in the sale at our local Christian bookshop - “Beyond Amazing Grace”.

My knowledge of John Newton who wrote Amazing Grace is very limited. I knew that he was a captain of a slave ship and he had an encounter with God that changed him. The film of the same title follows the life of William Willberforce. John Newton is there, in the film, barefoot and mopping the church floor saying, “I was blind but now I see.” I didn’t realise that he had written scores of other hymns.

The book is a collection of his hymns, extracts from letters and sermons. One section of a book has the heading “Songs angels cannot sing.” There is some debate about whether angels can sing at all. One person said that seeing as angels do not have physical bodies they wouldn’t have vocal chords so they can’t sing. Another scholar looked carefully at some of the references in the Bible where we think they are singing and the word in the sentences is “say” or “shout”. Another scholar pointed out that in Western Churches saying is simply just that – saying. In Eastern Churches saying is not really saying at all but singing or chanting. The liturgy of a church service is sung.

One of my favourite verses, which isn’t about angels singing, but God singing is Zephaniah 3:17

“The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

It seems to me that a God who sings will surround himself with others who sing. In Ephesians 5:19 we are encouraged to follow in our Father’s footsteps:

“speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.”

Poetry and song writing are not entirely unconnected. I can write poetry. What is a song without music but a poem? What is a poem but a song waiting to be put to music? Just what songs are the angels singing? Here’s what the song the shepherds heard.

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
(Luke 2:14)

St John heard a different song in his vision of heaven while on the island of Patmos.

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honour and glory and praise!”
(Rev 5:12)

The song the angels cannot sing is the Song of the Redeemed.

“Those the LORD has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away." (Isaiah 51:10-12

When the angels fell from heaven led by Lucifer there were no second chances – no chance to repent. They had no excuse to turn away from God. They are not rescued by God and restored. Those that never fell had nothing to be rescued from. They can sing about God’s salvation, but is not a song born out of their experience.

Just because they can’t sing it doesn’t mean that they don’t love to hear it when it’s sung. I can imagine that when Paul and Silas began singing the Song of the Redeemed in the Philippian jail angels turned their heads to listen. Maybe they leaned against the walls of the jail as they listened. Maybe it was all the angels leaning on the walls of the prison that brought them down!

I wonder how often the angels hear the Song of the Redeemed. I am not sure that Christians today are singing it as loudly and as lustily as they should. If we sing it at all, it’s under our breath, perhaps just quietly hummed. More likely the songs that we sing are dirges and laments. We more often complain and grizzle about our hard lives and our trials. It’s not a song that lures the angels to listen and join in.

The absence of the Song of the Redeemed – if Paul and Silas had kept silent in the prison, or if their song had been one of complaint, chains would not have fallen off, prison walls would not have tumbled down.

The Song of the Redeemed is a powerful song. More things happen than just music filling the air and people exercising their lungs. Chains fall off, prison walls collapse…but too often they remain intact because the redeemed don’t sing anymore. They sing with their lips, perhaps, but the Song of the Redeemed gets its power from the heart and the spirit. It’s a declaration of God’s salvation – not as a done deed gathering dust on a shelf somewhere but as an ever-present, dynamic reality.

Get singing!

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