A hymnal is a collection of songs meant to worship or praise God, or express His relationship in human affairs. Hymns growing up as a child were just songs we had to sing before the minister got up to preach. “Jesus loves me this I know” was the first song I remember learning. It was a cute, simple tune. The congregation often smiled in approval, and an occasional “Amen” could be heard if we got it just right. As I grew up I thought it was too cute to be sung by anyone.
As we grew older, we sung songs like “A Mighty Fortress“, “Rock of Ages” and “Blessed Assurance.” I often thought why sing these old songs, doesn’t the preacher know anything modern? Sunday after Sunday, we pulled out those hymn books, and turn to a page and begin singing as a church-one song-one voice. Expressions on the faces were mixed. Some smiles, tears, blank or disinterested looks. I’m sure at times my face projected these same looks. It was the words that struck me though. Where did they come from, who wrote them and why? It wasn’t until I got older and been through the storms of life, faced my fair share of challenges, gone down in defeat, battled the enemy, and felt the precious hand of Jesus did those old hymns become real to me.
Finally I understood. Words to a song like “Amazing Grace” meant something. These were expressions of love; of thanksgiving; of hope; of desperation; of grief and sorrow, frank and earnest conversations with Our Father which Art in Heaven. And more importantly when sung now, within a community of believers, words such as “saved a wretch like me” are more profound. Now when we sing them, we (the community of believers) become the hymnal. We’re the praise, the thanksgiving, the love song to God.
Look at the pages of any current or past hymnal, and we are there, on every page and in every note praising God from whom all blessings flow with every song of tragedy, triumph, hope and redemption. Yes, hymnal are a collection of songs, but as time passes they become so much more and so do we.