Singing on September 11

As worship planners, you consider multiple threads when weaving together assembly song: scripture, season of the church year, congregational life, world events, and more. A hymn might be especially relevant to the lectionary texts, but is unfamiliar to the congregation. A celebratory hymn might have been planned, but then unexpected disaster shakes the community. It takes clarity, wisdom, and sensitivity to make the best choices in each circumstance for each context.

A prime example of weaving together these many threads occurs next month, as the fifteenth anniversary of September 11 falls on a Sunday. sundaysandseasons.com and Prelude Music Planner offer hymn suggestions for Proper 24 and Holy Cross Day, two possibilities for scripture texts. Sundays and Seasons also offers guidance on the juxtaposition of September 11 to Lectionary 24 (see p. 278 of the print edition).

The themes present in both Lectionary 24 and Holy Cross Day offer much richness paired with the remembrance of September 11. Psalm 51 is a cry for hearts continually made new set next to the Gospel promise that God will find the lost. The cross stands as healing for the nations, a sign of God’s suffering in love for the world. These texts are certainly a strong starting point for your hymn choices, but what other themes or threads could play a role?

Lament

While September 11 is a past event, we continue to lament the loss of human life from terrorism and violence. Consider using a hymn from the lament section of ELW, perhaps especially “Bring Peace to Earth Again” (700) or “Once We Sang and Danced” based on Psalm 137 (701).

Healing

We tend to think of healing as an individual rite, yet on this national anniversary, we can cry out for healing in a larger sense, for our communities and our world. Consider using “For the Healing of the Nations” from Singing Our Prayer or hymns “In All Our Grief” (615) or “Healer of Our Every Ill” (612).

Protection

We trust that in all times and places, God holds us in protecting care. Hymns such as “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” (632), “By Gracious Powers (626) or “If You But Trust in God to Guide You” (769) convey this, as do many others.

Many of our hymns contain imagery of Christ as our foundation, that in the midst of crumbling walls and temples, Christ’s power holds firm (see ELW 727, 757, 796, for example). Congregations will have to decide if this metaphor is the right one for this day. While meant as metaphor, singing such imagery on the anniversary of buildings being destroyed might veer in a literalistic direction.

Service and Justice

Many congregations will also observe “God’s Work. Our Hands.” Sunday on September 11, which brings another layer for consideration. We remember by doing, by living in service to the neighbor. The ELCA website offers worship and hymn suggestions for this day.

It might be tempting on September 11 to focus inward, yet the connection of this anniversary with a day of service directs our energy outward, much like those who risked their lives to care for their neighbors. Hymns such as “Goodness Is Stronger than Evil” (721), “Let Streams of Living Justice” (710) and “This Is My Song” (887) direct our song in remembrance of God’s reign of justice and peace for all.

Sing for Now

As you plan or refine plans already made, remember that worship calls us to remember the Spirit of Christ at work in the world now. Grieve as needed in your particular context; be united with the communion of saints of all time. Yet sing in hope and longing for God’s present and future work of mercy and resurrection.

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Jennifer Baker-Trinity

Jennifer Baker-Trinity is a church musician and Associate in Ministry who has served congregations in Illinois, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. She has been a regular contributor to Sundays and Seasons (Prayers of Intercession, Hymns for Worship) and has authored Soli Deo Gloria: Choir Devotions for Year B (Augsburg Fortress, 2011). She leads assembly song at Beaver Lutheran Church (Beaver Springs, PA) and lives with her spouse and three children in Middleburg, Pennsylvania.

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