Preparing for Worship – Darren Dement, associate pastor.
Have you ever wondered what makes a hymn a hymn? I poked around a bit on the internet this week to see if I could get a nice, concise answer, and, not surprisingly, I couldn’t.
As you might imagine, there are plenty of opinions offered by plenty of people about what makes a hymn a hymn. Some opinions seem to be fueled by a need to defend hymns against more modern praise music. In this case you may find people claiming that there needs to be certain depth of theology or beauty to the words in order for a song to qualify as a hymn. Other opinions seem to be more fueled by denigrating hymns as old or outdated. Here you may find people saying that if it has a plodding tempo or can be found in a stuffy, hardbound book, then you’ve got yourself a hymn.
That’s not to say there isn’t any consensus on what makes a hymn a hymn. It is commonly understood that the word hymn comes from the Greek hymnos, which means “song of praise.” It is widely accepted that hymns have existed in many different civilizations and cultures throughout history. There are even some accepted musical and structural standards that people use to differentiate a hymn from other types of songs. But the reality is, there doesn’t seem to be a universal understanding of what makes a hymn a hymn.
But, there was one common idea I noticed among all the various opinions and thoughts I found about what makes a hymn a hymn, and it is this: hymns are meant to be sung together. There is something about the communal aspect of singing together that is at the essence of what makes a song a hymn. There is a congregational element that is more important than tempo or structure or notation or even lyrical content. It’s not about whether a song is old or new or what kind of instrument it is played on or if it’s printed in a book or on a screen. Hymns bring people together and create a shared experience that makes them unique from other song forms.
May we feel that type of connection to each other and to God in our singing this morning.