There were some wonderful hymns written long before the 1940 edition of The Broadman Hymnal. Many more have been written since. But that old green hymnal that I grew up with remains my favorite.
William Cross and I began attending Harmony Baptist Church before we were born in 1952. A few years later we were both enthusiastically singing along with the congregation. What we may have lacked in tone we made up for in volume. There were a few gifted singers among the members, but what I remember most is the joyful noise of people singing familiar hymns with vigor like they meant it.
I have one of those hymnals at home. Most of the time it’s relegated to a silent role of filling a space on a bookshelf. It got a brief reprieve recently when Megan, one of our grandchildren, came to visit Jane and me. She’s 12 and enjoys playing the piano. In addition to reading music she has learned a few chords and can play some by ear. I was searching for something that we could play together when I turned to ”Bringing In the Sheaves.”
My singing is nothing exceptional, but it was good enough for the two of us. I gave it my best shot while playing on the lower keys. Megan added some chords and accent notes on the upper part of the piano. It had been a long time since I had played or sung that hymn. It was like finding an old friend that you haven’t kept in touch with.
I flipped a few pages back to “Praise Him! Praise Him!” That Fanny J. Crosby sure had a gift for lyrics. She could say in a few lines enough to make a good sermon. She never accumulated much wealth, but I believe her royalties are coming in bountifully every day now.
“Love Lifted Me” is where we stopped next. It’s nice when you sing all three verses and you wish there was a fourth. It’s one of those songs that’s so much fun to sing you wouldn’t mind running through it again at the end. I expect the chorus has been repeated a few times after the congregation thought they were about to sit down.
“Sweet By and By” gives both the ladies and the men a chance to shine with a delightful blending of all four parts. When we were singing that hymn back at Harmony, I had no doubt that one day we would all “meet on that beautiful shore.” Good music can help keep us on course toward that best of all destinations.
We then skipped over to “Sweeter Than the Day Before.” I had forgotten there is only one verse to that hymn, but what a powerful verse it is. It was good to be reminded that the message of the gospel is simple. There’s nothing wrong with delving into theology, but sometimes I think we’ve drifted too far from the basics. If our theology is on the right track, then “every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before.”
“Jesus Loves the Little Children” was a childhood staple. I think the words were changed at some point so that no one would be offended by describing children as, “Red and yellow, black and white.” That’s fine with me. We sure don’t want to offend someone while trying to let them know that Jesus’ love is colorblind. It’s a simple message that’s easy to sing but much harder to live.
Our final duet for the evening was “Praise Him, All Ye Little Children.” In just a half page an unknown author encourages us to praise, love, and thank God, and reminds us that “God is love.” I haven’t heard that song in ages, and I’m not sure why.
We ran out of time before we scratched the surface of the countless standards that are almost forgotten. There are excellent choices in music today, but I hope we don’t lose track of those many great songs of the past.
When Megan comes again we’ll probably get that hymnal out for another session. The only thing about taking that old green Broadman off the shelf is that it’s so hard to put it back. There are a lot of good hymns lingering in unplanned silence that are begging to be sung.