We heard a fantastic range of music for All Saints Sunday. Mary's vocal prelude ("Angels, Bright and Fair" by Handel) helped create a contemplative mood in memory and honor of departed family and friends. But the choir's anthem went in a completely different direction. Rather than mourning our loss, the text of "I'm Glory Bound" focused on the joy of new life for our loved ones, even singing Hallelujah in a piece of music that is still appropriate for such a service of remembrance.
These two musical styles couldn't be more distinct, but they reflect the dichotomy in funeral customs. It's reflected in the difference between sitting shiva and dancing in a New Orleans jazz funeral parade. Individuals and cultures all have their own practices and musical styles, and there is room for them all. We added our own ELCA point of view by singing "I Know That My Redeemer Lives" (all 8 verses) during communion.
Appropriately for this discussion, my grandma sent me a news clipping from the St. Paul Pioneer Press that made me laugh. I'll share the gist of its story here, which summarized the difference between hymns and praise music:
An old farmer attended church one Sunday and returned home to tell his wife that they had sung praise songs instead of hymns. "What's the difference?" she asked. He replied, "If I say to you: 'Martha, the cows are in the corn,' that would be a hymn. But if I were to say: 'Martha, Martha, Martha, Oh Martha, the cows, the big cows, the brown cows, the black cows, COWS, are in the corn, the corn, the corn, corn, CORN' and then repeat the whole thing two or three times, that would be a praise song."
The next week the woman's young nephew was visiting, attended church, and returned home to report that they sang hymns instead of his usual praise songs. Once again, the woman asked for the difference. The boy explained, "If I said: 'Martha, the cows are in the corn,' that would be a regular praise song. But if I were to say instead:
"Oh Martha, dear Martha,
Hear thou my cry
Inclinest thine ear to the words of my mouth
Turn thou thy whole wondrous ear by and by
To the righteous inimitable glorious truth..."
and go on like that for about four more verses, and then only sing verses one and four, with a key change and organ interlude in between, that would be a hymn."
I couldn't describe the difference between Glory Bound and our communion hymn any better than that!