As I thought about it, I noticed that there is something both charming and a little embarrassing about this song for me. Its galloping rhythm, soaring enthusiasm, and awkward word choices feel so dated to me now. But I have to laugh when I say that, as the church we attend regularly worships with hymns from the 17th, 18th and 19th century! In the midst of all this ancient music, why does a song from 1933 sound both so old and so odd to my ears?
My ponderings reminded me that we often value worship music in terms of personal preference: what we like and what we don’t like. Many churches have completely different services each week just to meet varying tastes in music. They run from traditional services with choirs and organs honoring the tried and true, to contemporary services with guitars and amplifiers trying out the latest and greatest. We are drawn to what is most pleasing to our ears, and unfortunately, sometimes disparage the other forms of worship as “less than” our preference.
It’s sad to me that this can be such a divisive issue, but I understand why. Music is a powerful way to engage our minds and hearts in the worship of God. Music that sounds pleasing and inviting can help us feel closer to the Lord, just as grating or uncomfortable music can distract us from that intimate connection.
However, singing the song “He Lives” yesterday reminded me that the music of the church isn’t just for my personal edification; it’s for all of us. Our worship is a gift from the Body of Christ to the Body of Christ, just as much as it is a gift to God. Each generation and each culture finds new ways to express their love for our Savior and their devotion to Him. If we stop and really listen as we sing—particularly to what sounds foreign or different to us—we might be able to hear the voices of those who have come before us (or those who are coming up after us) as our brothers and sisters in Christ, both throughout time and around the world.
I may have personal memories of singing “He Lives” with my parents, but actually, it is a song of my grandparents’ generation. This would have been an exciting contemporary worship song when they were in their 20s. I can imagine my grandparents as young adults with new marriages. Having survived the Great Depression, they were affirming Jesus’ constant presence with them, helping them to look hopefully at the future before them.
Singing “He Lives” again, I am humbled that God has called me to stand and sing together with Christ’s Body, whatever the age. Together, we share “one Lord, one faith and one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:5-6) And I look forward to the day when we’re truly all together, singing in His presence forever.