They say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. This pandemic has taken so many things away, but there’s one thing I never realized I would miss this much—congregational singing.
I help lead worship at my church in Houston, so I’ve “attended” church every Sunday since the shutdown began—and it’s been one of the strangest experiences of my life. I never imagined singing for a camera with nothing but empty pews behind it. I never fully understood how much of an act of love it is to sing together. And I’ve heard friends and families speak to the same struggle of singing from home alongside a congregation they can’t see or hear.
The struggle is real, and Christians all over the world feel it. We’re desperate to sing together again.
Three Reasons We Long to Sing Together Again
I’m not bashing the virtual worship platform. I’m so grateful this technology exists during a time when the church is unable to meet together. But the longer the lockdown has gone on, the clearer it has become that singing together in church is something rare, wonderful, and hard to replicate through digital distance.
The longer the lockdown has gone on, the clearer it has become that singing together in church is something rare, wonderful, and hard to replicate through digital distance.
Why do we miss congregational singing so much? Our longings for it now provide a good opportunity to reflect on the nature and beauty of this ancient and indispensable component of Christian worship.
Here are three (of many) reasons why singing together in church is so important and irreplaceable.
1. Singing together is a picture of the incarnate love of Christ.
I’ve heard it said that God’s favorite preposition throughout Scripture is “with.” Matthew 1:22–23 tells us the Messiah will be called Immanuel, “God with us.” The Son of God did not come as a spirit or superhero or alien. He came as a man. He identified with us and became one of us in order to be with us. When we sing together—when we hear each other’s voices and feel the harmonies swell as many sing in one accord—we are with one another in a way that expresses God’s incarnate love.
2. Singing together is supernatural.
When we hear the people near us singing in church, and our ears absorb the different volumes and tones and pitches (even those that are off-pitch), something magical happens. I’d love to give a more scientific explanation, but I can’t. Singing is superfluous. It’s impractical. And it’s beyond explanation that children of an early age so desperately want to move their bodies and lift their voices when they hear the sound of singing and music. Singing reminds us that there is a powerful, supernatural, magical force behind creation, and that force has invited us to engage with him in a powerful, supernatural and magical way. We were designed by God to sing.
3. Singing together is our future.
I just said singing is impractical, but if we believe Scripture, then nothing in life is more practical than preparing for eternity. And we will sing in eternity. Revelation 5 shows us a vision of the conquering Lamb’s victory greeted with loud singing from great multitudes. The songs we sing in church not only connect us with our Christian past and present, but perhaps most significantly they also connect us with our future. When we gather and sing corporately we glimpse the glorious future when the people of God from every tribe, tongue, and nation (Rev. 7:9) will praise God with a thunderous roar we can’t even imagine now. The goosebumps we can get now when we sing together in church are but a foretaste of what it will be like to worship our Savior face to face.
Already, Not Yet
What can we do as we wait for embodied, gathered worship to resume? We’ve seen creative options from many in the church: backyard acoustic worship sets, small-group Zoom calls where someone leads a song, even listening and singing along to recorded worship music with your family or friends. TGC compiled a playlist called “Songs of Comfort for Anxious Souls,” for example, and at RYM Worship we recently released a new album, Sing Over Us. I hope these resources might draw you back into music during this season, even if they admittedly cannot replicate the experience of corporate singing.
In 1 Corinthians 13:12, Paul uses a tangible metaphor to compare our current lives to eternity: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” That sounds an awful lot like the difference between singing in front of a screen and singing alongside our brothers and sisters. What if we saw COVID-19 virtual worship as an illustration of the already/not yet? We spend our Sundays worshiping, singing, hearing the voices of our church leaders on screens—and it’s good and helpful—but something’s not right. Something’s missing. This isn’t the way it was meant to be, and we all feel it.
We spend our Sundays worshiping, singing, hearing the voices of our church leaders on screens—and it’s good and helpful—but something’s not right. Something’s missing. This isn’t the way it was meant to be, and we all feel it.
Have we not felt this yearning every day of our lives? Our world is both beautiful and broken, and we desperately want it to be fixed. Even when things get back to “normal,” when our singing is more beautiful and celebratory than ever, we might as well be staring at a screen compared to how we will sing in the new creation.
It is right and good that we should long for more right now. The loss of physically gathered corporate singing is a real loss, and a painful one. But rather than leading us to self-focused sulking or melancholy, we should let this loss lead us to the God who has given us more than we could have imagined—the God who takes such great delight in his children that he actually sings over them (Zeph. 3:17).