March 28: By Heart
Dear St. Paul’s family,
By heart. That’s an evocative term. When we know something by heart, we keep it in our heart and it is there even when we’re not aware of it. We can call on it at a moment’s notice. Typically, what we mean when we say we know something by heart is that we know it word-for-word. Even after some time has gone by since we last said it, we can recall it with some prompting, or at least recognize it as deeply familiar.
The best way, really the only way, to know something by heart is repetition. Any instrumentalist has a long repertoire of pieces they can play almost automatically, because they’ve practiced them so often. That’s repetition. Athletes also need to know things by heart, and their practice is called “reps,” that it, repetitions.
Businesses know this. They run commercials over and over because they know you won’t really know what they want you to know unless they drive it into your head with repetition. That’s why they tell you their phone number four times. And they sing it to little jingles; melody and rhythm help the memory, and also drive the information deeper into the mind.
One of the more poignant scenes you’ll ever see is a dying person being sung to, especially songs they knew in their youth. Such singing has the power to cut through the fog of illness and anesthesia and go directly to the heart. Every Christian should be so blessed as to have a heart full of the Church’s sung Scripture to sustain them on the threshold of death.
Because we cannot offer communion to the congregation gathered in worship, our online service this week follow the service of Matins. Many generations of Christians have known this service by heart, including here at St. Paul’s. It connects the present to the past generation and the whole history of God’s people. It also has the power to connect people from many places. All over our church body, in any state, there are people who can sing along with Matins.
The beauty of liturgical worship is that it not only makes you know the Scriptures, but it puts those Scriptures into the context of worship. Rather than having a head only full commercial jingles, someone who sings the Scriptures week after week, in a congregation and wider church that sings the same things the same way, drives the words, the context, and the community of believers into our hearts.
Sunday will feel very strange for me not going to church, as I’m sure it will be for many of you. Please worship via our online service, either from the link in the email or via the website. Even as we are all apart in this time of quarantine and cannot go to church, it can be all the more meaningful to join in with “O come, let us sing unto the Lord, let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation…”
Rev. Peter Speckhard, Senior Pastor at St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Munster, Indiana