This article by Monica Berndt was originally written on the Higher Things - Dare to Be Lutheran website.

Old HymnalSince the beginning of the Reformation, the Lutheran Church around the world has consistently allotted a portion of time during the Divine Service to the singing of hymns. Why? What is the reason for singing hymns as a congregation instead of letting a choir sing all the music, or why not just take hymns out altogether? After all, people can be self-conscience about singing in public, and, it takes time out of the service where we should be listening to a pastor speak the Word of God, right? Hymns do take up a large portion of our services, and we should understand why it is good for us to sing them.

When most of you were in grade school, you had to memorize the 50 U.S states and/or the names of all the U.S Presidents. To help you, your teachers probably had you memorize a song that included these names which you could sing with a CD, and have running through your head during the day. This helped you easily remember all the information the teacher wanted you to memorize by singing that song. Combining words with music helps our brains remember important facts and information better than just reciting them, which is why schools use music to teach us the presidents, and VBS and Sunday School use tunes to help us memorize Bible passages. But learning information this way is not just a tool for children, it is also one of the reasons we sing hymns.

Hymns are not just praise songs. Like the rest of the Divine Service, hymns remind us about Jesus, the redemption He won for us on the cross, and the gifts He continues to give us. Before church, look at the words to the hymns you will sing. Almost all of them will mention something about Jesus’ death, resurrection, and the gift of the Holy Spirit to create faith. Communion hymns tend to talk about the forgiveness of sins given to us in the Lord’s Supper. Hymns sung at during a baptism not only speak of the baptism taking place that day, but also remind all of us of our own baptisms and the assurance of forgiveness we received there. Hymns sung before the sermon have words that tie into the points your pastors want to emphasize during their sermons. Hymns always tie into what is said during the Divine Service and point us to Christ.

In this capacity, hymns are a bit like memory songs for the church. Many people have difficulty remembering long Bible passages and parts of the catechism, but most people can sing their favorite hymn from memory. They can then quote those hymns, recalling all the promises of Jesus who died and rose for them. The more often you sing a hymn in church, the more likely you are to remember it outside of church where you can sing it at home or while you go about your daily tasks. This will remind you of the words and works of God that are spoken every Sunday during the rest of the service. So why should we sing hymns? Because they help us remember what Jesus has done for us!

Monica Berndt is a member at Messiah Lutheran Church in Seattle, WA and serves as the music director there. She is studying music and history at the University of Washington and loves to talk about Medieval History and why she loves hymnals.