Prayer journal: week 3, day 4

Lutheran Christians love to sing! Singing in worship has been our heritage and one of our contributions to the Reformation. Martin Luther was the one who introduced congregational singing into the German church; before that, it had been the sole responsibility of a choir. But in order for the people to start singing in worship again, new hymns had to be written.

That means not only was there a time when “A Mighty Fortress” was new to the congregation, a congregation singing at all was new and strange! Words had to be learned and not everyone could read. Did Luther’s congregation find it difficult to get that 3rd line of “A Mighty Fortress” where the melody jumps around a bit? Maybe it was the enthusiasm about the new things God was doing that carried them over the learning curve.

So in keeping with our Lutheran tradition, St. Paul’s has taken the plunge to learn a new setting of the liturgy. Each week we gradually are singing with more confidence. Great work, St. Paul people! (Remember: the word “liturgy” means the “work of the people.”) But at the last minute, one whimsical addition to our singing has been to sign (ASL) some of the liturgical words to help our children get involved. Our signing hands help us remember and sing the words “glory,” “peace,” “hosanna,” “lamb,” “God,” and “mercy.” As I’ve taught the signs to the children and older folks, we’ve noticed that the signs visually help explain what these words mean.

What does this have to do with prayer?

Even if I might look a little strange signing from behind the altar, this is what I’ve re-learned. The part of the liturgy that we sing (and now sign) is a prayer—active, dynamic, dancing prayer. The words are not something we “get through” in order to go on to the next thing. When we finish the sign for “hosanna,” our uplifted hands are in the exact position I use to pray the eucharistic prayer; our song and spoken prayer are one and the same. When I physically reach up and sign for God’s drops of mercy to fall down on us, we are asking with our whole bodies for God’s undeserved mercy now in our communion meal! The lovely sign for “glory” (like little sparklers) grabs my attention and imagination to how wonderful God’s works truly are. Remember the ooh’s and aah’s at a fireworks display? That’s how we look at God in worship.

Yes, we are Lutheran Christians and we love to sing…especially when our singing becomes more like the active, praise-filled conversation with an awesome God. That’s the kind of prayer that it was always meant to be.


  1. We’ve had some wonderful presentations in our adult ed on music — most of them from a Jewish college professor who specializes in medieval and Renaissance music! He did a presentation on Reformation music one day and explained that the tune of A Mighty Fortress originally belonged to a drinking song, well known in German pubs.

    I suppose that means that the 3rd line might or might not have been a challenge, depending upon your condition when you learned it.

  2. I’ve heard the story too. Can’t you see a bunch of steins raised and swaying to the precurser tune in the biergarten?