Yesterday at church, we had a service of lamentation. Two years prior, on August 29, 2008, First Christian Church sold its building the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The congregation, which had went from the owning a building that was completed in 1954, to now being tenants. The hope of the service was to help people grieve that loss and also be able to move forward as a church into a new future in a new location.
The sanctuary was done up with sackcloth and ashes. I was asked to do what I usually do when I’m not preaching, that is to give the invocation. I knew that this had to be something different than the usual invocation. As I was thinking about what to do, an idea struck me to read the words to a hymn. It’s a hymn that I didn’t grow up with, but I’ve become familiar with it because I dated two Lutheran men of Swedish heritage. I think I remember my friend and former boyfriend Erik talking about the song, and I know that my partner Daniel definitely knew the song. The song is “Children of the Heavenly Father.” Daniel’s family has had that hymn sung at weddings (including our own) and at funerals (including the death of his mother several years ago). It seemed to be song that one sang to remind people that God is with them all the time. The history of the song is that the writer Carolina Sandell-Berg was the daughter of a Lutheran minister. She saw her father fall off and boat and drown to his death. Out of the sadness of that tragedy came this song. It’s a song of mourning, but also of assurance.
I was going to read the words, but something said these words needed to be sung. So, I did something I don’t usually do: sing alone, in public. I don’t think I have that good of a voice to be singing solo, but I did. I think in the time of sadness and apprehension of the future, it’s good to be reminded that God is with us and we are there for each other.
This is what Garrison Keillor had to say about singing this song:
Garrison Keillor: “I once sang the bass line of Children of the Heavenly Father in a room with about three thousand Lutherans in it; and when we finished, we all had tears in our eyes, partly from the promise that God will not forsake us, partly from the proximity of all those lovely voices. By our joining in harmony, we somehow promise that we will not forsake each other.”
You can read the lyrics by clicking on the link.