Having the physical hymnal in the pew and at the dinner table creates a beautiful resonance and harmony between church and home. A liturgy of life emerges that helps Christian piety and devotion extend beyond Sunday morning. This is especially well-facilitated in Lutheranism and other traditions where the hymnal also contains Scripture-saturated liturgical services, rites, creeds and prayers for all phases of the day and occasions in life, enabling the Christian to speak God’s own words back to Him.
Growing up in Evangelicalism, the norm was to bring your Bible to church. When I found my way circuitously into confessional Lutheranism, I quickly noticed hardly anyone brought a Bible to church, but a few members brought their own hymnal. At first, the lack of Bible-bringing was puzzling and carrying a hymnal instead seemed almost idolatrous. I have since come to understand that the hymnal plays—or at least should play—an important role in the daily life of the Christian. A hymnal in the pew and in the home reminds us that the Christian faith is an inheritance, that there is a resonance between church life and daily life, and that there is a permanence to Christianity. The hymnal communicates a confession of faith that echoes far beyond the words and melodies throughout its pages. In an era troubled with transience, digital fragmentation and theological feebleness, the Church can fortify itself by retaining the physical, tangible realities of the Book, and its accompaniment, the hymnal.
Creating and publishing an actual hymnal takes significant time, research and reflection from countless contributors. There is extensive deliberation in the selection process, consulting previous hymnals inside and outside the denominational heritage and evaluating each piece theologically and musically. Changes are not made lightly nor on a whim. The final product has a gravitas that is lacking when songs are projected by means of a screen. Such digital projections are not subjected to a rigorous review process in any meaningful way, and new songs can be sung without reference to their origin, theological accuracy, or musical merit.
The hymnal also communicates that there is a history to the songs being sung. Each page in the hymnal communicates the authors, dates, tunes, meter and translators of the songs. This all helps tell the hymn’s story, its origins, and connections to other songs. Singing hymns from different eras, languages and regions of the world shows that Christians are a part of something larger than themselves by taking them beyond their cultural styles into the unique and timeless culture of the Church.