Last week, as we finished up our discussions of the American and French revolutions, I informed my class that, as a pre-fall-break treat, we would be watching Les Misérables. The response was what one might expect: primarily delight that we would be watching a film (rather than suffer through more lectures and note-taking.)
There was, of course, also apprehension – primarily from the masculine quarter.
“Is it black and white?” No, gentlemen, we are watching the 2012 version.
“Does it have any action in it?” Yes, boys. Guns and revolution.
“Is this a musical?” Yes. Cue the rolling of teenaged eyes.
Truth be told, I sympathize with my students. The movie is about two hours and forty minutes long. That is a lot of singing. But as all fans of the film know, it is not really about France and revolution. At the heart of the story are sin and grace. Death and resurrection. Law and gospel.
One of my students, ever thoughtful, told me after the movie that she thought it HAD to be sung. “There are some things that need to be expressed through song. Spoken words just aren’t enough.”
It seems to me that she is right, especially when I consider the hymns we sing at City Pres. Certainly, they are not all sad, but let’s be honest: we sing a lot about our need for Christ. And that is hard for me to do. I often find myself stepping into church at 10 am on Sunday to “give” God almost two hours of my Sunday morning. No major infractions to report this week, God, so maybe I could get some extra credit for dragging myself and my kids out of bed to be here.
“Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide Thee, though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see…”
You mean that darkness that surged up inside of me when I found myself on my hands and knees cleaning up the third milk-spill of the day? The sinful eyes that selfishly saw only my own struggles when surrounded by the wounds of others?
“But oh! When gloomy doubts prevail, I fear to call Thee mine; the springs of comfort seem to fail, and all my hopes decline. Yet gracious God, where shall I flee? Thou art my only trust, and still my soul would cleave to Thee, though prostrate in the dust.”
And that is where I realize I am. Doubts. Declining hope. Prostrate in the dust thanks to my own pride and selfishness.
It is the music that leads me out of my self-absorption and shows me who I am. God uses the talents of our worship leaders in conjunction with the poetry of these hymns to open the eyes of my heart. I am reminded, again and again, the depth of my bitterness and emptiness. Yet the music never leaves me there. Even the most introspective and brutally honest of songs bring me home.
“Praise Him all you sinners, sing oh sing you weary; Oh praise Him all you children of God. We lift high His glory, shown throughout our stories; We praise Him as the children of God.”
Some things simply must be sung.