Today's lesson was on what the hymns can teach us about the Atonement. I chose to leave next week's lesson open to discuss the Garden and Cross specifically, since it is Easter.
I asked each student to choose a hymn they love that teaches about Jesus and the Atonement in some way - any way. We went around the room, and each student told the hymn they chose and why - what it says about Jesus and the Atonement that touches them. They chose the following hymns, listed in numerical order not the order in which we discussed them:
"How Firm a Foundation" - The message of verses 4-7 are especially poignant, as they talk about "deep waters", "deepest distress", "fiery trials", "old age", etc. and end with, "That soul, though all hell shall endeavor to shake, I'll never, no never, no never forsake." (These students will have some fiery trials in their lives, and it was moving to see this particular song chosen.) I used this hymn to discuss how often we miss wonderful messages when we sing only the verses that appear with the musical accompaniment.
"How Great Thou Art" - The student highlighted verse 3, and we talked about how much "praise" can be a part of our worship if we let it be - even if we don't take it to the emotional extreme in some other denominations.
"I Believe in Christ" - The student liked the affirmation aspect of starting everything with "I Believe in Christ" and the expansiveness of how many roles it describes.
"God Loved Us, So He Sent His Son" - This student loved the title, all by itself and mentioned the reference to Jesus paying for a broken law.
"I Stand All Amazed" - This was mine. I love how this hymn describes each one of us so explicitly as sinners and mentions the wonder of grace being offered so fully.
"There is a Green Hill Far Away" - This student couldn't pick any particular part of the hymn. We talked about how, sometimes, the most powerful messages can be the shortest ones - when meaning is packed into every word and phrase - how this hymn is so different than "I Believe in Christ" in that way, even though both can be powerful. I asked the student to read the entire hymn as if it wasn't a song, so we could focus exclusively on the message of the words.
"Called to Serve" - This student loved how this hymn focuses on our role in the Atonement in the sense of sharing the Gospel with others - that Jesus isn't around anymore to do it and, therefore, we have to do it for him. The explanation was heartfelt and moving, and I had never looked at it in that way previously.
"If You Could Hie to Kolob" - This student was captivated by the expansiveness of this hymn, from "Improvement and progression have one eternal round" to the end of the 5th verse. I used this one as another example of how the "extra verses" often have the deepest meaning in a song and how we miss a lot when we don't sing them. I mentioned that there is at least one Sacrament Hymn ("How Great the Wisdom and the Love") that only becomes a sacrament hymn, truly, in the final two verses we usually skip. I also pointed out that the use of "race" in this hymn, in context of the time in which it was written and the overall message of the song, doesn't mean "Caucasian", "Hispanic", African or any other skin-color reference but rather "species" or "humanity".
"Brightly Beams Our Father's Mercy" - This student talked at length about the concept of a lighthouse and the lights along the shore - how the lower lights help sailors in danger get their bearings and navigate safely to the harbor. He talked about how sometimes people can see Christ but still get shipwrecked by the rocks around them and that we need to let our lights shine in such a way that others can avoid dangers and reach Christ.
We wrapped up the lesson talking about understanding the hymns - taking the time to read the words and ponder what they mean rather than shutting off our brains and simply singing them. We went through an exercise I have used in the past as the Ward Choir Director in which we looked at two hymns ("How Firm a Foundation" and "Silent Night") to see how we would go about understanding words and phrases we might not recognize and/or understand and how we would restate things in non-poetic form by focusing on complete sentences and thoughts ("I only design they dross to consume and they gold to refine," and, "Son of God, love's pure light radiant beams from thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at they birth.") and ignoring the artificial breaks imposed by the measures and natural breath breaks.
I love teaching these students, and I enjoy being able to dig deeply into theology and doctrine, but I also love music - so this was one of my favorite lessons - ever - in any class.
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