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And they sang a new song … Revelation 5:9


On the fourth Sunday after Easter, the Lutheran Church, as well as the Catholic Church, celebrates Cantate Sunday. The gift of music, instrumental and choir music, but also the joy of singing together in the act of worshipping God, is celebrated. In the church services on Cantate Sunday, gratitude will be expressed towards those who serve the church with their music – the organist, the choir, the band, the music leaders and other soloists. And of cause, there will be a celebration by the most beautiful music performances. What I miss a lot during this lock down period of not being able to attend church services, is the joy and uplifting experience of church music, worshipping God in song and praise, or prayerfully confessing and contemplating in the words and melodies of well-known hymns. Music is an inherent part of our faith, our worship and communion.

Martin Luther was a trained musician who enjoyed playing the lute. He wrote many chorales (hymns) and set it to music. He insisted that hymns should be sung in every church service, because he was convinced that if the congregation sang the simple melodies with fervour, it would open their hearts and thoughts to the acceptance (accolade) of the Word of God. Luther wrote passionately about music as a gift from God: “I truly desire that all Christians would love and regard as worthy the lovely gift of music, which is a precious, worthy, and costly treasure given to mankind by God. The riches of music are so excellent and so precious that words fail me whenever I attempt to discuss and describe them…. next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.  It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits… This precious gift has been given to man alone that he might thereby remind himself that God has created man for the express purpose of praising and extolling God. Music is a delicate art, reminding us of a heavenly dance…”

Surprisingly, the Book of Revelation, which we often regard as dark and heavy, contains at least 27 songs sung in heaven. These songs in Revelation inspired many composers, from the classical to the most contemporary, from GF Händel’s “Hallelujah Choir” (Messiah), the many versions of “Agnus Dei” (Lamb of God) to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “How Great Is Our God”.

In Revelation 5:9 (see also 14:3), we read: “And they sang a new song…” A “new song” is a fixed expression with deeper meaning. In the Old Testament, especially the Psalms, we often hear the phrase “Sing to the Lord a new song” (See Ps 96:1 and 98:1, and also Isaiah 42:10). This new song in Revelation 5:9 is sung in front of the Lamb of God standing at the centre of the throne, it is sung by the 24 elders, accompanied by siters (a kind of stringed instrument like a guitar or harp), while they were holding golden bowls full of incense – symbolic of the prayers and worship of the church of all ages. They are soon to be joined by a massive chorus of angels and also by the whole of creation – all praising the Lamb of God.

Why is it called a new song? It is new because it is heralding the coming of a new era in the history of creation. It is announcing that a turning point in history has been reached, a pivotal moment in the passage of the ages. This critical point was reached when the Lamb was slaughtered on Golgotha and raised from the grave on the third day. That was the moment when everything became new, when persons from every tribe and language and people and nation were purchased for God through the blood of the slain Lamb, when the recreation of everything commenced; the dawn of new City of God and the new Garden with a tree bearing much fruit and leaves for the healing of nations; when the new heaven and new earth were born. It already happened!

Yes, although it already happened, we are not yet fully experiencing it. We are still subjected to the suffering and pain of the old world, we still long for this new wold to come, the renewal of everything. But, we may pray and work in hope, we can live with steadfast hope, we may dare to be confident and assured; the turning point has been reached: the enemy, Evil and Death, ware dealt a decisive blown. The Lamb has been slain, and rose again! This risen Lamb is worthy to open the book of history; this Lamb has the keys to open a new door to the future. Therefore, now already, despite our brokenness and sorrow, we are invited to join in singing a new song. Agnus Dei!

Gideon van der Watt