Happenings

Thine is the Kingdom – A Musical Reflection

Feb 2007    

HAVING created a new tune for the Lord’s Prayer at the request of a member of our community at Trinity Theological College as she found that Malotte’s version of the Lord’s Prayer rather unforgiving for those with limited vocal range, I forwarded it to my Indonesian liturgics scholar friend for her comments.

Being an accomplished Asian worship scholar in her own right, she observed that I had created a tune that did not “peak” at the phrase “Thine be the kingdom, power, and glory … ” She wanted to know what my rationale or theological thought was behind this interesting approach of the melodic line.

Would it not be appropriate for me to let the music soar as it lifts up our prayerful praise for God’s kingdom, power and glory?

This got me thinking about what it means for us to pray, “For Thine be the kingdom, and the power, and the glory.” What is it that we are asking God to do? Might it be that when we ask God to establish His kingdom here on earth, we are asking God to transform us? In so doing, is it not true that God’s kingdom is not like earthly kingdoms, the concept of divine power as manifested in Jesus’ life unlike earthly power, His glory radically different from our humanistic expression?

This brings me back to Jesus’ incarnation. He emptied Himself to be like one of us (Philippians 2:6-8). Might this not be said about the difference between God’s understanding of power and our human understanding when we think along God’s ways, in particular the manifestation of God’s kingdom? (Matthew 5:3-ff., Luke 6:20-ff). Were not the disciples disciplined for wrangling about who would sit on the right or left of the throne when Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God? They were told instead to be like little children if they hope to be the greatest in the kingdom of God (Matthew 18:1-4, Luke 9:46-48).

The implication of Jesus’ challenge to be like children must be viewed through the cultural landscape of His time. Children were not coddled as they are in our present time. Rather, they were without rights and privileges. When they were young, they were seen as a burden, another mouth that needed to be fed. A little older, they had a utilitarian function – another pair of hands to help the household survive economically. There was no outcry of “sweatshop” treatment of children that is prevalent today.

Having sojourned in the United States for several years, I have observed the natural desire of many US-based Christian groups wanting to have a say in the political life of their country and to ultimately shape it to be God’s country or the “New Israel”. Yet, I am reminded that Scripture calls members of Christ’s body (the ecclesia) to be in the world but not of it. If we were to take this call as found in John 17:14-16 seriously, to what extent then should the Church seek to acquire power and influence over society?

A quick look at church history seems to show that when the Church seeks, obtains and holds earthly power over a long period, power has a built-in tendency of corrupting the Church that ultimately leads to its ineffectiveness as God’s instrument in proclaiming the kingdom of God. Indeed, Lord Acton, a British historian of the late 19th and early 20th century, wrote that a person’s sense of morality lessens as his or her power increases.

When writing to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887, he offered this unforgettable line, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

On the contrary, when the Church is persecuted by the world, it seems to have the opposite effect of creating church growth. Indeed as the Rt Rev Dr David Zac Niringiye, Assistant Bishop of Kampala in the Church of Uganda, puts it, “God very often is working most powerfully far from the centre … In Acts, we read that the cross-cultural missionary thrust did not begin in Jerusalem. It began in Antioch, on the periphery, the margins.”

Likewise, I believe the Church can only be authentic in its prophetic ministry when it remains consistently at the margin, seeking to be that voice for the widows, orphans and aliens of the land. Only when we seek to appreciate the “upside down” nature of God’s kingdom, power and glory can the Church fulfil its true calling as being the light and salt of the world. It is with this understanding, I believe, that our Lord’s prayer ought to be prayed – by all of us who are willing to accept the sidelined life, a life lived in humility rather than clamouring needlessly for and being goaded into becoming advocates for the Church to dominate public life by strength, power, and glory (fame or reputation). For when we choose to live our lives in accordance with God’s call for each of us, we truly usher in the kingdom of God on earth. With that, I think it might be appropriate that the prayer that Jesus taught us can be set in a musical approach that better reflects our understanding of the Church. Theological reflection aside, but for a practical reason, this approach also helps make the singing of the Lord’s Prayer less of an embarrassment for members of our faith community who may have limited vocal capability and rather do their singing in the bathroom than publicly. With that, let us unite our lively voices and join the Ecclesia throughout the ages, past, present and future, to offer our unique praise to our God through the prayer that our Lord Jesus taught us.

Lim Swee Hong is Lecturer in Church Music and Liturgics at Trinity Theological College.

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