Victory Requires a New Song, but at What Cost?
Reflecting on the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost: One Day after Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Psalm 98
Old Testament: Haggai 2:10-19
Epistle: 2 Peter 1:16-21
Psalter: Psalm 123
Old Testament: Job 20:1-11
Epistle: 2 Peter 1:16-21
God of faithful surprises, throughout the ages you have made known your love and power in unexpected ways and places. May we daily perceive the joy and wonder of your abiding presence and offer our lives in gratitude for our redemption. Amen.
O sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things.
His right hand and his holy arm
have gotten him victory.
The Lord has made known his victory;
he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the victory of our God (Psalm 98:1-3).
Every war has its battle songs. During the American Revolution one tune was “The Liberty Song.”
Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all, By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall; In so righteous a cause let us hope to succeed, For heaven approves of each generous deed.
During the Civil War the Confederacy sang “The Bonnie Blue Flag,”
"Come, brothers, rally for the right!
The bravest of the brave
Sends forth his ringing battle-cray
Beside the Atlantic wave.
She leads the way in honor's path:
Come, brothers, near and far,
Come, rally round the Bonnie Blue Flag
That bears a single star!
Hurrah! hurrah! for Southern rights
Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag
That bears a single star!
and the Union had the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.
World War I put to music that the Yanks were coming and the Second World War had the “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”
War songs give profound cause to the waging of violence, encourage the soldiers who are fighting, and give comfort and solace to those waiting at home. It seems that words alone cannot touch the depths of the human psych in times of upheaval. We must sing because silence is too harsh, too loud to leave to our thoughts alone.
Israel had its war songs, it’s victory ballads. We encounter many of them in the Psalms. Psalm 98 proclaims Israel’s victory over its enemies attributing the outcome to God. The writer seems to think that no current song can capture the great thing the Lord has done. A new song of joy, a loud song of celebration is necessary.
Living in a world of violence often results in cognitive dissonance—the awareness that our moments contain contradictions, and the feeling of emotional frustration that results. We are right to celebrate the end of war, for the only good thing about war is its ending. We are right to celebrate when Johnny and Billy come marching home, but how appropriate is it to rejoice over the downfall of the enemy, to encourage their slaughter, and invoke our God against them? For those who are reflective disciples of Jesus Christ, we cannot fail to acknowledge the problem knowing that Jesus loved the world so much that he died, even for the enemy. How much singing can we do knowing that there are loved ones on the other side of the battle who mourn dead soldiers, whose children must make their way in life without a parent? Singing at the return of those we have missed is one thing; singing a song of victory when our enemy is fallen is something different.
Psalms may have its victory songs, but the book of Proverbs tempers them with a reminder. “Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble” (24:17). It is difficult to do that in a world where, in the movies the bad guy gets it in the end. It is easier to focus on the victory and less so on the carnage that took place on the other side too.
In the modern observance of Passover, Jews consume four glasses of wine during the meal. The wine signifies joy. As the Passover Haggadah is performed around the Passover table, while the story of the Exodus is read, each participant takes a small spoon or an eye dropper and empties ten small dollops of wine out of the cup. This signifies that while God’s people are joyful in their newfound freedom, that happiness is tempered knowing that their enemy, their oppressor is suffering. There is rejoicing in their victory, but no rejoicing in the downfall of their captors. Psalms reminds us of the joys of victory; Proverbs encourages us to temper our joy in remembrance of the suffering of our enemies.
Below is a video clip from the TV series M*A*S*H in which Father Mulcahy sets out to write a war song specifically for the Korean War. The video below is his final version.
Let’s allow him to have the last word.
PRAYER: God of life, we praise you for your abiding presence from generation to generation, blessing your people, strengthening us to lives of service, empowering us to witness. Hear the prayers we offer on behalf of your creation. Amen.
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