“And singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”
(Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26)
As we have discussed above, the place to which they were going that dark evening was located on the Mount of Olives, just to the east of Jerusalem. Yet, Matthew and Mark add an important little detail…they went out singing. We are not told exactly what it is that they were singing apart from that it was a hymn of one sort or another. Some have suggested that it was likely Psalm 118, as such would be sung or read at the end of the Passover celebration, and this may very well be the case. The term that is used is uJmne/w (humneo), which is the word from which we get the English term, “hymn.” This is a different term than yalmo/ß (psalmos), which is the term from which we get the English word, “psalm.” The verbal form of this, ya/llw (psallo) is the literal translation of the Hebrew word for psalm, rwømzIm (mizmor), both of which mean to sing a song accompanied by plucking a stringed instrument—the traditional Hebrew musical accompaniment for singing.
The fact that the language distinguishes between psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (the term wjˆdh/—ode) implies the distinction. If indeed it was Psalm 118 that they sung, there is a good chance that rather than singing a metrical form of it (as we might sing today), they sang a hymn based on that psalm (again, as is a common practice today as well).
Regardless of the exact content of the hymn they sang (for the Gospel writers do not give us this), we must take note of two things. First that they were singing and second that they were singing praises to God. It is amazing how valuable hymnody is to the church. We will find that there are hymns that will get us excited and hymns that will comfort us when we are low. There have been a lot of different traditions and aspects of worship that characterize the worship of God’s people, but one thing that ties all of our traditions together is that we sing—in fact, I would argue that one could not call a church service worship unless it did include singing…that is, if we wanted to be Biblical.
Loved ones, do not get anxious about singing. Sing regularly and sing often. Sing in the presence of God’s people and sing in private. Sing in formal worship and extend your private worship as part of all you do. And do not get carried away singing the songs of this world, but sing songs that praise God. Indeed, there may be some songs that are worthy, but none so worthy as the great hymns of the faith. The subjects of which worldly songs speak may honor worthy subjects (although all too often their subjects are base and unremarkable), but who is more worthy of honor and praise than God himself? He is perfect and beautiful and infinitely praiseworthy. The rich man does not take notice of pennies in the street, but he does get excited about a way to add another thousand or million dollars to his portfolio. Believer, you have been given a relationship with one of infinite worth—why sing of the corroded pennies of this world rather than of the God of all creation? To do so is to busy yourself with picking up old pennies and miss the fact that you are walking on streets of pure gold.
Salvation’s joyful song is heard
Where’er the righteous dwell;
For them God’s hand is strong to save
And doeth all things well.
I shall not die, but live to tell
The wonders of the Lord;
He has not giv’n my soul to death,
But chastened and restored.