Home History of Hymns: Spirit of Reformation marks "Lift Our Song"

History of Hymns: Spirit of Reformation marks "Lift Our Song"

“In Unity We Lift Our Song”
Ken Medema
The Faith We Sing, No. 2221

In unity we lift our song
of grateful adoration,
for brothers brave and sisters strong.
What cause for celebration! *

Ken Medema (b. 1943), one of the most versatile, creative and enduring Christian artists today, is now in his 40th year of performing.

His story is perhaps best told in his own words: “Since I was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I have been unable to see with my physical eyes. My sight is limited to distinguishing between light and darkness and seeing fuzzy outlines of major objects. . . .

“Music early became a major component of my life. I started banging on the piano when I was five years old, making up crazy little fantasies on my mom’s piano. When I was eight years old my parents got me a wonderful teacher who taught me the classics with Braille music and taught me to play by ear. She also taught me to improvise. Every time I learned a piece she would tell me, ‘Now you can improvise in that style.’ So music became my second language.”

Ken Medema

Ken studied music therapy at Michigan State University in Lansing, focusing on performance in piano and voice. After returning to Michigan State for a master’s degree in music therapy, he served for four years as music therapist at Essex County Hospital in New Jersey.

While employed in New Jersey, he began to write and perform his own music. It was out of this experience that he began his performance career in 1973. He performs around the world in a wide variety of venues ranging from corporate conventions and concerts to benefits and churches.

“In Unity We Lift Our Song” was written for a Southern Baptist Women in Ministry Conference held at Wilshire Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas, on June 8, 1985, and was premiered by Mr. Medema at this event. It was also sung at the first convocation of the Alliance of Baptists in March 1987 in Raleigh, N.C.

Set to the tune of Luther’s EIN FESTE BURG, the text has a Reformation spirit that all are welcome in the realm of God: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 (NIV)

Stanza one addresses the genders as equals: “brothers brave and sisters strong . . .” This equality is a “cause for celebration.” The “blessed congregation,” the body of Christ, sustains those who have suffered.

The second stanza places the struggle for equality in the historical perspective of “stories told and told again to every generation.” The language of hope pervades the stanza: “spirits to revive,” “keep our dreams alive,” and “how firm is our foundation.”

Stanza three invokes “sacred scriptures,” a “blessed trust and treasure” and a source of “hope when hope is gone.” Then, in an image that is both metaphorical and autobiographical, Mr. Medema speaks of the coming of death as “when our eyes grow blind.” Those whose faith is rooted in Scripture will still know the scriptures committed to memory and to the heart.

Stanza four offers a variety of metaphors that capture a fuller understanding of God, including, “Our strength, our guide, our nurturing breast . . .” The hymn begins with singing together in this life as a symbol of unity. A triumphant eschatological note concludes the hymn as we dream of a world when “all our work is done, and we shall sing together”—the idea that we will sing together throughout eternity.

Though the hymn grows out of a specific denominational context, the struggle is universal. By using the historical tune of the Lutheran Reformation, one is reminded that the church is semper reformanda (always reforming).

* © 1994 Brier Patch Music. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology.