Most American Mormon congregations give a nod to July 4 in Sacrament Meeting by singing a patriotic hymn or two on the Sunday closest to it. On the Sunday nearest "Pioneer Day"--July 24, the day the first Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley--many offer talks about the dedication and sacrifice of the pioneers, or songs sung by the congregation. Often there's a picnic or a ward parade, with Radio Flyers turned into covered wagons and 19th-century costumes aplenty. Both the fourth and the twenty-fourth are fun and festive days.
But I have my limits.
My first song boycott occurred quite spontaneously a few years ago on, I believe, the third of July. Aroused by patriotic fervor and not by the chorister's direction, the ward stood as one as the organist began the opening bars of "The Star Spangled Banner." Normally, the ward's singing was pretty typical of Mormon congregations--music sung in parts (which is nice), but wanly. I was so startled by the standing, the enthusiasm, the conviction!
Was this the same group of folks who slogged through the sacrament song just a few minutes ago?
I stood up by reflex with the rest and had sung my way through "the rocket's red glare" when something started bothering me. Why are we standing for this song? If we stand for this song, why not for the sacrament song which really should mean more to us, engender more deep feelings, and seize us more dramatically than a song about our country, however free and brave it is?
Whose meeting is this, anyway?
Of course, the meeting belongs to Jesus. Sacrament Meetings are intended to focus on Him, to be an offering to Him, our opportunity to examine the effects of the atonement of Christ in our lives. As the name indicates, Sacrament Meeting's function is to share the communal meal in remembrance of Christ's death on the cross for us all. As we eat and drink, we "take His name upon us" and "always remember Him and keep His commandments," with the promise that we will always have "His spirit to be with us." All the rest of the meeting--remarks from the bishop, the talks by ward members or ecclesiastical guests, the special musical numbers, the announcements, business, and benedictions--all the rest is garnish. It shouldn't be competition.
And, as grateful as I may be for the valuable contributions and service provided by our prophets, from Joseph Smith on down--and I AM grateful--I won't sing heroic songs in their honor at a Sacrament Meeting. I just can't justify singing praise to anyone other than Christ in a Sacrament Meeting.