Praise Him with sounding cymbals; praise Him with loud clashing cymbals! (Psalm 150:5)
There were so many wonderful aspects to our in-person worship that took place outside the church. We were gathered around the cross, which was draped in white, with a line of yellow daffodils extending on each side. On either side of the line of daffodils was one large pot of purple and yellow pansies. In front of the cross was a large pot of yellow chrysanthemums behind which were four calla lilies surrounding the rest of the cross’s base.
Another uplifting part of the service was the ringing of the church bell, which had been silent for quite a few years. How appropriate that the bell should ring once more on Easter Sunday for our first in-person worship in a year.
Bells have been important to worship services since Old Testament times. We hear of them being part of the high priest’s garb particularly when the high priest went into the holy of holies on the day of Atonement. The tinkling of the gold bells on the garment’s hem, let the faithful know that the priest was behind the curtain performing this important function for the people.
Also mentioned in the Psalms are the cymbals. These were the precursors to the larger bells that we are accustomed to today. From these would come some of “the joyful noise” that the psalmist tells the people to make to God.
Around the fourth century is when bells in churches first appeared and by the fifth century, they became associated with church worship. Bells were also used in small town communities to let people know of births, deaths, and weddings. In the very smallest towns, the tolling of the bell conveyed the gender and age of the deceased, which would be readily understood in tiny communities.
Especially in the Orthodox church, bells took on added significance with the dedication of a new bell. To this day, Eastern Orthodox churches dedicate their new bells to the glory of God. At this time the bell is given a name as a way of giving it a special identity in the church and community.
The casting of bells was an arduous process that depended on finding the right location and soil to support the pouring of liquid metal as it set and cooled. Landowners took pride in their land being chosen as the site of a new bell.
As the use of bells increased, so did their size. The difficulty in removing bells successfully from their caste was immense. This, of course, along with their low pitch, made them more notable than bells of “normal” size. Just as a soprano’s high pitch can shatter glass, the extremely low pitch of mammoth bells can potentially level buildings.
According to Wikipedia, the largest bell ever cast was "The Great Bell of Dhammazedi, as its weight was approximated to be over 0.655 million pounds. The bell was over 20 feet in height and over 13 feet in width. The casting of the bell was done in February 1484 in line with the instructions of the king of Hanthawaddy Pegu, King Dhammazedi, after whom the bell was named. The bell was offered as a gift by the king to the Shwedagon Pagoda, situated in modern-day Myanmar."
In almost every culture that uses bells in their churches or other buildings, bells have been melted down for bullets during times of war. In the United States, the last time this was done was during the Civil War when churches (on both sides of the conflict) were instructed to give up their bells to be melted down “for the cause.”
In Europe, by the end of the Second World War, almost 150,000 church bells dating from the twelfth to the twentieth centuries, had been melted down from church towers all over the European continent to provide bullets and automatic weapons. Other bells were destroyed or vaporized from the heat of Allied bombs.
During the pandemic, it was such a joy to hear the neighboring Methodist church’s bell ring at 8:00 a.m. each morning this fall. The pealing of the bell was a beautiful reminder of God’s presence even when the days seemed dark.
We are blessed. We have a bell that rings out loud and clear. It rang the joy of Christ’s resurrection to a grateful church. Thanks be to God!