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"Agape" - Songs of Hope and Reconciliation

Preface to the New Assembly Songbook
by the LWF General Secretary, Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko

The first Christians gathered around the table in order to eat, celebrate, witness, pray and be strengthened in Christian faith. "Agape," the title of the songbook to be used at the 21–31 July 2003 Tenth Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), refers to these fellowship meals, these love feasts. The Assembly offers participants an opportunity to gather around the table in order to eat, praise and share their experiences of love and healing.

The Greek word "agape" (literally "love") describes the universal, all-embracing love which flows from God. It is not an abstract concept. Rather, it refers to a way of life, characterized by justice, compassion, mutual respect, hospitality, service, reconciliation and hope. The primary location of agape is koinonia—the community of the faithful—sustained by God’s love.

Agape is not grounded in the endearing nature of the one who is loved. Rather, it is love based on self-sacrifice and self-giving. It presupposes a radical change in one’s way of relating to God, to one another, to oneself and to nature. It involves a change in one’s way of seeing, tasting and hearing. The songs contained in this collection encourage and promote varied ways and expressions of seeing, crying, tasting and praising. Love is expressed not only in holy words of wisdom or in the language of the angels. It is also whispered, murmured and cried out in the language of the poor, needy and oppressed. I believe that the variety of expression is vital to us as a communion. Through this kind of sharing and exchange we become truly ourselves. These songs of praise and lament from around the world help us to reconcile and break down social, cultural, economic, gender and racial barriers. They are not only about healing but are healing in themselves.

The songbook is a Lutheran contribution to the ecumenical and liturgical movement. It is my hope that after the Assembly it will be used worldwide at Lutheran and ecumenical gatherings as well as in local multicultural settings. The songs have been collected and selected by a number of representatives from the LWF member churches and ecumenical organizations. I would like to thank this group and the Oxford University Press for their contribution to the life of the Tenth Assembly of the LWF.

Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko
LWF General Secretary

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