Wednesday, September 18, 2013

On Earth as it is in Heaven

I love music. 

I'm not really much of a musician, though.  I was in band and choir in the small town high school that I attended, and did relatively well there, but there wasn't much competition.  That's what my kids tell me, anyway, when I try to brag about being the first chair trumpet player in the Western Iowa Conference honor band during my senior year.  I no longer play an instrument, and while my voice has improved due to the constant singing I do as a pastor, I lack the training to excel at vocal music. 

However, despite my lack of musicianship, I nevertheless think that I know quite a bit about music because I've listened to so much of it over my lifetime.  I haven't made the transition to listening to music via download, but I have boxes full of CDs and vinyl albums that I have collected over the years.  On top of that, I don't know how many music groups I have seen perform over the years, but it has to be well into the hundreds - ranging from watching bar bands all the way up to seeing groups like the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd play in stadiums to crowds in excess of 50,000 people.  Country, folk, heavy metal, hard rock, classic rock, punk, rap, pop, orchestra, jazz, blues - I've seen it all. 

Has my history listening to live music influenced the way I preside over worship, though? Not really.  Just because I've seen Mick Jagger twice in concert doesn't mean I want to move like him (apologies to Maroon 5). 

Instead, what has influenced my worship style is the belief that what we do during worship should reflect how the angels and saints worship God.  How do we know the way they worship God? We see through the mirror dimly, but Isaiah 6, among other passages from the Bible, gives us a clue:

"In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’"

We can't fly around like the seraphs, but we can sing their song.  Their words form the basis of the Sanctus - the "Holy, Holy. Holy" song that is sung by the congregation during the Eucharistic liturgy.  When we sing those words, regardless of whatever style of music is used to accompany the words, we mirror the heavenly liturgy.  Our voices our joined with the angels in their eternal song of praise.

I am partial to classical forms of the liturgy.   When I hear recordings of great Russian choirs singing the Sanctus, it sounds like I have a front row seat to a concert by the choirs of angels and archangels.

I can accept the fact that this kind of music might not appeal to everyone the appeals to me.  Regardless of the style of music used to perform the song, though, the words matter.  Because of Christ, we participate in God's divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), so why wouldn't we want to participate in those aspects of the heavenly liturgy that have been revealed to us through the visions recorded in Isaiah and elsewhere in the Bible? 

When we gather together for worship, we enter into sacred time and space.  The veil between heaven and earth is lifted, and our voices can join those of the saints of all ages in the praise of God.  Therefore, the words and music of worship should be used in a way that allows us to be in harmony with the angels and saints, instead of merely being a distant echo.  

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