We all have special moments we experience in worship, both as worshipers and as worship leaders. Some are downright "magical." Before I continue, let me insert all the Lutheran caveats here: by "magical," I don't mean anything gnostic or occult nor will this be about using the art of music to manipulate emotions. I say "magical," merely in the sense of a phenomenon that is "beautiful or delightful in an extraordinary way." This can and should happen when the art of music is joined to the Word of God. It certainly happened for us this morning at Immanuel. Key to this happening was my preparation for this as a worship leader - and so I'd like to share with you what I did so that it might help you as you strive to bring the Gospel similarly to your people.
Here's what went down. There is a cool communion song I found a few years ago in the Wisconsin Synod hymnal supplement by Michael Joncas called "Take and Eat." You can also find it in the latest editions of Gather. Here's one of several recording out there on YouTube, of various quality, instrumentations and tempi. I've always wanted a congregation to embrace it, but until today my attempts to minister with the song had fallen. In Illinois I had even used the "have the children's choir sing the verses" trick to try to help "sell" it, but never had an assembly really own it - even the steady faithful who come to our Wednesday night services of "Catechesis and Communion" here in Oklahoma. I had started to wonder if this was just a song I liked but really shouldn't impose on the folk. I knew the words were good, but started thinking that perhaps I just liked the chord progression too much or something, and really wasn't singing a melody they could embrace.
Thankfully, with the readings for today providing an excellent opportunity to sing this hymn, I decided to try it one more time. So I re-approached the hymn anew and did exactly what I teach others to do but realized I had failed to do myself. I got up from the piano and sang the song unaccompanied. I memorized the lyrics and mused on them. I sang the song in the sanctuary, imagining people in the pews and considering how I might bring these words of our Lord alive in their ears. I spent an hour doing this on Friday and another half-hour on Saturday, and then jammed on the tune for another half-hour on the piano at home. In other words, I took the craft of cantoring seriously and did everything I should have done previously with the song in order to prepare to minister through this music.
I didn't need to hear the compliments after the song to know that I did the right thing. I could tell by the third refrain that something was different in the room. By the final refrain the sanctuary was filled with singing - the kind of heart-felt singing I had always hope to elicit but had previously failed to evoke with this song. It was a very special moment. The people were connecting with the promises of Jesus and being comforted by them. It was indeed, in the best sense of the word, "magical."
Please note that this came about not because I was "into it" or because of some "inner feeling" I had. I've always grooved on this song. That kind of playing and singing might provide an inspirational testimony, but the hearers remain passive. It can even devolve into entertainment. No, this was because I had consciously moved outside of myself and had worked on singing the song in an intentional way, with the intention being to bless all who heard me today and to invite them to join me in singing the LORD's song.
How often do we take our musicianship for granted? How often are we just singing words and notes on a page? As important as notation is, the page just contains symbols. The music is in the air. Sure, we need to learn the music first, but never forget that notes and words and rhythms are but the beginning of true practicing. If you stop there, you'll miss the music. The results will be similar to that of a pastor dryly reading his sermon rather than really preaching it to you. The psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs we offer are just as important as the preaching - and often have more impact on people. So approach each song as if it were a little sermon, focusing not just on what you are singing, but who you are singing it to and/or with. And let God's "magic" happen as His Word has His way with His people. SDG