Friday, April 9, 2010

Church Music and my Easter

My church is a very large, contemporary Protestant church. Some of you just groaned or rolled your eyes, admit it! It's okay, I do understand your misgivings. There is a lot that I really do love about my church, but one thing I get very tired of is the Christian rock style that perpetually pervades the music. It simply isn't my favorite style and I miss a lot of the old songs and now appreciate liturgy much more.

This Easter was a mash-up of styles, and it was good to see the power of both of them, and how both were able to lead a congregation into worship. What mattered was not so much the style but the state of my heart, and whether or not I was prepared to worship or to critique.

On Dark Friday we followed up our visit last year and went to the Tenebrae service (service of darkness) at a Lutheran church right across from our church. Again, it was moving and beautiful. I love the liturgy, the reading and chanting, the snuffing out of one candle after another as we read through the last words of Jesus from the cross, until finally the room is left in darkness.

The final candle was snuffed out as this played - I'd recommend you listen to it without the picture, which gives you the feeling we got as we listened, since it was dark and they intentionally place all of the musicians and singers in the back balcony, out of view. The music filled the dark room, first quiet and meditative, and I thought of the deep suffering and loneliness of the cross, of the ages and the spiritual world stepping back, unsure of what happens next. The music builds slowly, and I thought of the weeping women, of the despair of the disciples, the agonizing cries of Christ, the raging clamor of darkness as is pictured by the White Witch's forces as they shaved and killed Aslan.

Then.... then the music crescendos and it is alarming, overwhelming, panicked, and I understand why we call this Dark Friday - we cry out wildly at this time that all hope is lost, that the promised one has died, that darkness has covered all....

and the congregation filed out silently, wonderingly, to a sky piled high with stormy, angry clouds that pressed close and strangely fit with the service we'd just left. It is a new thing to me to understand Dark Friday as the liturgical year celebrates it - in despair, as if it is happening again and we don't know what happens next.

The next day Isaac and I took my sister out exploring a new area of Dallas, and this song came on, from Phil Wickham's free singalong cd:

Phil stops the song in the middle and says.... "but it doesn't end there!" That's like how my pastor says that we, in some ways, live our lives on Saturday of the Holy Week. We know that this is not the end of the story and the curtain is ripped in two, but we haven't yet seen Christ's return. We live somewhere between the Great Sorrow and the Great Victory.

Sunday morning we got to church early amidst gorgeous spring warmth and lots of Easter dresses. They played my favorite new song, Matt Maher's Christ is Risen:

Oh the joy of the great call of, "He's alive! He's alive!" I feel like my heart will burst through my chest with the joy of it, and I always get goosebumps at the call, "Oh Church, come and stand in the light!" Somehow the implications of that when declaring that Christ is alive is so momentous and joyous...

Easter has been different the past few years. I was baptized on Easter as a 12 year old, in a muddy stream in the mountains of Papua. On that Easter I went to an Easter sunrise service and for the first time marveled at the words of songs like "Because He Lives" and "Christ the Lord is Risen Today". Other than that year, I usually felt like Easter was a let-down. There's a whole season of advent that we celebrated around Christmas, but for the evangelicals Easter was just a day, and a day without many traditions other than an Easter service and a brunch with lots of breakfast casseroles. I have loved beginning to understand the traditional Holy Week, which really puts Easter in perspective. Next step really is to join the Church in observing Lent.


CM said...

I love liturgy year round, but I especially love it this time of year. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this!

Togenberg said...


Tenebrae is such a powerful service. I imagine the Lutheran is similar to the Anglican. So powerful.

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