A Moment in Time and Space (Part 1)
by Glenn R. Molina, Director of Worship Arts

Shanti and I attended the U2 concert a few weeks ago at Angels Stadium in Anaheim. (Okay… PLEASE keep reading. I promise this won’t be another tirade where I start gushing about my favorite band. Well, it might be, but I promise it will have a purpose.) For its current world tour, U2 has set a world record for constructing the largest concert touring stage structure in history. This thing is massive, and in the daylight looks like a cross between a spaceship and some sort of mutated sea creature—in fact, its common nickname is “The Claw”. In Anaheim, The Claw’s footprint took up the majority of the ballfield, and anyone driving by on the 57 freeway could see it prominently sticking out several yards higher than the actual height of the stadium.

Now, a common complaint with live concerts—especially rock concerts—is the inability of those attending to hear the music with any real sense of clarity. With the amplifiers turned up to eleven, you’re lucky to distinguish anything that sounds relatively close to the songs you’re used to hearing in your car stereo or on your iPod. Take one look at The Claw, and it would be natural to assume that the average ticketholder was in for a night of muffled, distorted, quasi-musical gunk. But the sound engineers involved with the current U2 tour have somehow managed to pull off something unlikely for concerts of this size. Shanti and I were sitting in a section about as far back from the stage as possible in the stadium, but the sound was crystal clear. Each band member’s instrument could be heard clearly, and Bono’s vocals were crisp and understandable. And, from accounts by others who sat throughout the stadium, this was true for most of the 50,000+ people in attendance that evening.

By minimizing issues of sound distortion, U2 has been able to maximize what it has done best for the past two decades: creating an intimate (yes, even in a baseball arena!) moment between artist and audience. The musicians recognize that for the average fan, this is the one moment where they can interact with the band, and they do what they can to make it as special and meaningful as possible through the presentation of their music. This, along with the unique nature of U2’s music, which blends cultural intuition with spiritual depth, creates an atmosphere which many music reviewers (Christian and non-Christian alike) have often deemed as worshipful.

Our time together as a congregation each Sunday morning also carries a unique quality, though not nearly as loud. What other time of the week do the children of the Almighty gather together with one voice to praise and honor God? Those of us who serve the church community as worship leaders have a responsibility not unlike those sound engineers at the U2 concert: maximizing our time together to help us to look up to God in praise; to look inward and examine our own lives in relation to Him; and to look outward towards each other, to our community, and to the world in service to Him. We spend many hours in prayer and discussion trying to sort out how to best do that for our unique fellowship of believers. I’d like to think we do fairly well most of the time, but we continue to strive to improve and adjust as necessary.

We closed Sunday’s service with the wonderful hymn, “Nearer, My God to Thee.” The last verse of the hymn is as follows:

“Then, with my waking thoughts bright with Thy praise,

Out of my stony griefs, Bethel I’ll raise;

So by my woes to be nearer, my God, to Thee,

Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee.”

It’s beautiful poetry, isn’t it? But it occurred to me that some of those singing the song might have missed the deeper significance of the imagery within the lyric. In Genesis 28, God makes an important covenant with Jacob through a dream, and Jacob names the place “Bethel”, meaning “house of God”. Throughout Genesis, it was common to honor God through the re-naming of a location. So in the hymn, we are really singing that our struggles and griefs will lead us into creating a space of honoring and worshipping the Lord, not only with our own hearts, but for the sake of declaring His praise to others.

Now, how many of you got all of that last Sunday? (I don’t recall hearing a chorus of “Amens” after singing that lyric.) I actually remember considering stopping the song after the previous verse and taking a moment to explain the imagery of that final lyric. On this occasion, I have the luxury of explaining to you through this article. However, for most weeks, the wonderful lyrics we get to sing come and go all too quickly. It is one of the disadvantages of the modern worship format, where lyrics are typically only to be found via the projector screen. (Of course, one of the advantages of this is saving several trees, but that’s for another Messenger article.)

So for this week’s service, we’re going to try something different. I will be posting the lyrics for this week’s service on my worship blog, CharisNotes. I encourage you to go online this week and review the lyrics ahead of time. You can read them over just a single time, or you can print them out and meditate upon the words as we approach our corporate worship time this coming Sunday. How will our worship experience be affected by having an advance opportunity to consider the words we are singing to God, and in the presence of one another?

Let’s find out. Come find me at charisnotes.blogspot.com for the next part of our adventure together.