by Allin Sorenson
I grew up in a United Methodist church in Quincy, Illinois that is architecturally very similar to Drury’s Stone Chapel, right down to the pews. I’ve always found that ironic and an affirmation that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be. Goethe described architecture as music frozen in time. I love this analogy because the music and architecture that have been most important to me have always been associated with the church.
When we enter a sacred space, we expect things to be different. Our mind transcends the ordinary in anticipation of something greater than ourselves, and our everyday lives. The beauty of the building, the light through stained glass, the quiet and sense of peace all help to prepare us for an encounter that is holy and transformative. Shouldn’t our music have the same effect? To do so it must fit with the liturgy and enhance, rather than distract us from the reason we are there.
Music has always played a significant role in worship, both as something to be experienced and more importantly, as something to participate in. Psalm 51 states that we should “Sing to the Lord”. This isn’t a request, but a command to raise our voices to praise the risen Christ. Singing the psalms, hymns and service music allows us to connect with the divine on multiple levels and to share with one another in the corporate worship of God.
Martin Luther talks a great deal about the theology of music and held that it was a powerful gift from God, and that it was next to theology and the Word of God deserving the highest praise. He believed that music helped us gain a better understanding of the text and played a valuable role in helping believers give a joyful expression to their beliefs. He was dedicated to making music accessible to everyone, and expected them to participate – to sing!
Luther believed that the best way to share the Gospel was to sing it. This marriage of the words to music helps us gain a deeper understanding of the text on an emotional level. For example, the beauty of Psalm 23 is made all the more meaningful by a beautiful melody that reflects and illumines the text. I believe we have all experienced this at one time or another and can even now, recall texts that music has enriched.
I listen to music all the time, but the music that I keep coming back to, and that matters most to me, is the music of the church. Why does it matter? It matters because it opens a door for us to experience God on many levels, and speaks to us in ways that are too deep for words. Music is such an integral part of the liturgy that it almost becomes unthinkable to worship without it.
The purpose of worship is to bring people and God closer together, but that requires something from both parties. Music is one way we can share in the experience of worship and become engaged rather than passively watching from the pews. I believe that if we engage in worship, then it is easier to act upon the call to be engaged in making Christ known in the world.