Search Adorate

Musical Communion

Many years ago, I was involved in my doctoral studies at Abilene (Texas) Christianity University.  ACU is associated with the churches of the Stone-Campbell Movement that do not use musical instruments in worship.

Most of Sunday worship was familiar.  The order was typical.  The music was generally well known.  Since the churches of Christ had a great emphasis on vocal harmony, it would not be remotely accurate to describe the services as unmusical.  Some outsiders have labeled them as the people who don't use music in worship.  That is so untrue.  They are only the group that do not use instruments to accompany their music in worship.

The most obvious change that struck me as unexpected and awkward was the Lord's Supper.
Although how it was celebrated was typical, there was no musical background.  You don't realize how accustomed to something you are until it is suddenly not there.  There was always something being played during Communion -- piano, guitars, or, more recently, a full praise song.

In the churches of Christ I visited there was no music during communion. It was silent.  Or, almost silent.   You could heard the sounds of trays being passed and all those other little noises that a large group of people make by just being present.  It was awkward.  Just several minutes of near silence while communion was being served.

I actually commented on it to one of my church of Christ friends.  I told him it seemed a little awkward to me.  I explained we always did Communion to a musical background.  For one thing, it helped cover up all those little noises of trays being passed or people shifting in their seats.  He found the idea that we did music during Communion as odd as I had found the silence.

At this point, he could have talked to me about the power of the silences during worship.  "Be silent in the Lord's presence all people everywhere, now that He is stirring in His holy dwelling." (Zech 2:13) We all know that we don't do a good job of silence in worship.  (Planned and expected silences -- a sudden silence that is unexpected just creates a whole room of people wondering what went wrong and who is going to get blamed for it -- not the same thing.)

But, that was not his answer. It was totally unexpected.  And since then it has haunted my thoughts during hundreds of Communion services.

"Why," he asked me, "Would anyone want to play background music to cover up the sounds of Communion?  Those little noises you hear around you, well, that is the music of the church at table with Jesus.  Why would we ever want to cover that up?"

It still took me a few weeks to adjust to it.  Eventually, I found I looked forward to those moments of unhurried silence, when the small sounds of moving trays or whispered prayers reminded me that we come to the table in and with the church.

Now, many years later, I find I still miss those silences during Communion.

And then I was reading and ran across a quote from the great G. K. Chesterton that added another challenge our tradition:

"Music," Chesterton wrote, "With dinner is an insult to both the cook and the violinist."

No comments: