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From bulletin: St. John Passion service, Bethany Lutheran Church, March 29, 2015

From bulletin: St. John Passion service, Bethany Lutheran Church,
March 29, 2015

Sunday’s experience singing Bach’s St. John Passion felt more than a little surreal. Other than on the songs when I myself had to join in on the hard work of singing, I often felt as if I were somehow inside a recording of the music I’ve been listening to over the past several months. The 40 songs on my phone that are now so familiar provide so much more music than the choruses and chorales our choir has been rehearsing. For one thing they come accompanied by an orchestra, not just our choir accompanist playing on the piano a small portion of the completeness provided by the various instrumental parts. And for another, we practiced our own songs but had little or no exposure to the arias in ordinary rehearsals.

In fact, because what we were doing was only part of the complete work, that is why I decided to start listening to those 40 songs in order—no shuffling allowed. This winter whenever I plugged my ear buds into my phone, I selected Bach to accompany me as I pushed my snow blower or ran. My purpose wasn’t to focus on the music but to let the songs—mine and those of others, transitions, and accompaniment seep into me. Last week, before the dress rehearsal with the other musicians, I would have told you I wasn’t ready to sing my parts—despite seven months of group rehearsals and practice on my own.

But with those musicians? Wow—just wow. Oh certainly, I didn’t have everything down just perfectly, but it helped so much to have the support of such high level instrumentalists as well as the professional soloists who also sang with us. At Saturday’s dress rehearsal there were moments when I would hear the other sections of the choir sing and think, “Is that sound really coming from us?” It was so much easier to sing up to a new standard surrounded by all that excellence as I sat and stood immersed in something that sounded a whole lot like what had been coming into my ears all winter long.

For the few hours of Sunday’s service I was transported into an almost ethereal space where I even forgot sometimes how hard I was working.

Because of that I could really hear the message and sense just how passionate this passion was—our God was put to trial and forsaken. The heavenly music told a tale of oh-so-earthly human failures. No wonder so many of the faces I faced as I sang that the final number—including not just those of those in attendance, but also of our director—were either close to tears or had tears escaping—as is also likely true of my face and of those standing with me in the choir. How could we not “get” the story when told as Bach intended?

Indeed—what a way to put the holy into Holy Week.

(Note: in order to listen, access the link embedded above and go to the worship archives for March and click on March 29, St. John Passion.)

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Talk about putting a different spin on the song by the Cure—still, didn’t the crucifixion of the long-awaited Messiah change how the world spun? Although today is Good Friday, much about it doesn’t seem good at all.

But without Jesus’ death on the cross on this day we call good, then the rest of the story can’t happen. This act is the one that shows—not tells—that God so loved the world that he gave his only son.

I’d rather skip over to Easter and the resurrection but to understand the sacrifice, first I have to understand the loss. If church is only about praise and happy moments, then maybe it becomes too easy to believe God has forgotten me when I encounter my own losses.

There is something about the way the church sanctuary darkens that helps me comprehend what happened around a couple thousand years ago. And, if I’m still not getting the message, all I have to do is wait until the Christ candle is snuffed out and the Good Book slammed shut. It is finished, it is finished, and there is no more.

But there is more. Good Friday and the sounds from cellos and the words of loss and absence of light are really just the beginning of the story. Tune in on Easter morning and discover the rest of the story.

And that’s why I don’t hesitate to love this Friday.

P.S. Tonight, April 6, 2012, my son Jackson and I will both be singing with the Bethany Lutheran Chancel Choir, which is performing the Bradley Ellingboe “Requiem” as part of the Good Friday worship service. If you want to tune in to this part of the story from your home, then click on the livestreaming link on the Bethany Lutheran Church (Cherry Hills Village, CO) website at 7:00 p.m. MST. May you learn to love this Friday, too.

(c) 2011 Sherman Lambert

Like many other people, I’ve come to associate the Messiah with the Christmas season, even though Handel wrote it to be performed during the Lenten days leading up to the Easter triumph. Most of us who dabbled in high school choirs at all have sung the “Hallelujah!” chorus and many communities host sing-a-longs for people long past their high school days. Although I’ve never participated in one of those events, since I found about six copies of the Messiah in Mom’s music collection, I can have a sing-a-long all by myself whenever those songs come on my radio station.

In fact, last Christmas Eve after our family attended church, I got out a beat-up ancient Schirmer copy and tried to keep up—though I failed miserably—with the songs while my family members were busy covering their ears!

This year, however, I am one (small) voice in the Chancel Choir at Bethany Lutheran, a church whose large choir, directed by Dr. Dan Grace, has numerous talented singers, many who are trained musicians as well as professionals in the field. I’ve sung various songs from Messiah with choirs, but last Friday was the first time I have been part of a Christmas production of Messiah, complete with soloists and an orchestra. The people in the pews were no doubt thinking “Wow!” but so were choir members such as I who got to rest often to listen to the serious musicians perform the magic that is the “wow” of these pieces created almost three centuries ago.

With two rehearsals and one performance happening three nights in a row, last week I spent a lot of time in the words and musical notes of Messiah. No doubt our senior minister, Pastor Ron Glusenkamp, was also immersed in the words featured in Messiah, especially since much of the text mirrored the lectionary for the second Sunday in Advent. Thus his sermon words built on those I had been singing or had listened to others sing.

The truth is those words found me where I have been, which for so long is too focused on the aches in my body. However, because my current treatments are also returning positive energy to that body, I am better able to balance the physical with my mind and spirit, letting the body’s attention-seeking antics recede to a more normal prominence. To be sure, one of the reasons I planned the new treatments for when I did was so I could sit and stand as needed throughout the Messiah performance—which I did with much more comfort than any previous time this fall during the shorter weekly Sunday services.

Still, when Pastor Ron’s sermon focused on comfort, you can bet my first thoughts were on the physical. Yet when he discussed the bruises we get and give—both from life experiences themselves and from one another—my next thought was that we all need spiritual Arnica.

Both traditional and alternative healing often use Arnica as part of the cure for aches such as bruises. My own personal experience with Arnica has been just short of miraculous—oh not for my current deep wound—but for other painful yet more superficial wounds. I have had muscle knots that severely limited my gait, only to have them disappear after a couple topical applications of Arnica—so much so that I even forgot that I had ever felt the pain. The miracle of Arnica is that it can be so much of a spot remover that the “spot” can seem as if it never existed.

The words of balm spoken in Isaiah and repeated by Handel and Pastor Ron are that spiritual Arnica for me. So many crooked paths to make straight and so many rough places to make plain in my life—who among us doesn’t have iniquity in need of pardoning or spots we wish could disappear? Every valley time in my life, such as this year so full of losing loved ones, combined with my own physical pains and concern for my daughter, shall be exalted.

Comfort me—with words a few thousand years old and notes a few hundred years old—in this world that, though it has yet to shed its need for spiritual Arnica, has a Redeemer who one day shall stand upon this earth.

Hallelujah!

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