Every fall since 2012, we've had a Vespers. I think all-in-all COAH has had seven or eight Vespers and everyone has been a mammoth to prepare for. It takes hours of practice both independently and together as a band to get ready for a marathon of musical worship. It's not enough to know entrances, breaks, and dynamics. As many musicians (especially brass players), can attest, your vocal cords and finger tips are an instrument in and of themselves. You have to prepare your vocal cords and finger tips like an athlete would before a game. It's pretty hardcore (#firstworldproblems). We play between ten and fourteen songs every Vespers and while it is very taxing for those preparing for it, it's worth it in the end.
Becky Dewilde asked me a few weeks ago what a Vespers Service was and for some background information as to why we have the service. I obliged and for the sake of time and simplicity I'm just going to copy and paste what a Vespers is by definition and its history. Forgive me for being lazy. Vespers is (and this is the google definition) "the sunset evening prayer service in the Orthodox, Western and Eastern Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran liturgies of the canonical hours. The word comes from the Greek ἑσπέρα ("hespera") and the Latin vesper, meaning "evening".
A couple of thoughts: Why even choose the word "Vespers"? Most people outside of a theological background and/or education wouldn't know what Vespers is. Heck, I didn't. The genesis of this idea came from a close friend of mine and Elder at COAH, Dan Rambeck. I have to give credit to my wife as well because she doesn't get nearly enough props for the ideas that others are inadvertently given credit for. Dan and his wife, Tegan, both attended Bethel University in St Paul, MN a few years back and while they were there, they attended Sunday night Vespers. Dan presented the idea to me and thought that COAH could have their own Vespers with our own style and ethos. After considerable amounts of time had passed through prayer and discernment, we decided to pursue the idea and make it a reality. I and four other musicians embarked on hot, sweaty practices on a couple of different nights over a period of a few months and by August of 2012, we were ready. Or sort of. We chose what was probably the hottest day of the summer in August of 2012 and we chose to have our Vesper's service in the Steeple Center mid-afternoon, without any AC, not a cloud or breeze in the sky. Needless to say, choosing 12 songs was a task-master and Joanne Vanoverbeke said it perfectly when she yelled out, "12 songs!? during the introduction of Vespers. That's a lot of songs to play on a muggy August afternoon in a hotbox like the Steeple Center. Just a disclaimer for all those that are reading this and are thinking of coming to the Vespers: it's a come-and-leave-whenever-you'd-like kind of event. You're not obligated to stay the entire service. We want you to seek Christ through many different facets of worship whether it's musical worship, relational community, prayer, Bible reading, or quiet meditation. Anyone and everyone is welcome to attend.
Another thought I had about Vespers was its beautiful ability to be just about anything. What I mean is, it has a simple complexity about it. That helped clarify, didn't it? I try to be as intentional a person as I can (and my wife can attest to this) and we intentionally plan a lot of the service whether it's the major/minor key of a song, the Bible passages that we put up on our slides, the types of songs we choose, to the atmosphere in the room like chair placement, spacing, the ability to seen the screen, etc. All of this is done with the expectation that the Holy Spirit moves individually and corporately wherever we worship. John 4:23-24 says, 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. I love this passage because it gives us as believers an opportunity to worship God through many different means and in any place. Even in the Community Room at the Waterford Commons apartment complex. Jesus' sacrifice on the cross allows us to see beyond the veil and worship him without having to sacrifice animal's blood or journey to the Temple for cleansing. Moreover, we expect that even though we intentionally plan nearly every aspect of our Vesper's Service, the Holy Spirit will move in this place and in the hearts of everyone present.
Last thought. This goes back to the simple complexity of Vespers. What I love about our Vespers is our ability to mold it into whatever we want it to be. Something that I've just recently talked to Pastor Bruce about even though it's been on mind since graduating from LDI at Hope Community Church, is incorporating songs of worship that people, like believers, normally wouldn't think are songs that are "worshipful". Songs that make us think about our role in God's grand story like love, faith or lack of faith, the different ways that artists depict Christ, etc. We're performing three songs this Vespers called, Dance In The Graveyards by Gungor, Come All You Weary by Thrice, and You Have Me by Gungor. In that vein, and I might ruffle some feathers when I say this, but I charge anyone to find the phrase or term, "Christian music" in the Bible. It doesn't exist. It's our hearts intention, the thoughts we think, the words that we sing or say, that give God worship. Every time I think of that, I think of Romans 12:1-2 which says, 1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. There's a lot of bad music out there made by musical artists who are Christian or claim to be Christian. It could be the lyrics, it could be repeating choruses simply to evoke emotion and nothing else, or it could be just plain and simple bad theology. God is so much bigger than we can possibly fathom. Do we think that God, who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent can't receive musical worship unless the lyrics are explicitly "Christian"? Folks, I implore to really think outside of the box and examine that just because a song has Jesus, Bible, or pray in it, doesn't necessarily mean it's a worship tune. God is so big that he will get glory from wherever God decides to get glory from. A lot of musical artists who aren't even Christian can incidentally give glory to God through their lyrics without even knowing it. Just some food for thought. If you would like to discuss this further with me, I would love to talk to you one-on-one. Side note: at COAH, we intentionally play songs that give honor to God's character and grace, Jesus' sacrifice, and the Holy Spirit's presence. That's done through a number of creative outlets like deep theologically sound lyrics, different rhythms and tempos, different styles with diverse instrumentation.
In closing, Hebrews 4:16 says, Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.