The problem of familiarity
Scripture – text from the Old and New Testaments – suffers from being read aloud. For Christian insiders, the texts are so familiar that one’s mind tends to wander - well, my mind tends to wander, and I’m guessing I’m not the only one.
Puzzling, Disturbing and Incomprehensible
For outsiders, the “dechurched and unchurched”, the opposite is the case. The texts are mainly incomprehensible, and when comprehensible, then often puzzling and disturbing. I wonder what I would make of the key events in the Judeo-Christian narrative – the Fall of Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, the almost-sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, the attempted murder of Joseph by his brothers, the Passover, the Crossing of the Red Sea, the subsequent invasion of Canaan, the doings of Israel’s kings, the utterances of its prophets, the Virgin Birth of Christ, his betrayal, torture and judicial execution by crucifixion, his Resurrection, the first Christian Pentecost – if I were hearing them for the first time as an adult.
Sermon at your service!
A good sermon following a Bible reading is supposed to solve both problems, by drawing the attention of the regular church-goer back to the subject at hand, and by explaining the text to someone baffled (or disturbed) by it. Sermons may or may not succeed in the former, but it’s much harder to succeed at the latter. Just try taking an outsider to church with you.
Gospel Music at St James's
At St James’s Piccadilly, weather permitting, Soul Sanctuary's choir and band sing and play for an outdoor Eucharist at 6pm on the first Sunday of the month which is aimed at insiders, who sit inside the courtyard on Piccadilly, and outsiders, who usually stay on Piccadilly itself outside the church’s lovely wrought-iron railings (one or two intrepid outsiders make it through them). The sermons at St James’s are, in fact, excellent. But to help get the message of Christ through those railings, St James’s generously permits us to communicate the scripture of the day through the medium of contemporary gospel music, the last Christian art form which is widely welcomed in the secular world.
Believing in the Light!
Next Sunday (March 3rd 2019, the last Sunday before Lent) our challenge is to communicate a passage from the twelfth chapter of St John’s gospel (John, 12, 27-36a), that describing the glorification of Christ by the Father, the warning given by Christ to his followers of his impending passion and crucifixion and the exhortation to follow him nevertheless. We've called the service 'Believing in the Light' to reflect this theme. The text is mainly reported speech, not description. Even by John’s standards, the concepts are profound and the language is dense: Jesus is “troubled” by what is about to happen to him, and by the inability of his followers to grasp that his death will be shameful, but that his “light” will bring salvation to all people who follow in it. They, full of excitement about the raising of Lazarus and flushed from the triumphal entry in Jerusalem, are still looking for a victorious king of Israel, a new David. Not even the dramatic demonstration of God’s glory seems to jolt them out of their fixation.
Need to Know
We sing this gospel passage to the music of Dawkins & Dawkins’s “Need To Know”, a simple four-chord sequence with an R’n’B groove, the choir singing the chorus of the original song (“need to know, gotta know now”) as a singer improvises their collective bafflement (“who is this Son of man you keep talking about? what’s happening to our dream of victory?”). Meanwhile a narrator sings original scripture, plus some scene-setting lyrics, and another singer takes the part of Christ. All using a combination of spoken word and improvised melody.
Discover for yourself!
We have found that remarkably little editing is needed to make text accessible…what we have needed to do is add sentences here and there to illuminate. And we hope that the beauty of Spirit-filled contemporary gospel music gives a sense of personal experience and of wonder to the scripture. But we invite you to come along and see for yourself.