July 19, 2001
"To fill with wonder"
Edwin Starner, who has played for services in many churches in the United States and is now organist at The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts, shares his thoughts on the prelude and the postlude as they relate to congregational worship.
With few exceptions, as Christians enter their churches for worship and as they leave at the conclusion of the service, they will hear music being played from the organ or piano.
The practice of using musical instruments in the worship of God, however, predated the Christian era. It is recorded in the Bible that the purpose of the music was "to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord."(1) This was music with a purpose.
Sadly, in much of society today, music is often thought of as merely a background for other activities, such as shopping, dining, or riding in an elevator, rather than as something to experience as an activity with a purpose of its own.
Although many regard the prelude and postlude to the worship service as background music for arriving and departing, both can have an individual message for each one who actively listens.
Although not a musical one, there was a prelude to one of the first Christian sermons preached -- the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew tells us, "And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him."(2)
The prelude can be our opportunity to go up into the mountain of elevated thought, and when we are set -- that is, when we have focused our attention on the things of Spirit -- we will be ready to hear the Word of God. Music, often referred to as "the universal language," can help us to do this individually and collectively, and we must protect this precious time from distraction or interference.
The postlude to the Sermon on the Mount is recorded by Matthew in this manner: "When Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine."(3) One definition for astonish is "to fill with . . . wonder."
The postlude provides the opportunity for us to deal with our astonishment, or wonder, at God's goodness as just revealed to us through His word. We can take these precious moments to affirm what we have just heard, express our gratitude to God, and dedicate ourselves to higher demonstration. The postlude can be an individual and collective expression of joy and praise to God for all who participate through active listening, and nothing should be allowed to distract anyone from this sacred opportunity.
We can awake to both these opportunities to expand our worship experience, and we can cherish the sacredness of this hour together. And although worshipers are welcome to come and go as they please, each one of us can watch and sanctify that hour to protect it from worldly traffic.
As we lift up our worship services in these ways, the Christ becomes more visible and draws all men to Truth and Love.
(1) II Chron. 5:13.
(2) Matt. 5:1.
(3) Matt. 7:28.
By Edwin Starner. Copyright © 1997 The Christian Science Publishing Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Originally published in September 1997 in The Christian Science Journal.
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