Thursday, May 10, 2007

Requiem Aeternam - Robert E. Webber

On Monday of this week I learned of the death of Robert Webber at age 73 of pancreatic cancer. That name may not mean much to you, but it means a great deal to me.

I encountered Bob Webber when I was a student at Southern Seminary. He was one of the keynote speakers for the annual Church Music Institute. Alumni would pay money to come back for the event, and students got to experience it for free (our tuition covered it, I’m sure). I still have the cassette tape I made from his talk. Webber’s teaching on worship (he wrote over 40 books on the subject … I have 3 or 4) had a profound impact on my formation as a young minister.

I can’t think of Webber without thinking of the title of perhaps his best known book on worship: Worship Is a Verb. Think about that a minute. We are prone to think of worship as a noun … as something we attend … as an event we hold … as something to be endured until it’s finally over and we can get out of here. Sometimes we even think of worship as a “performance” (by whomever happens to be up front) to be graded (by whomever happens to be in the “audience”).

In today’s world, we are so accustomed to a performance mindset that it is easy to think of worship that way. Our sanctuaries look like a stage for performers and seats for an audience, don’t they? Thinking of worship as a verb, however, changes our whole perspective. Worship is not something we observe, nor something we simply attend, nor an event we hold every Sunday morning. Worship is something that we do. What may be mistaken for “performers” (choir, preacher, musicians, etc.) become leaders in a holy interaction with God. What may look like an “audience” (spectators or listeners) becomes a congregation (a body assembled with a purpose).

In comparing worship to a theatrical performance, Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard wrote that in worship, if there is an audience, that Audience is God Himself. The performers of worship are the gathered congregation … the people in the pews. The pastor, choir, musicians, etc. are prompters who assist the congregation in carrying out a performance designed to please God. The question, then, is not, “Did the prompters please the cast?”; but rather, “Did the cast, with the help of the prompters, please God?” That’s enough to think about for now.


Blogger JATB said...

you sound like me. (Or maybe I sound like you!) Purity of Heart by Kierkegaard is one of the most important books I've ever read.

I really liked Webber's Worship Old and New. He was important to me too, although I never heard him in person, but I've read a lot of his stuff.

I'm teaching a radio series on worship right now, called "Worship 101". As soon as we can get the .wav files off our antiquated radio computer (that has no network adapter!), we'll convert them to mp3 and do a podcast via the church's web site. ( Stay tuned.

11:20 PM  

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