Of all the Easter Sundays I have celebrated, this year was the most un-Easter-like ever. Without little ones around, I felt no pressure to have easter baskets filled with colored eggs, marshmallow chicks and chocolate bunnies. The closest thing to an Easter dinner was the little bits of ham that found their way to onto our stuffed crust DiGiorno. And I didn’t even get to play O Savior, Thou Who Wearest a Crown (music from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion) in church.
Surprisingly, we only had three congregational hymns in this year’s Easter service—All Creatures of Our God and King, He Is Risen! and Christ the Lord Is Risen Today. Want to take a guess as to which one was the sacrament hymn? C’mon, I’ll give you three tries.
You’re right, it was He Is Risen!
It seemed a little strange to be clipping along at a dignified tempo of 96 with a bold (but not overbearing!) registration, solid singing from the congregation and priests breaking bread at the sacrament table. It was like my favorite Sesame Street song, “One of these things is not like the other…one of these things doesn’t belong.”
I didn’t choose the hymn. I even questioned the music chairman’s choice, citing the directive that sacrament hymns should refer to the sacrament itself or to the sacrifice of the Savior. But the bishop wanted it for Easter. And I decided that as long as I could play it at the intended tempo, with organ settings to match, I would be fine with it. And I was…mostly…
The really odd part for me about the whole service was the closing hymn. I had prepared Mike Carson’s arrangement of Christ the Lord Is Risen Today. One advantage of playing a unique arrangement is that most people won’t realize if I don’t play it perfectly. Musical trainwrecks are obvious, of course, but skipped notes and minor blips are generally not distracting to the average congregation. There were a few measures in the reharmonization that weren’t as solid as I would like, but felt that I could make it work. Apparently I was over-optimistic. I kept it moving. No trainwrecks this time….barely….
Now, I realize that playing a hymn imperfectly is not particularly odd. (Well, maybe it is for you, but not for me!) However, what I think is strange is what happens after my playing falls short of what I would like it to be. For the past seven years I have noticed that when my playing is the roughest, the congregation showers me with compliments on how beautiful the music sounded. At first I thought they were just trying to cheer me up; that they knew I didn’t do well and thought I needed a little encouragement. As I became better friends with the members, I realized that they really meant what they said—that my worst playing actually sounded beautiful to them. That’s when I came up with “The Filter Theory.”
My theory would probably be called “grace” in other churches. (I know, a lot of Mormons have a hard time wrapping their mind around that doctrine, but hear me out.) You see, I believe that God knows my heart and my desires as well as my weaknesses and limitations. So when I practice the best I can but fall short of my desires during the service, the Spirit steps in between me and the congregation and filters out any kind of distraction that my playing may bring.
It reminds me of the song “If You Want to Steal My Show” by TobyMac.
If You wanna steal my show, I’ll sit back and watch You go
If You got somethin’ to say, go on and take it away
Need You to steal my show, can’t wait to watch You go
So take it away
But the thing is—and we’re finally getting to the oddest part of all—is that when God ‘steals my show’ like that, people end up thinking I did something good. God does all the good stuff. We try to give Him the glory, but He just shines it back on us again.
Hmmm…maybe the day wasn’t as un-Easter-like as I thought…