I suppose I am getting used to worshiping while seated on my bedroom sofa and staring at two iPads on a music stand. It seems a bit less weird than it did in March, but I don’t think I will ever prefer it over gathering in the sanctuary. Worship is still worship – and I keep reminding myself of that.
A couple of weeks ago, the soloist at our Sunday worship sang the beautiful hymn, “Now the Silence” which was written in 1968 by the hymn poet Jaroslav Vajda (1919-2008) and it is his most widely published hymn. Vajda was, for much of his life, a Lutheran pastor, serving Slovak-English parishes in Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Missouri. He began writing hymns at age 49, writing over 225 hymns before his death at age 89. If his beautiful poem about worship slipped past you at the time, I would like to bring it back to your consciousness.
“Now the Silence” was written to be sung at the beginning of a service – as our soloist did it – telling worshipers what they will encounter during the coming time of worship. The insistent word “now” appears an astounding 21 times in the hymn. Vajda does not want us to forget that we come to worship to encounter God in the present, not in the past or in the future. We come to worship wherever we are and whoever we are with. We come to worship Now.
In 1968, Vajda wrote this about how the poem came to be written: “I have felt that we often get so little out of worship because we anticipate so little, and we seldom come with a bucket large enough to catch all the shower of grace that comes to us in that setting. Suddenly the hymn began to form in my mind as a list of awesome and exciting things that one should expect in worship, culminating in the Eucharist and benediction.”
I love that expression about coming to worship with a bucket. We are definitely coming to worship with a different bucket these days. It may be a bit smaller, even rusty, and perhaps even leaky. Worshiping together in isolation at home is a very different experience of worship, though perhaps Vajda would remind us that our bucket shouldn’t be any smaller just because we are not gathered in our sanctuary and sitting in our accustomed pews. We should continue to anticipate encountering God in all of the aspects of worship, and we should not lower our expectations.
The poem closes with a naming of the Trinity, but in a reversed order from what we are accustomed to hearing, jostling our ears and inviting us to think again about worship. About this, he wrote, “The reversal of the Trinitarian order in the benediction was made not only to make the conclusion memorable, but to indicate the order in which the Trinity approaches us in worship: The Spirit brings us the Gospel, by which God’s blessing is released in our lives.” The hymn then ends with the compelling (and even demanding) repetition, “Now Now Now”.
While “Now the Silence” may be unfamiliar to us, we frequently sing Vajda’s most famous hymn, “Go My Children With My Blessing.” Usually sung at the end of worship, it is a benediction and blessing, and it summarizes what has happened during the worship service – reversing the order from “Now the Silence.” Vajda covered all the bases in these worship “bookends.”
In speaking of his work, Vajda said, “My hymns are what they are: poetic expressions of thanks to God. They are my grateful reaction – my praise and wonder and exclamation – to the love and glory of God.”
So, what kind of bucket will you bring to worship next week?
Now the Silence by Jaroslav Vajda
Now the silence
Now the peace
Now the empty hands uplifted
Now the kneeling
Now the plea
Now the Father’s arms in welcome
Now the hearing
Now the power
Now the vessel brimmed for pouring
Now the body
Now the blood
Now the joyful celebration
Now the wedding
Now the songs
Now the heart forgiven leaping
Now the Spirit’s visitation
Now the Son’s epiphany
Now the Father’s blessing
Now Now Now
Words © 1969 Hope Publishing Company
Scripture referenced in “Now the Silence”:
Psalms 63:4, Psalms 95:6, Lamentations 3:41, Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 15:20, Luke 22:17-20, 1 Corinthians 11:23-25, 2 Corinthians 6:2, 1 Timothy 2:8