spectacle and grandeur

Some years ago, I was privileged to take a week of classes with the late Dr. Robert Webber, a noted author on worship, and the founder of the Institute for Worship Studies. During that week, we were discussing the recovery of spectacle in worship, that so much had been lost with the Reformation and its focus on removing excesses from the church, that indeed too much had been removed, leaving the church devoid of spectacle, grandeur, or mystery.

We discussed that in a post-modern era, the importance of experience would trump sound argument and logical reasoning. That it would be more important to have experienced God, than to have been convinced of God by some type of logical exposition of truths or facts.

I was reminded of this as I sat in the Rogers Centre in Toronto with 40,000+ other people this past Saturday, as we joined together across denominations, across races and gender, across age and social standing, to focus our energies to worship God, and to experience a spectacle of worship on a large scale. I was at many points moved to tears, as we came together despite our differences and sang and cheered and celebrated God.

I remember one of the questions Dr. Webber asked us was “Why do we have no problem cheering and shouting at a hockey game or a baseball game, yet are so reluctant to do so in church?” We are not embarrassed to cheer for our favourite team, yet we somehow feel strange cheering for God. I wonder, who has done more for us, the athletes, or God? If anyone deserves our rapturous applause, it would be God. Let me tell you, when a stadium full of people starts cheering for God, it is pretty inspiring.

I was reminded of spectacle again last night, as I watched President-Elect Barack Obama give his acceptance speech. If anyone has stirred the imaginations and hopes of a nation, it is Obama. With cheering throngs of people attending to his every word, many in tears, both those in the crowd and those watching around the world, Obama spoke about the campaign, about his opponent, about the difficult times ahead, and about history. It was deeply touching and moving, and as he ended his speech he rallied the crowd around these three words, “Yes we can!” From a human perspective, these three words summarize the hopes of the campaign, that the American people will unite and decide that together they will accomplish great things.

Two very different events. Both grand spectacles. One celebrating God, the other celebrating hope in humanity.

I wonder about the things we will see in our lifetime, and in my children’s lifetime.

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