April 8, 2012
Sunday, 8:00 p.m.
Letter #219: Risen, Indeed
Happy Resurrection Day! I’ve had an extremely special day, for which my heart is overflowing with gratitude to God. Besides not being invited to the all-family Easter dinner at Mommy and Daddy’s house, I had a beautiful day. (Probably it was because I live so far away … )
For a few months now, I’ve been practicing with Phillip and two other guys in my 120-man pod on a quartet song to perform for our chapel’s Easter service. My brother, David, generously made copies of all of my quartet music I’d left behind and mailed it all to me. Included were lots of songs from our quartet CDs, so I chose “Holy, Holy, Holy” for our pod quartet to sing, as it is relatively simple to sing, yet beautiful. I gave Phillip what was traditionally my high tenor part, and he did an amazing job.
The four of us practiced nearly every day when we were waiting to walk to lunch or dinner. The noise of 120 guys talking all at once made singing difficult if not impossible at times, but the most difficult factor by far was the incredibly mediocre vocal ability of the other two guys. Constantly drifting off their notes, forgetting the part they were supposed to sing, or breathing as if they’d just finished the Boston Marathon … my confidence in how well we’d probably do was not very high.
I’d also been working with the church choir on another of my favorite quartet arrangements, “How Great Thou Art”—an extremely difficult “barbershop-quartet”-style piece with four-part broad vocal range. Practicing these songs made me appreciate my brothers all over again as I had to learn each of their parts and teach them to the choir. Again, Phillip handled the high tenor part and I took lead.
With much patience, I brought the choir closer and closer to what the song should sound like. This day loomed on the horizon, and I had low confidence in how well we would do. However, I’ve always maintained with the guys that we should strive for our best—to please the Lord—then, we leave the results in His hands. Inside, I hope that the results aren’t the kind that you have to “at least learn something from them.”
So, how was it? I thought you’d never ask! That is why I posed the question myself. We did incredibly well! I led the worship with a few songs the congregation joined in on, then we presented our quartet pieces and a couple other choir specials. The guys listening to us sat in very obviously-stunned silence, most of them not in the least bit familiar with the complex a cappella singing. The choir was so enthusiastically received and appreciated, and I was so proud of them. So many hours of work, sacrificing their time under my brutal dictatorship—I was so relieved when it was finally over! And, it was really just an added blessing, a bonus of sorts, that the songs went so well.
For me, the process is the main thing, for I’m training leaders, not performers. Sunday mornings, my main goal is “No Distractions” to the worship experience. As we facilitate worship to the best of our God-given abilities, He brings all the increase, and we get joy in the process. A great result, especially since all the honor and glory belongs to Him.
Phillip and I sang “Mountain of God” as he played guitar and I accompanied on keyboard to close out the worship time. The men were truly grateful for the sacrifice made for them to have a special time of worship for Resurrection Day, and they learned something new as well. In nearly every church of any denomination across America and the world, if you say, “He is risen!” the instant response from the congregation is, “He is risen, indeed!” Centuries have cemented this tradition. Try it in prison, and “He is risen!” gets you a hearty, “Amen!” or “Yes, He is!” or such. Well, we can’t have a bunch of prisoners released to outside churches and getting that crucial call-and-response wrong, can we? So, I taught our small 65-man congregation the “He is risen!” phrase with response. They loved it. Then, we had guys who spoke other languages—Russian, Romanian, Spanish—say it the way they’d heard it in their churches back home. The message, no matter where it is heard, in any language, in any church—even in prison (and I should say, especially in prison!) is the same: “He is risen, indeed!”