Devotion - May 16

Thank you Anthony Spain for this Saturday music devotional:

Watchman, will the night soon pass? (Isaiah 21:11–12)

One of the great things about being a musician is sometimes, after all the hard work that is shared with others, events happen that are unexpected and will always be remembered. One of my most memorable moments happened while conducting one of my favorite passages in Lobgesang (Song of Praise Lord) by Felix Mendelssohn. About 2/3’s through the piece, the solo tenor sings Psalm 116 in German-

The sorrows of death encompassed us
and fear of hell had struck us,
We wandered in darkness (Psalm 116)

Followed by the solo tenor singing out in desperation the words above from Isaiah 21

“Huter, ist die Nacht bald hin?- “Watchman, will the night soon pass?

Is this really one of my favorite sections in music you might be asking yourself- or maybe you are thinking that the lockdown has finally really gotten to our Music Director.

It is what happens next though that moves me incredibly every time. Out of nowhere, as from a distance, suddenly a solo soprano sings the short simple phrase Die Nacht is vergangen- “the night is departing.” After this the orchestra, organ, and added choir, explode into sound and exclaim words from Romans 13:12 “and the day has come, so let us cast off darkness and take up the armor of light.” The musical effect here can shatter even the most jaded soul.

C.S Lewis and many writers have written about how often we cannot know profound and deep hope and joy without knowing trials and pain. Music has the amazing ability, like few other things, to communicate this profound truth in our lives. Reflecting on it, I realize that the composers, pieces and moments that I (and maybe you too) appreciate most in music are the pieces that include both poignant moments of sadness or trials, as well as profound joy or hope- like Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony, or a song by Michael W. Smith.

The section mentioned above in the Lobgesang communicates this truth so powerfully. Several years ago I had the privilege to conducted the Lobgesang with about 100 singers and the Northwest Symphony Orchestra. We performed the Night watchman section- Psalm 116 and Isaiah 21- and then moved into the section focusing on Romans 13- (moving from Night into Day). As soon as we finished performing this explosive section, a man in the audience simple could not contain himself and shouted “Wow!” This was followed by a profound silence I will always remember- No one felt embarrassed at this man’s outburst. Instead all just breathed in this significant moment- The amazing power of music.

For today’s devotion we listen to the sections described above. Whether you will say “wow”, or if like me, you will find it impossible to have dry eyes, or maybe the music will affect you in another way, one thing is certain, the night will end and the day will come- whether it be an end to our current trial, or other trials in life.

Begin the listening link below at about 49:15 into the recording (or for a shorter listening section begin at 51:00). Listening finishes at 58:25.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. (Psalm 130:5-6)
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