Encountering Jesus through Jazz in Worship

Guest writer

                                                                                                                           The Trinity Trio by Laura Zerebeski (laurazee.com)

This is a Jesus alert!  Some content in this article is explicitly Christian.  Those who might be offended by this should stop reading now.  If, however, thinking about Jesus in jazz intrigues you, whatever your spiritual perspective, read on.

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We did our first jazz liturgy at Brentwood Presbyterian Church in Burnaby, BC, in the Christmas season of 2009, just after I started working with this wonderful “fellowship of the friends of Jesus.”  That’s what one of my favourite theologians, Jurgen Moltmann, calls the church.  We soon began to do monthly Jazz Vespers on Sunday afternoon.  Finally, in the fall of 2013, we began to a weekly Jazz Evensong worship service on Wednesday nights from 8-9PM.  It consists of a lot of jazz, three short prayers, and an even shorter reflection on jazz and flourishing within a Christian understanding of the meaning of life.  We are deeply grateful for the jazz musicians who come and play with us, inspiring us with the depth of their knowledge of and commitment to this provocative art form.

My understanding of the Christian faith improvises around a melody line that tells the story of a loving God healing his broken creation.  The community of God that is the Trinity begins the final stage of that work in Jesus, the Christ - God with us.  Then the Holy Spirit comes to work with us in completing the formation of the Commonwealth of God.  Jesus captured the core/chord chart of this mission when he encouraged his followers to love God with their whole being, love their neighbours, and love themselves. That was his summary of the whole of the Jewish tradition.  He emerged from that tradition and sought to reform it, recalling the Jewish people to God’s original promise of comprehensive compassion nourishing the whole of creation

Over the past two decades, Christian theologians have been reforming their understanding of the Trinity.  Two themes emerge from these reflections that relate directly to our creation of space at Brentwood to encounter Jesus through jazz in worship.  First, the original Greek literally means “dancing around.”  The phrase was first used by Gregory of Nazianzus (d.389/90), one of the early Church Fathers.  Second, as explored by contemporary Christian thinkers like Jurgen Moltmann, Miroslav Volf, John Zizoulas, James Torrence and Baxter Kruger, this ‘social theology of God’ highlights community, fellowship, and connection as an alternative to the self-indulgent individualism and the depressing insolation that restricts the flourishing of so many within our North American culture.

Vancouver artist Laura Zerebeski has drawn this wonderful image for the cover of the bulletin we use in our jazz evensongs at Brentwood.  I asked her to capture the energy of the promises we make for the service:

Where God, the Creator, lays down the bass line.

Where Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, calls the melodies.

Where the Holy Spirit, the Energizer,

jams with the harmonies of joy.

In my jazz thinking, God plays bass, Jesus plays sax, and the Spirit plays piano.  That’s the Trinity Trio.  I love the way Laura has captured the dynamics of this divine energy so well.  That’s one her great gifts – capturing the energy of a scene.

There is something about music of all kinds, and especially jazz for me, that infuses the whole gathered community with hope and joy.  It sets our cells to dancing, not just within ourselves, but in sync with others, both the musicians and the audience.  As Count Basie once said to Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes, “Mike, if I’ve got your toe, I’ve got your heart and soul!”  It’s that kind of resonance through which the Trinity Trio draws you into the dance.  And in that dance of love and joy, you find the sources of your flourishing and imagine new expressions of that flourishing for the wellbeing of creation.

Where this happens most often and most powerfully for the church, this rag-tag, weird and wonderful fellowship of the friends of Jesus, is when we gather for worship.  In that event, God approaches us, welcomes us, communicate with us, and nourishes us with the love that flows from the soul of the divine energy. 

I trust you can feel some of that energy in Laura’s drawing and that you can get a sense of its meaning in these reflections.

Brian FraserBrian Fraser is lead provocateur of Jazzthink and minister with Brentwood Presbyterian Church in Burnaby, BC.  He works primarily with not-for-profit staffs and boards convening COOL conversations for SMARTer leadership.  You can find out more at www.jazzthink.com and www.brentwoodpc.ca

You can read more articles from our interfaith website, The Spiritual View, HERE

Photo: The Trinity Trio by Laura Zerebeski (laurazee.com) 

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