This is a week of call-and-response. Jesus calls the disciples, and they follow. God calls Jonah—again—and Jonah finally concedes. In both texts, there is persistence to the call, but in that, there is also persistence in the need to respond. We cannot become the people of God without responding to God’s call on our lives. In the study of music history and theory, the formal term for call-and-response is antiphon. The first time I encountered this term, I (incorrectly) assumed that this term meant something like sound (phon) in opposition (anti). But this rudimentary definition did not quite capture what I heard when I listened to examples of antiphonal music, like Andrea Gabrieli’s 16-part Gloria (listen here). Composing for St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Italy, Gabrieli took advantage of the vast space to divide the ensemble into four four-part choirs, placing each choir in a different area of the worship space along with instruments. The result is different choirs and soloists singing to one another across the space, sometimes alternating, sometimes overlapping to create a natural surround sound for those gathered to hear the majestic praise of the angels who appeared to the shepherds: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will.” This is the furthest thing from “sound in opposition.” As I studied this music, I learned that “anti-” can also mean “in return.” Suddenly, antiphon made so much more sense! This “sound in return” music depends on the back-and-forth response of every musician to offer beautiful praise to God and declare the good news through song. Rather than the voices and instruments being in opposition to or in competition with one another, they depend on one another to receive and respond, or the music doesn’t work.
Ok, so why go down this rabbit trail into sixteenth-century sacred music? Because we have an opportunity today to dig deep into the experience of God’s call and our response in worship. Too often, we imagine that God’s call is like a command instead of an invitation, meaning our response is more about obedience than bringing our full selves to respond by participating with God’s good news. But, if we think of our journey of becoming the people of God antiphonally, we recognize that both God’s call and our response are needed to build the kin-dom of God on earth as it is in heaven. So, how do we help our people embody their role in this responsive, antiphonal relationship with God in worship?
First, extend the efforts made last week to create space for listening into this week. Allow space within the worship service for people to listen to and discern God’s call. And then, create opportunities for response. Perhaps you invite congregants to write down what they hear God saying and how they will participate with God in response, followed by a time of gathering and blessing the calls and responses as a community. Or maybe you include a time of testimony where a person or group in the church shares their journey to discern and respond to God’s call. Remember, “success” here is defined by earnest and faithful participation with God. What may seem small by worldly standards may be just the thing that inspires your community to keep listening and responding to God’s persistent call on our lives.
Second, take the opportunity to make the texts come alive. Help your people enter into these stories by humanizing the characters. Gather a couple of congregants and act out one of the texts. Use some holy imagination to flesh out the interaction between Jesus and the disciples or God and Jonah. Recruit a congregant to help you imagine what one of these stories might look like if it was set in your community now. Do what makes sense in your community to help those gathered recognize Jonah, Simon, Andrew, James, and John as people just like us who were presented with a call and made a choice to accept God’s invitation.
Finally, root every aspect of the liturgy around the persistence of God’s grace that calls us to become the people of God. Pull out one of your congregation’s heart songs that speaks to God’s never-ending love. Include an invitation to discipleship that emphasizes that God never stops calling and never stops giving us opportunities to answer. Bookend the service with a call to worship and a benediction that welcomes and sends out the congregation with the blessing of God’s enduring grace in our lives. Today is a day to celebrate that, by grace, it is never too late to join in God’s song of good news and abundant life.
Dr. Lisa Hancock, Director of Worship Arts Ministries, served as an organist and music minister in United Methodist congregations in the Northwest Texas and North Texas Annual Conferences, as well as the New Day Amani/Upendo house churches in Dallas. After receiving her Master of Sacred Music and Master of Theological Studies from Perkins School of Theology, Lisa earned her PhD in Religious Studies from Southern Methodist University wherein she researched and wrote on the doctrine of Christ, disability, and atonement.