Bono, the lead singer of my favorite band, U2, recently came out with a memoir (which Michelle already ordered for me, and which I am excited to read!). In the meantime, I’ve been reading articles reviewing the book, reading interviews with Bono, and watching videos of him talking about the book on news and talks shows (see his rendition of “With Or Without You” on Colbert!). Over the years I’ve talked about Bono and U2 in many blog posts. Here I go again. But first I need to back up a few years.
In 2006 my dad asked me if I might be able to substitute teach a class at Lancaster Bible College where he was a Bible professor. Actually, LBC needed a long-term sub, someone to teach the class for the remaining two-thirds of the semester. They were in a bind because the professor who started the class was let go for moral failure. The class worked for my schedule, and because it was about the spiritual life, I felt I should do it.
In the class we talked about worship, and I showed them a video of what I still maintain was the greatest worship experience of my life. In the fall of 2001, just two weeks after 9/11, Michelle and I, and our two boys had returned home from a year as church-planting missionaries in Kingston, Jamaica. What we thought was going to be our life’s work got cut short in a confusing mix of emotion, immaturity, poor planning and uncertainty. A few more weeks after moving back to Lancaster we flew to Denver, Colorado to visit our friends from college and meet their newborn baby girl. The husband also scored tickets for me and him to see U2 live in concert on their Elevation tour. When Michelle and I moved to Jamaica the year prior, I figured that my bucket list goal of seeing U2 live in concert was never going to happen. Now here I was walking into Denver’s Pepsi Center, so excited. During our year in Jamaica, I picked up U2’s latest album, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, and I was so thankful that I could see them playing these songs live along with their popular classics.
After 9/11 the band had adapted their show, especially the American leg of tour, to address the atrocity. But it was a mid-concert series of two of their classic songs, along with some spoken word, that I call the greatest worship experience of my life. Let me try to take you there.
We’re standing on the floor in the general admission section, shoulder to shoulder with thousands of other sweaty, jumping concert-goers. The band is on stage just 20-30 yards in front of us. The lights dim low, and the music is soft as the band plays “Bad”, a powerful song about giving your life away, about surrender, which is, by the way, the title of Bono’s new memoir. At the conclusion of “Bad”, the band seamlessly transitions to the chorus of “40,” which is their rendition of Psalm 40:1-3. The chorus borrows from the psalms of lament, repeating over and over, “How long to sing this song?” While singing that chorus, Bono holds the microphone out so the 20,000 of us can sing along with him. As we all sing “How long,” U2’s lead guitarist, The Edge, starts playing the iconic ringing first measures of what might be U2’s most famous song, “Where The Streets Have No Name.”
Over the excited roar of the crowd, with Edge strumming sounds like bells ringing, a bright red video wall slowly rises behind the band, and Bono quotes Psalm 116:12-14, “How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.” Bono finishes with a prayer, “This is a toast to our Father. I’m following through on a promise I made to you.” Just then he raises his arms, lets out a guttural melodic note, and rows of bright lights wash over the arena in a near-blinding golden hue. Bono suddenly takes off running around the heart-shaped stage while singing the opening line, “I want to run…where the streets have no name.”
I imagined this was a taste of worship in heaven. See for yourself here (this video is the Boston edition). Turn up the volume!
Over the years, I will admit to you that I have played that clip in the church sanctuary, sitting there all by myself, worshiping again, with chills and oftentimes tears. Every time, it moves me. Yes, I had to play it again as I typed this!
After the LBC class in which I showed that video, two students asked to talk with me, and I could tell they were concerned. They were unhappy at my suggestion that the U2 concert was worship, and especially that it was the greatest worship experience of my life.
Are they right to be concerned about me? Shouldn’t my greatest worship experience be in a church? What is worship? We do it every week in churches around the world. Or do we? It might seem like a question with an obvious answer, but as we study John 4:1-26 this coming week, I think you’ll find the answer surprising. I encourage you to read it ahead of time. Then join us on the blog next week as we talk about it further.