There's long been a joke in the church about the third verse of...well, of nearly any song. Back in the days of song leaders, the guy would stand up and say, "We're going to sing the first, second, and last verse. First, second, and last." And usually, this meant that it was only the lone third verse that was being left out.
A few weeks ago when I was blessed to spend a few days with my fellow seminarians, they took this idea a step further and cut out all the verses altogether.
In our Wednesday chapel service, we spent the first fifteen or twenty minutes singing just the choruses of popular worship songs back to back to back to back, as though they had all been written into one piece of music. A chorus here, and then another chorus, and then yet another chorus.
And on one level, I get it. The chorus is the meat of the song. It's the promise of God, the power of God, the presence of God encapsulated in this memorable nutshell, these few words that capture the very essence of the biggest thing about God that we know.
But I kind of missed the verses.
See, the verses are the story. The verses are where the narrative fleshes out. The verses put some skin on the God that we're singing about.
If you only ever sang, Every blessing you pour out I turn back to praise, then how would you understand that blessed be your name when I'm found in the desert place? If you focus on you make beautiful things, where do you let your heart ponder the question I wonder if I'll ever find my way? Take your favorite worship song and ask yourself what deep truth you miss if you cut out the verses, what part of the story gets taken away when you echo only the choruses.
It's the same thing we do with our lives, really. We're content to focus on the highlights. We tell our stories from meaning to meaning, rather than from flesh to flesh. We tell our stories in little nutshells, focusing on the big things or the aspects we could repeat again and again and again. That one time that.... The day when.... The moment..... And so on.
But something's missing when we don't sing our verses, too. Something essential disappears when we don't share our narratives. There's something hollow about telling our stories and not sharing how we got to that one time, the day, the moment.... I think that's why we say these choruses echo. They're hitting that hollowness, that emptiness, that comes when we don't share our verses.
And I'm not saying we have to share all of our verses. Every one of our stories has a third verse that's all too easy to skip over. Sometimes, that's okay. But you ought to at least mention it from time to time, even if all you ever say is, "First, second, and last. First, second, and last." That's a reminder that somewhere between second and last is another verse, the words to which we might be able to look up somewhere if we're ever curious. It's a confession, even a quiet one, that there's more to the story than we're willing to sing right now. And that's okay.
It was interesting to hear the melodies of one chorus after another flow together in the way that they did in that chapel service. There was something about singing the high notes of God all strung together like that. But it's not something I'd want to do all the time.
There's too much richness in the verses.
I want to hear the stories. I want to hear the struggles. I want to hear the glory of God with skin on. Tell me about the desert places; let me sing about mine. Ask your questions out loud; I have some, too. Sing the high notes, but don't let them echo in the hollow places. Fill those places with story; let the truth resound in the verses.
Even, every now and then, the third verse.