When Grace Descends…. (by Phillip Yancy)
The following is an excerpt taken from Philip Yancy’s book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace.”
Bill Moyers’ documentary film on the hymn “Amazing Grace” includes a scene filmed in Wembley Stadium in London. Various musical groups, mostly rock bands, had gathered together in celebration of the changes in South Africa, and for some reason the promoters scheduled an opera singer, Jessye Norman, as the closing act.
The film cuts back and forth between scenes of the unruly crowd in the stadium and Jessye Norman being interviewed. For twelve hours groups like Guns ‘n Roses have blasted the crowd through banks of speakers, riling up fans already high on booze and dope. The crowd yells for more curtain calls, and the rock groups oblige. Meanwhile, Jessye Norman sits in her dressing room discussing “Amazing Grace” with Moyers.
Finally, the time comes for her to sing. A single circle of light follows Norman, a majestic African-American woman wearing a flowing African dashiki, as she strolls on stage. No backup band, no musical instruments, just Jessye. The crowd stirs, restless. Few recognize the opera diva. A voice yells for more Guns ‘n Roses. Others take up the cry. The scene is getting ugly.
Alone, a cappella, Jessye Norman begins to sing, very slowly: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now am found — Was blind, but now I see.
A remarkable thing happens in Wembley Stadium that night. Seventy- thousand raucous fans fall silent before her aria of grace.
By the time Norman reaches the second verse, “‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved …,” the soprano has the crowd in her hands.
By the time she reaches the third verse, “‘Tis grace has brought me safe this far, And grace will lead me home,” several thousand fans are singing along, digging far back in nearly lost memories for words they heard long ago.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years, Bright shining as the sun We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise Than when we first begun.
Jessye Norman later confessed she had no idea what power descended on Wembley Stadium that night. I think I know. The world thirsts for grace. When grace descends, the world falls silent before it.