Today was one of those Sunday mornings when church really works. For me, this is by no means a given every week. I continue to show up faithfully if I’m able, even when I’m not in the mood, because, well, that’s what “faithfully” means. But despite the diligent efforts of the ministers and musicians, the deacons and elders and ushers and acolytes – (yes, it takes a village to raise the holy spirit) – I sometimes sit in the choir loft at First Presbyterian Church of Beaufort feeling… nothing. Or worse yet, feeling things I wish I weren’t feeling in church – distracted, impatient, skeptical, annoyed.
I don’t like all these new hymns…
What? This old hymn again?….
That scripture passage makes no sense (and why should it, since it was written thousands of years ago by primitives?)…
“The resurrection of the body and the life everlasting”? Sorry, I’m not buying that today…
Will this prayer never end?
All the women in this congregation have better shoes than me…
This is my brain on a bad church morning. (Or, rather, this is my church on a bad brain morning.) Granted, it doesn’t happen often, but it does happen – and it’s entirely my fault, not God’s.
But today was one of those mornings when everything clicks. The sanctuary was full to overflowing – lots of new members, and old members I hadn’t seen all summer, and people recovering from all sorts of terrors and tribulations. There was Patience, whose grill blew up in her face two weeks ago, looking like herself and smiling radiantly… There was Christian with a bandaged nose… and beautiful Jen, whose hair is growing back… And there were children, so many children. And Mary, who just turned 90 was there, too. Mary’s always there, but I always look for her, just to make sure . . .
I saw them all as I filed in with the choir, golden fall light filtering through the windows as Lily played the most sublime “Morning Has Broken” I’ve ever heard any piano give up. All the music was right on, in fact – mostly old favorites – and the children’s choir joined us for the choral anthem, “As a Little Child,” a song so lovely I had to stop singing near the end and just let myself be overcome.
The right reverends Patrick and Becky were resplendent, still wearing their white summer robes – though not for long – and everything read and said from the pulpit was resonant and meaningful. (I know it always is, but I have that brain issue.) The lesson was the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. Becky preached about God’s abundant generosity . . . his overflowing, self-giving, radical love – even for people who show up late and don’t work that hard. Even for the doubting and the skeptical, the jealous and the envious, the impatient and the annoyed. Even for me.
None of this felt corny or trite or impossible to believe this morning. (Sometimes it does.) To the contrary, it felt like the deepest, realest truth there is. The truth beyond all truth. The “deeper magic” C.S. Lewis wrote about. We sang “Praise God from whom all blessings flow” and said the Lord’s prayer (forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors) and once again, I was a believer.
We ended the service with a choral benediction I’ve grown immensely fond of: It sounds Jewish – like something from Fiddler on the Roof. It makes me want to dance, and there’s a place where the congregation claps near the end. Clapping along to a choral benediction is very un-Presbyterian, and it delights and tickles me to no end. The lyrics are based on Isaiah 55:12, and are as follows:
You shall go out with joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills will break forth before you; there will be shouts of joy and all the trees of the field will clap, will clap their hands!
Rinse and repeat. And don’t forget to clap.