In my younger years, I was in a church that offered the opportunity for people to come to the front of the sanctuary and ask for prayers. This often meant that the person would confess to something they had done wrong and that they were sorry for, but sometimes it was to share some trouble, some burden. And so a woman offered up to the pastor that her brother in another city had committed a terrible violent crime. She wanted the pastor to tell the church and ask for prayers. The pastor told the story with compassion and just enough detail to make the point. The congregation was very moved.
The person who led the songs had, as always, planned which song would be sung at the end of the service, and that was next on the order of worship, so, unfortunately, the congregation was invited to sing “O Happy Day.”
Now, of course, we could do some gymnastics and say that in the end, that song reminds us that no matter what, we are safe with God, and certainly, it is not useful to pick on the song leader, but it was very bad timing.
Right now, we find ourselves living with the world on fire and the hurricanes washing towns away. And that’s just in the last couple of weeks. All around us, as the psalmist wrote, the “earth gives way, and the mountains fall into the sea.” And, so much and yet never enough has been said about the injustice and racism and the virus, and the politicizing of every last thing, so I will spare us here and just say—we live in terrible times.
So as we move toward Sunday or perhaps as you move through your daily rituals of prayer or meditation, do you feel a little off-balance to launch into praise and thanksgiving? Is it ok to still celebrate?
I remember talking to a young man some years ago whose baby boy was just home from the hospital. He was gushing in the way young fathers do, and suddenly he slowed down and dropped his head a bit and said, “I know that other people’s babies don’t make it home.” He and I stood there a minute and (pre-Covid!) I hugged him. I reminded him that joy and sorrow always wage a tender war in this life, and one does not cancel the other. Somehow as Mary Oliver said, “We shake with joy, we shake with grief, what a time they have housed in the same body.”
So Sunday when we offer thanks, we don’t do this in oblivion to the world of trouble. If we are paying attention, we know gratitude is a spiritual gift given to us, providing comfort because we know the world is on fire, and the waters have risen. Gratitude and giving thanks are not in a contest with lament; they stand side by side in real-time.