Worship When We Hurt
Here we are in one of the most festive times of the year, anticipating the coming of Christmas Day. Advent worship is suppose to be about this anticipation, about remembering the first “coming” of the Messiah, and about the brilliant hope of the second “coming” of our Lord. Then following a myriad of newsbreaks from the media, our hearts are broken. Our carols turn toward a minor key. How do we worship in the face of such hurt? Candles waiting to be lit to represent peace, joy, and hope in our lives become candles lit as prayers for lives snuffed out by insane acts of violence that make absolutely no sense to us.
The tragic news from Newtown, Connecticut has brought to mind one of the deepest hurts known to humankind. The hurt of separation. The Hurt is more basic than the hurt of knowing that innocence has been shattered by a gruesome act of violence. I believe it to be deeper even than the unthinkable pain a family member might have of knowing your loved one committed such atrocious acts before ending his own life on this earth. The core reason we cannot wrap our minds and emotions around what has happened, or around these subsequent ripples of horror that result from initial occurrence is separation. Children separated from parents, siblings, grandparents, and friends. A mother taken from her husband and children. It could be said that separation is in fact the core unfathomable dynamic in all aspects of this and other hurts we face in this world and in the next. Is separation from God, indeed, not the very essence of what is Hell?
In his book on sin Cornelius Plantinga states, “God hates sin not just because it violates his law, but, more substantively, because it violates shalom, because it breaks the peace, because it interferes with the way things are supposed to be.” He goes on to describe evil as any spoiling of shalom.
Surely genuine Christian worship reorients us toward peace, toward shalom. Such engagement in no way ignores the peace-disturbance, nor would it ever ignore the emotional and spiritual pain so severe in the aftermath of that disturbance. To the contrary, worship acts to incarnate our Lord, the Prince of Peace. Worship embraces the brokenness. Songs of faith are just that, faith. It is disingenuous (often blatant hypocrisy) to pretend we can sing happy songs to stare down the rape of peace.
In fact, as numerous blogs and facebook posts by fellow believers have reflected, the psalms themselves, the greatest songs ever written and core expression of Hebrew and Christian worship, express the full gamut of human emotion including the deepest depths of anguish, especially in times of separation.
Most haunting for me is Psalm 22. Sung by Jesus from the cross, this psalm cries the cry that is outside our grasp. Father and Son, Who are One, separated? “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” I think I will never forget a sermon from this Psalm that I heard several years ago when conducting a worship conference with our recently deceased friend and author, Calvin Miller. He spoke of the cry of Psalm 22 being the cry heard throughout the universe throughout all time. In his poetic and eloquent manner he ran through a litany of painful separations, and in each instance asked the haunting question, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” If the sermon were preached today, surely included would be the loved ones of each of these lost in this tragedy, who must have moments of doubt, feeling forsaken. Thus we come back to the question,
How do we worship in the face of unspeakable pain and overwhelming sorrow? Psalm 22 eventually turns a corner. In verse 25 the psalmist rediscovers where song comes from.
From You comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows. (Ps 22:25)
Our faith is in the God of grace, whose mercy is everlasting. In worship we point toward Him who sympathizes with our weakness. (Heb 4:15) We love Him, love one another, and love our neighbor as ourself, which we may only find possible when we rediscover our song from Him. The strong aid the weak, even at this time of Advent and Christmas we can sing in faith knowing He hears us, Who said, “Bring the little children to me.” (Luke 18:16) Indeed, the message of Advent and Christmas is exactly what we need to help us remember our song and anticipate our great hope. Emmanuel – God with us.
Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray;
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care
And fit us for heaven to live with Thee there.
 Cornelius Plantinga Jr. Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Grand Rapids, MI: William B Eerdmans, 1995) pg. 14.