Worshiping God with Reckless Abandon

I can’t think of a better image for Sunday worship than “David and all the house of Israel dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyre and harps and tambourines, and castanets and cymbals” as the Ark of God is being brought to Jerusalem” (2 Sam. 6: 5). When the ark arrives in the city, David’s exuberance increases as he not only dances, but “leaps” before the Lord (2 Samuel 6: 16).

The Worship and Music Committee of my congregation has been spending time reflecting on our worship, especially the hymns we sing and whether they invite us to express the full range of our emotions to God, and to do so with the reckless abandon of David.  One problem that most Episcopalians have in this regard is that the more formal nature of our worship tends to inhibit spontaneous expression in worship. For example, when I have responded to an inspiring choir piece with clapping or a loud “Amen,” some of our members worry that this turns worship into performance. I understand that concern, but I think the bigger worry is this: when we don’t express what we are feeling, we don’t fully access the wonder of the moment. It would be like being at a baseball game in the bottom of the ninth. Your team scores the winning run, and rather than leaping out of your seat and shouting “Yes”, you simply sit there. Therefore, if we leap for joy at a dramatic baseball victory, shouldn’t we at least give someone a high five when a song reminds us that God has won the victory over sin and death!

Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating endless outbursts of emotion. I am simply suggesting that we need to feel free to express the full range of our emotions when we gather on a Sunday morning. For example, I frequently get choked up when I sing certain hymns. Communion Hymn 339, “Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness” always moves me. By the time I begin to sing the first half of verse 3, “Jesus, Bread of life, I pray thee, let me gladly here obey thee; never to my hurt invited, be thy love with love requited,” I am a blubbering mess. Why? This hymn opens me to the wonder of the Eucharist, the bread of life and the cup of salvation. In that moment, I just know that it doesn’t get any better than this! This is what I need. This is the bread that will satisfy my hunger for ever. But when the tears come, I feel a bit embarrassed and hold back. I wish it were otherwise.

There is a danger with public displays of emotion: If we are not careful, they can create a culture which encourages people to manufacture emotions, and only certain kinds.  As a result, people begin to feel like there is something wrong if they aren’t feeling a certain way. The key is authenticity. We simply need to feel free to express what is going on, not what we think should be going on. If we are sad, we need to be able to weep. If we are joyful, we need to be able to shout.

One final thought: Episcopalians, and I suspect other Christians, spend too much time in their head in worship. The great thing about music is that it gets in your body—in your gut—and you begin to move—albeit in very limited fashion in an Episcopal service! David’s worship was embodied. He was leaping and dancing, and doing so half-naked! Let me leave you with a more contemporary image that has something to say to us.  I recently saw the movie “Bohemian Rhapsody.”  The movie closes with Queen performing at the Live Aid concert at Wembly Stadium before 100,000 people. For the 24 minutes Queen was on stage, the music was flowing through the body of Freddie Mercury, the band, and everybody in the crowd. It was awesome! Freddie was dancing, leaping, and so was everybody else. May our worship be so embodied as we worship God with reckless abandon.

Roger GreeneComment