WORSHIP IN TIMES OF DEEP LAMENT
Everyone likes to think about worship in relation to the happy times. More than one preacher has asked me to start services off by “getting ‘em up on their feet – make it upbeat!” Well, sorry sirs, but there are times when Happy Clappy is completely inappropriate. When the music of our worship helps us express the sense of our souls the truth is that there are times when our need is to express lament. Most likely there are some in our congregations on any given Sunday who have that need. We therefore may want to factor in a broader emotive expression week in and week out in our gathered worship. Granted, there may be Sundays when the overarching spirit is celebration, but there are also those weeks when sadness and hurt are dominant in a congregation’s journey. As a reminder, the psalms are filled with expressions of wide ranging emotional manifestations.
This past week has been filled with heavy emotions in the Tennessee Baptist family. One of our music ministers lost his wife following her long battle with cancer. Other music leaders have parents who are battling longterm disease and special challenges to their health. Undoubtedly, the most dramatic events in the Tennessee Baptist family were those surrounding the tragedy at Union University when a 21-year-old music education student was found dead in her car from a gunshot wound. What first was thought to be a suicide was later reported to appear to be a homicide followed by staging of the crime scene to make it appear as a suicide. The young lady’s fiance, a Union senior Christian Studies major, has been charged with the crime. Yet more deep sadness and sheer confusion. Intrigue as to details are certainly superseded by the anguish felt by the entire Baptist community from the university to the girl’s home church, First Baptist Dyersburg. No tidbit of insider information could ever remotely make up for the pain of a family who has lost a daughter to senseless death, a family who may have lost a son to prison and scorn, or a university with a stellar record as Christian institution who must now focus to help students cope with happenings that lead to deep remorse and hurt. There are no easy answers here, and no simplistic explanations that will suffice. To the contrary, all involved must embrace the severity of this reality and pray that somehow in God’s infinite wisdom and grace there will be deliverance through it all.
Not surprisingly, I have been impressed and encouraged by the response of faculty, administration, staff, and fellow students in this tragic scenario. The thoughtful and deliberate response of Dr. David Dockery, Dr. Todd Brady, and others is not terribly surprising. They have had to respond to tragedy before. Their patterns of grace-filled care for the Union family are well established. My own familiarity with music faculty and staff likewise lead me to observe what I would expect from these deeply committed pastorally sensitive persons, Dr. Chris Mathews and Sandy Currin to mention just two. I find even more encouragement, however, in what I see in the ongoing response from students, who perhaps feel the hurt of the loss in a unique way. In a very real sense their response reflects back on all the other aforementioned staff, administrators, and faculty. Several of them have posted on Facebook texts of classic hymns, rich lyrics from anthem literature, verse and refrain of the best of modern worship songs, and sections of Psalms and other scripture filled with words of comfort and hope. What we are seeing in these posts are the bearing out of what has been internalized. They are exemplary reminders that “what goes in comes out.” When I read students’ Facebook posts that include texts from hymns like “I Need Thee Every Hour,” “Be Thou My Vision,” “Day by Day and With Each Passing Moment,” “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” and modern song of comfort, “Still, My Soul Be Still,” I am strengthened to know that these students are turning to their faith. I am also grately encouraged to know they are finding strength in these lyrics. This is surely a polemic for continuing the use of hymns of the faith that carry rich and weighty truth.
Please join in praying for the Union University family. Pray for the Music School especially as we have such special connection with them as fellow musicians. May we all be reminded through this tragedy that we help others worship in times of gladness and sadness, and as such we need to be prepared for celebration and lament. Even so, help us, Lord.