Mercy’s favorite song right now is Jingle Bells. The other day I was walking the kids over to my sister’s house to play (they are our surrogate back-yard) when Mercy asked me to sing Jingle Bells for her. “Sure!” I said, as I started to sing.
As I walked down Kenwood in the afternoon heat, pushing our double stroller and singing Jingle Bells loudly enough for the kids to hear, I felt quite absurd. The song was just so totally out of place: foreign, uncomfortable in our context, laughable even (though I am probably starting to resemble Santa a bit in my girth and the stroller can feel as big as a sleigh sometimes).
I was reminded of the ways that Doug has exhorted us as a congregation that when we sing during worship, we are declaring a new reality: we are announcing the realities of an unseen kingdom, and we are inviting ourselves and others to enter that kingdom and receive it. When we gather on Sundays and sing together, we say a lot of things that can feel as crazy as Jingle Bells in May. And as we consider our own lives and the struggles and suffering we share, as well as the scope of pain around us in the lives of our neighbors, the stuff we proclaim about God and his kingdom can feel as foreign and sometimes as laughable. And yet we come, and we sing, and we help each other believe that what we are saying is somehow true.
In his book, Walk On, John Goldingay shares about his life with God through the journey of his wife’s battle with MS. In his chapter titled Calamity, he shares his thoughts on the book of Job. He writes: “What we may be able to infer is that calamities do have explanations, even if we do not know what they are, for there is another feature of the story of Job that delights me every time I think about it, not least because it establishes a similarity between Job and us. It is that Job himself never knows about chapters 1 and 2 of “his” book. So he goes through his pain the same way we do. And he illustrates how the fact that we do not know what might explain our suffering, what purpose God might have in it, does not constitute the slightest suggestion that the suffering has no explanation…I cannot imagine the story that makes it okay for God to have made Ann go through what she has been through. But I can imagine that there is such a story.”
I think that part of what we do when we gather for worship is remind ourselves that there is a story: a story bigger and greater than the leviathans in our families, our neighborhoods, our cities and our world. And we tell each other that this story, the one we rehearse week after week, is something that we can stake our lives on. Even if our chorus sounds as strange as Jingle Bells on Kenwood in May.