Yesterday was a great day at church, though at one point we discussed changing the message title to You Think THIS Is Hot? and talking about hell. A power outage reset the automatic a/c cycle in the high school, and we arrived to a sweltering auditorium. Things finally cooled down about 11:30 , but sweated our way through set up, tech run and worship. Some of the guys in the band changed shirts three times. I rolled up my jeans and played barefoot.
We ended our 'Big Stories Of The Bible' series with a unique opportunity to share communion in service. Our contract with the school says 'no food or drink in the auditorium', and juice and bread qualify as 'food and drink', so we've never been able to share in this sacrament together. Last year we put together a service that sent folks out into the hallway to partake, but that was complicated. Somehow, we received a special dispensation for yesterday's service, so Brian told the big story of God's new covenant through Christ, and we shared communion together.
Friend of God - Israel Houghton. I am LOVING this song! We started with a synth pad 'whoosh', and our amazing keyboard player/filmmaker/musician extraordinaire Scott Gordon created this wash of sound with the Motif and some vocal layers. Christian Miller walked out and ad-libbed, "I am a friend of God..." a few times, slowly...and the lights came up and the drummer started the rhythm and off we went. Giving that tune time to grow really builds momentum.
Great Things - Matt Maher. An odd transition, from Israel to what felt like straight up country, but it worked. Fun song that people seem to enjoy - it's one of those that requires clapping...
Sweetly Broken - Jeremy Riddle. We had used this as a backdrop for communion during our midweek services, but yesterday it was our set up piece for the message. Kevin tore it up; it's a powerful song. Our guitarist, Matt, told me later that he can hardly keep himself together when he plays or listens to that tune. Good stuff...
Nothing But The Blood/Once Again - traditional/Matt Redman. I started this set from the piano as the band went down to take communion; they trickled back in to sneak into the song by the time we were at the second verse of 'Once Again'. It was a gift to me, the opportunity to just sit and play by myself for a minute. Yesterday was a bit of a challenge for me emotionally, so the chance to simply worship in a comfortable spot was healing.
We had instructed folks to walk to the table, partake of the elements, and return to their seats. When everyone was finished, Brian returned to the stage, and said these words, inspired by Lee Eclov's The Sinner's Feast:
Over the years, this celebration of Communion has become anything but a celebration. It’s become a somber, quiet, boring event where kids have to sit on their hands and nobody smiles. But Jesus said that he eagerly looked forward to it. It was supposed to be a real celebration. This is a time when we celebrate that we were broken, but were made whole; we were partial, but God made us complete; we were lost, rejected, bitter, mired in sin, labeled as a criminal, brandished as an addict, drowning in despair…but because God is alive we were rescued from all that. We gave up our former selves and took on the identity of the One we represent – the One who is alive and still living in and through His people.
So, instead of being solemn, what we ought to do is dance for joy. Maybe we should sing every amped up worship tune we know. Maybe we should tell our stories of how Jesus changed us and laugh like people who no longer fear death. Maybe we should ask if anyone wants seconds and hold our little cups high to toast lost sisters found and dead brothers alive. Because this is not a celebration of how God worked in the past through other people, it’s a declaration of how Jesus Christ is working through His people right now!
And then Matt ripped open the beginning of You Are Good - Israel Houghton again - and we celebrated. It was incredible, powerful, joyful, energized - to the degree that a handful of teenagers jumped up ON THE STAGE at the end of the song. I've never engaged in such a celebration in worship! A good part of it was my own mindset - I needed to celebrate the freedom and security and joy that is found in the truth of those words (Lord, you are good and your mercy endureth forever...you are good all the time/and all the time, you are good) but it felt transformative for our church as well.
Because we are a young fellowship (six years old this month), it's fascinating to watch the character and personality of our church develop. It is a joy to see us, as a collection of Christ-followers and seekers, continue to embrace the attributes of the church that Jesus called us to be. Because worship is my heart and passion, I am most fulfilled not by 'good music' or even a great sermon, but by the response of the people to God's spirit. I see individuals growing and embracing Christ and trusting one another and his spirit, and it is amazing.
Yesterday was a very good day...