Thursday Thoughts: worshipping in the darkness

I was going to write something about the seemingly-relentless series of terrorist attacks over the last few weeks in France and Germany. But I’m struggling with what to say: it just seems like an unending series of atrocities, each one adding to the sense that the world, or at least our part of the world, is going to hell in a handcart. And that also can lead to a sense of numbness: it’s hard to be shocked and outraged as often as these attacks keep happening. It’s easy to slip into a kind of hopeless, numb despair, a terrible immunity to the suffering that’s going on.

“Melt our cold hearts, let tears fall like rain…” If ever we need to remember Graham Kendrick’s lyrics, it’s now.

Following the latest atrocity, the murder of a priest in Normandy, Rev Sally Smith (no relation!), an Anglican priest in Stoke-on-Trent, has written an excellent piece in The Guardian. In it, she argues that while churches of course need to be careful, the last thing these attacks should do is make us close our doors or put up barriers to others, especially Muslims. “We must remind ourselves that we are people of hospitality, particularly to the stranger and especially to the people who look different from us,” she says, “We need to tell our communities that our churches are indeed open for all, and that we have a good-news story to share, which offers the only hope for our world.”

I also think we need at times to remember to worship. Which might sound as if I’m living on another planet. Surely, our natural response when these things happen is to ask “Why God”, not to worship him? How can we talk about God’s goodness and kindness when all this badness and terror seems to have the upper hand? Surely worship (in the sense of what we do in church on Sundays) is an reckless escape from all this, not the solution?

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (NIV)

1 Peter 2:9 is one of my favourite verses in the Bible. It talks about what we should be doing as Christians: proclaiming God’s praises. But, in doing so, it makes clear what God has done and what God still does: bringing people out of darkness and into his light. This is God’s work through Jesus.

Right now, the darkness seems overwhelming. But that’s when we need to celebrate and proclaim that light. Not as escape from the darkness, but as hope in the darkness. Hope that, as Sally Smith says, was made concrete and real through Jesus. The story of Jesus’ death and resurrection isn’t a fantasy about “getting better after death”. It’s the story of what God does when he faces the worst of human darkness: he doesn’t run from it, he enters into it, takes the fullness of the darkness and what it can do upon himself and then defeats it, showing his light to be stronger than the darkness.

This is our story: that God’s light has come into the world, into the midst of the darkness of our sin (in every sense of that word) and not let it have the final answer. That human destructiveness has not had the last word, but God’s ability and power to create and re-create and to transform us into people who will allow that ability and power to work in and through them. That the final hope is not of escape from the darkness of the world into heaven “up there”, but that the darkness will one day be overcome forever and all will live in the transforming, re-creating power of God’s light.

And telling that story and celebrating and proclaiming that light is what we do in worship.

It’s what sing on Sundays. It’s what we hear from Scripture and (hopefully!) from the pulpit. It’s what we pray for, for ourselves, the victims of the atrocities and (if we’re to obey Jesus’ command to love our enemies) for those plotting more atrocities. It’s what we eat and drink, what we take into ourselves, as we obey Jesus’ command to “do this in memory of me” around the table. It’s what we celebrate when we bring someone through the waters of baptism.

And if we’re doing it right, then this worship should be training us to hold on to that hope, to live in that hope, every day. To say that the story of darkness – as seen in Nice, Munich, Normandy and so many other places – is not the full story. No; the full story is the story of God bringing the world “out of darkness and into his wonderful light”.

And we do all this praying that God will, to quote Graham Kendrick’s words again:

Lighten our darkness, breathe on this flame
Until your justice burns brightly again,
Until the nations learn of your ways,
Seek your salvation and bring you their praise.

Song lyrics taken from “Beauty for Brokenness” by Graham Kendrick. © 1993 Make Way Music

Posted by Stephen

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