This is my article for the Minister's Corner in the November 22nd Shawnee News-Star
Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.
Psalm 30: 4, 10-12 The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version
I returned to my hometown, Nashville, Tennessee, this past weekend. While my trips back home are generally for happy reasons – vacations, reunions, catching up with old friends – on this trip I returned to help officiate at the memorial service of a longtime friend. Our families have known each other since before I can remember, so returning to say goodbye to him, to preach in his memory, was difficult to say the least.
My friend’s service, which was held at a funeral home, was a blend of different cultures and traditions. The worship service promised to be a beautiful and meaningful one. But as the other officiant and I worked to plan the order of worship, I realized that music was absent. So I put out a call to some amazing friends from my high school, Varsity Choir days. Would they be able and willing to take time out on a Saturday morning to come and sing? Three dear friends answered my plea. They didn’t know my friend who died. They have lives, jobs, families, commitments. Yet still they made the effort to be there, to sing.
I chose the hymn, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” It’s lovely and relatively simple. I knew we would have to sing a cappella, so simple was a must. Julie and Nancy were able to come an hour early so we could practice. We had not sung together in over 30 years. The hymn was not a familiar one to them. We would be singing immediately after I finished preaching, so I warned them I might not be able to get through it. But I would stand with them nonetheless. In practice it sounded … okay. We were rusty and nervous, but we trusted that all would be well.
Our friend Jeff arrived just before the service began, so I didn’t know he was there until I went to sing with them. Although the four of us hadn’t practiced together at all and the first note or two was a little shaky, our voices suddenly blended. Maybe those listening heard it differently, but to my ears it was beautiful. It was powerful and poignant and beautiful. I worried that my emotions about my dear friend would hinder my singing, but I have never felt more uplifted. Standing there with those sweet people, who came to do this because of and out of love, I felt a peace that had evaded me ever since I learned of my friend’s death. In that moment, I understood more clearly these words of the psalmist.
You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
God’s Spirit was tangible in that moment. It was so filled with love and grace, healing and joy, I was overwhelmed and humbled. Those kinds of moments, those Spirit-filled moments, are too often few and far between. Perhaps the real truth is that my ability to recognize them is limited. I am busy, distracted, anxious, and caught up in the minutia of daily life. But God refuses to go unnoticed. How grateful I am for my friends and their love and generosity. How grateful I am for music and its ability to touch each of our senses. How grateful I am that God remains present, even when I don’t notice. How grateful I am for those moments when I do.