Forced Smiles?

In Christian worship, some things work and others don’t. That’s OK – you’re allowed to make mistakes. If it’s just minor , we smile and even enjoy it. Other bits matter more. For example, when we say “Lift up your hearts” (as many churches do at the beginning of the consecration of bread and wine) – and you say “Yes, we are suitably solemn and miserable, you can go on, and, oh yes, ‘We lift them to the Lord’”. That really doesn’t work! – which is a pity. Worship isn’t about reading the right words from a book. Useful as careful words can be, there has to be a reality about the whole thing.

“Rejoice in the Lord” says Paul to the Philippians (reading Philippians 4:4-7). He doesn’t say “be happy”, because that would not be practical – Christians are not meant to be grinning idiots, ignorant or uncaring about the difficulties and pains of the world and its peoples. He does say, “Rejoice in the Lord always”; ‘in the Lord’ helps – this is not about me and my situation, my success and failure. It is about what God has done, is doing, and will do – but it requires me to want to see further than my own horizon.

“Let your gentleness be evident to all” – because if you can look beyond your selfish issues to God, you will find it easier to see other people and their issues also in the perspective of God. “Do not be anxious about anything” Remember what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6)? It’s the same sort of thing – if you can see things as God does, some of them change significance.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding”, because some people will never understand how there could be another way of looking at life. But you should, for your own good. Rejoice! You can’t always be happy, but joy can find a place even in sorrow. The Lord is near – whether he is coming back soon, or near us as we worship, or both!. “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8) I hope you understand – what Paul says to the Philippians is not some trivial “Cheer up, it could be worse”. This is not some emotional self-help manual, but a key part of Christian faith: you must look beyond yourself to God, beyond your situation to the actions of God, and

“Lift up your hearts”

Those words have been used for at least 1700 years – we call them Sursum Corda from the Latin – by Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, and some Methodist and Presbyterian Christians. Not because they didn’t understand, or couldn’t be bothered to change, but because they say something important. Make the effort – see what God has done, and is doing, and be glad of it! Our worship will not be perfect on earth, but do watch out for those words, and use them as a reminder to rejoice, not to be happy, but to rejoice.

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