A friend pointed me to a commentary on contemporary worship by Carl Trueman. Trueman suggests that “Christian worship should immerse people in the reality of the tragedy of the human fall and of all subsequent human life.” He commends the Scottish tradition and its “somber tempos of the psalter, the haunting calls of lament, and the mortal frailty of the unaccompanied human voice.”
I’m not a fan of happy-clappy worship, but I believe that Trueman errs on the wrong side. To be fair, Trueman wants tragedy to be woven together with joy and triumph. I agree that we should cover the whole emotional and experiental palette of the Psalms (I would suggest covering all the Psalms themselves). But I raise my eyebrows at “somber” and think that we should err on the side of being outright Pentecostal.
Here’s why: Whatever balance we strike, death cannot become a primary emphasis; it needs to fit properly in a broader story arc that exults, “O death, where is your sting?” History itself is a comedy (in the technical sense) rather than a tragedy, and if we want the worship service to tell the gospel story, then it may have a sense of agon-contest, but will always move towards and culminate in an exuberant, matrimonial, comedic denouement. We worship on Sunday rather than Friday or Saturday: every Lord’s day is a miniature Easter. Also, if our Lord’s-day worship is an assembly and meal in the very presence and house of our king and husband, then something like Nehemiah 8:9-12 should apply (“do not mourn or weep . . . do not be grieved”), at least for the vast majority of worship services. Consider, too, the ratio of feasts to fasts in the old covenants. To mention but one important precedent, the Sabbath was a weekly feast (Lev. 23:1-3).
While a rock band might not be appropriately majestic for the king (compare the bizarre and unbecoming James Bond sequence in the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony), neither is a dirge:
So David and the elders of Israel and the commanders of thousands went to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord from the house of Obed-edom with rejoicing. And because God helped the Levites who were carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord, they sacrificed seven bulls and seven rams. David was clothed with a robe of fine linen, as also were all the Levites who were carrying the ark, and the singers and Chenaniah the leader of the music of the singers. And David wore a linen ephod. So all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the Lord with shouting, to the sound of the horn, trumpets, and cymbals, and made loud music on harps and lyres.
And as the ark of the covenant of the Lord came to the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David dancing and celebrating, and she despised him in her heart. — 1 Chronicles 15:25-29
We should take notes from David and not Michal on how we are to behave when we have an audience and meal with the king of kings.
See also: Ascent.