Thursday, September 30, 2021
Katie Snipes Lancaster
Devote yourselves to prayer,
keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.
A Look at Joy
AS WORLD WAR II was ending, my uncle was about to be discharged from the Royal Navy. He decided to enjoy an evening out, and bought a ticket to see a play in London. It was opening night of a new show. He told me that he was not quite sure what the show was about, but had heard that it was a musical—an American musical. He also said that he didn’t really care what he was going to see. All he wanted was to celebrate the fact that he had lived through a war and would be going home soon. The first thing he noticed when he entered the theater foyer was the brilliance of the lights. For six years he—and members of his generation—had had to get used to muted lighting, and sometimes to no lighting. Now, at least in this warm, welcoming and crowded space, the world was suddenly bright again. Another thing he noticed was how alive and excited everyone was, and to his surprise he realized that their festive mood was affecting him, and that he felt the same way. But nothing prepared him for what happened when the curtain went up. The stage blazed with the light of a sunlit world stretching into infinite distances. The dancers and actors positively leaped onto the stage. The music was electrifying. The words, especially the very first words of the show, transformed every listener.
O what a beautiful morning!
O what a wonderful day!
I’ve got a wonderful feeling
Everything’s going my way.
And now we know what my long-ago uncle and those other people were experiencing. Oklahoma burst into the dark world of Europe like a sudden blaze of sunshine, space, energy, hope, and possibility. It came from a land not exhausted by war, a land still strong, with almost infinite resources. It sang a song of the future. Uncannily the song of Zephaniah (Zephaniah 3:14-20) echoes that theater moment, exhorting us to “Rejoice! Exult! Sing aloud! Shout! The Lord has turned away your enemies .. . I will bring you home .. . says the Lord.” The note of wild and joyous exuberance is echoed twice more in these readings. They are so clearly songs of joy that it is difficult to read them in the measured way we usually do in worship. Listen to Isaiah: “Surely God is my salvation! My strength! My might! My salvation! Sing aloud! Sing for joy!” (Isaiah 4:4-7)…
If we are wise, we will risk some madness of joy in this troubled time. We will risk this for the same reason that Zephaniah and Isaiah were willing to risk a wild and joyous song when they could so easily have sung sadly in the shadows that surrounded their small islands of fragile personal joy. But the reason that it is not madness for us to risk singing our songs is that we believe what they believed—we are a people of God, a people of a God who can be trusted. So—”Sing… shout… rejoice .. . exult!”
(Excerpted from “Night Music” by Herbert O’Driscol in The Christian Century, November 29, 2003)
May we remember
(beyond our habit of forgetting)
to give thanks, O God.