I was 10 when I first learned that joy and sorrow could coexist within a faith community. The Sunday after a new baptistery had been completed in our church building, we witnessed three baptisms. Abundant joy flooded our worship space. We celebrated with Brazilian cheese bread and strong coffee.
Later that week, my parents received a phone call from a family whose infant son had died. Our joy over the new things God was doing among us moved over to make room for the great sorrow. The family discussed funeral preparations and everyone offered comfort through food and other expressions of love. My sister and I wrote sympathy cards with crayons, attempting to assuage a grief we couldn’t understand. Sorrow and joy ebbed and flowed that week between pastoral visits to the grieving family and conversations with our newly baptized brothers and sisters.
Ezra describes the mixture of emotions that the Jerusalem community experiences when the temple’s foundation is laid. Celebratory music plays as priests in colorful vestments praise God with the trumpet and others praise God with cymbals. Worshipers wholeheartedly sing of God’s steadfast love. Then, on the outskirts, those who remember the temple as it was feel the pain of that loss, pain so great that the rejoicing worshipers don’t fully understand it. Shouts of joy mingle with cries of anguish, and no one can distinguish the two. One thing is certain: everyone is lifting prayers to God. God is being worshiped. Whether we praise God with joyful song or summon God in quiet desperation, God draws near to all who worship.
Whenever we worship as a community, participants bring their grief and their celebrations with them. Why is it important for all of us to remember this?
God, you are always with us. Help us to worship and to know and trust in your presence, no matter what season we’re in. Amen.