A couple weeks ago I was reading through Ezra, and I came to a passage that caught my attention. If you’re unfamiliar with Ezra, he was a priest in the 5th century BC who gives an account of the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its Temple, following the Babylonian exile of the Israelites. In one particularly dramatic chapter, the builders lay the foundation to rebuild the temple, resulting in a time of worship and praise. Here’s how Ezra describes the moment:
With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD:
“He is good; his love to Israel endures forever.”
And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away. (3:11-13. Read the passage in context here.)
Two things amaze me in this passage. First, you have lament and praise happening simultaneously. Those in the older generation remembered the glory of the former temple. They wept for what had been. Those in the younger generation were thrilled at the prospect of the new temple. They rejoiced for what was coming. Both responses were raw and heartfelt, and both were important expressions. And they were indistinguishable from each other.
Second, the lament-praise was heard far away. Imagine the sound heard by those living in the nearby wilderness. When I’m home in southeast Lincoln on a Saturday in the fall, I can sometimes hear the roar of Memorial Stadium. I can’t tell if it’s a sound of joy or of frustration, but I know it represents a real moment of response.
Worship unites generations. It provides a moment where lament and joyful exuberance can coexist and be indistinguishable from one another because both are authentic responses to God. When we respond to God in a way that is real and heartfelt, worship also bears witness to the reality of God’s presence in our midst. Those attending for the first time might have their eyes opened to a God Who loves them enough to rescue them from sin and death. In this way worship is evangelistic: it shares the truth of the gospel with those around us.
Is your worship authentic on Sunday mornings? Does your corporate expression of worship allow for you to be authentic before God? Why or why not? I’d love to hear your thoughts.