As a pastor, I’ve seen my share of tears.
They show up in so many places: in hospitals, especially in emergency rooms, at funeral homes, in the office, in the delivery room, at the altar, during worship, while talking quietly in a home. Some days they are predictable and expected, some days they ambush us and catch us by surprise. Occasionally they are tears of joy, but most often our tears betray great loss or pain. There have been days when the tears have been mine, but mostly they are the tears of family, friends, colleagues or congregants whose emotions move them to shed those saline drops from their eyes that are so filled with meaning.
On a recent Saturday, it was our youngest son whose eyes I saw brimming with tears. That’s him with the beard in the photo above. We were standing at the altar of a magnificent church watching his soon-to-be-wife walk down the aisle toward him. His older brother beside him, he was overcome with tears of joy as he watched his beautiful bride approach.
Those tears spoke volumes. In that moment, his life experiences converged with meaningful clarity and evoked deep emotion. He saw, in a glimpse, the raw grace and goodness of God. He comprehended that the greatest gift really was love. It moved him to tears. It always does. In a few moments, his eyes dried and the largest smile I’ve ever seen upon his face emerged.
I’ve experienced that with many dozens of grooms. All their bravado is swept away as they stand at that altar and step into their future. The tears, the trembling hands and shaking knees, the cracking voice all betray the gravity of the moment. It is a sacred and holy space.
There is something about that moment that I believe is also at the heart of healthy worship and authentic faith. When we grasp the gravity of encountering the divine creator, when we fully embrace the sacrificial love at the heart of the Gospel, when we sense our own brokenness and fallibility, it should move us to stunned silence and even tears.
I must confess that I too often take worship for granted and miss out on its life-changing effect. My busyness and preoccupation with the mechanics of the service blind me to what is really happening.
I find myself too worried about the mundane: HVAC concerns, off-key soloists, my half-baked sermon, who is missing today, and on and on the list goes. Some days my sin is thinking like a consumer during worship: evaluating the elements of worship like a judge for a talent show. How presumptuous of me.
Sauntering into our weekly divine encounter is a sure-fire way to miss the transcendence of the moment. God forgive us our hubris and our pride.
In its place, we would do well to rediscover the nature of true worship. Healthy congregations step into worship in a spirit of humility and awe. Whatever your style, wherever you gather, when you truly worship, something profound happens to you. Like the humbled groom at the altar, we stand on holy ground and quake. When we actually experience God’s “worth-ship”, we glimpse the eternal truth that is at the heart of our radical gospel and we are stunned into reverence.
I’m convinced that many of the squabbles and conflicts in congregations are at least partially due to our loss of wonder at God’s grace and love. We’ve downsized God and in turn lost our ability to love with unconditional love. On those days when Truth grips us, we are swept up into a spirit of unity with God and his children that otherwise eludes us. The humility that genuine worship evokes in us is sorely missing in many of the encounters I observe among Christians.
It makes me wonder if we don’t need to shed a few more tears of joy at the altar. Don’t wait for a wedding. Instead, try giving yourself fully to the Spirit and presence of God the next time you go to worship. Remember, when we actually sense the raw grace of God, tears will be shed. They always are.