Last night I was offered mulberry sauce for my cheesecake and I felt myself recoil. It’s not that I don’t like mulberry sauce. I have never even tasted mulberry sauce. But I used to have a mulberry tree in my backyard—a lovely mulberry tree that dropped big, juicy, purple berries all over my yard and left behind a fermenting wasteland of purple juice. The mess—the stench! My daughter was six months old, getting ready to crawl, and I envisioned a future of purple handprints and footprints all over my home. Before the next summer that tree was down.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you;
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,
and in all Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth.”
Our God is a God of expansion. Abraham was called in order to be a blessing to others. The nation of Israel was birthed so that all others could be blessed through it (Genesis 12:2–3). God pours into his people so they might share that blessing with others.
“We pray for darkness so that we may see” is one of many provocative lines in Rod Jellema’s poetic litany “Praying for Darkness in a Year of Glare” (p. 16). I wonder about that line. Is it true? Would I ever dare pray for darkness so that I might see? It seems to me that we’ve been experiencing too much of this world’s darkness. We can’t escape it. It consumes news outlets and social media feeds. It fills our workplaces, our homes, our churches . . .
Christmas, children, and surprises go together like peanut butter and jam. There is nothing more delightful than seeing a child’s eyes light up as they unwrap a Christmas gift they really wanted but didn’t expect to get, or than when you’ve found that perfect gift for someone. Christmas surprises are joyful surprises.
It has sometimes been suggested that we might be better off if we would forget the past and move on. It seems that the more painful, the more complex, or the more challenging the memory, the more quickly we are encouraged to “let bygones be bygones,” to “get on with life,” to “let it rest.” But rarely are those same misguided words of advice offered when memories are pleasant and joy-filled.
As I reflect on this issue the word that comes to mind is expansive. This is the issue for Ascension and Pentecost, two days that are all about expanding. When Christ ascended into heaven his work did not end; it expanded. Christ now sits at God’s right hand ruling the world. Christ is the sovereign Lord, and not just of those who recognize his lordship. He is Lord of all. At Pentecost we see the expansive grace of God in the giving of the Holy Spirit.
“Weep not for me, Mother,
in the grave I have life.”
So begins the poem “Crucifixion” by Russian poet Anna Akhmatova (1889–1966). “In the grave I have life.” “Yes, but . . .” we want to argue. We feel compelled to interject that “but.” But Christ didn’t stay in the grave; we don’t stay in the grave; there is life on the other side of the grave, not in it. This is all true. Yet maybe Akhmatova was correct in calling our attention to the grave itself.
Have you heard the news? Reformed Worship is celebrating its 30th anniversary! This is a rather amazing feat, given the current status of print publications. And while we would like to think this is the result of a stellar staff and even better subscribers, we are quick to realize how the services and articles that were sent in for publication were shaped through prayer and the working of the Holy Spirit. The RW staff are always surprised by how the Spirit brings the right submissions together at the right time to formulate each issue of this journal.
As this issue of Reformed Worship moved from concept to reality, I readily shared with people my excitement about doing an issue on beauty. This news was most often met with a quizzical look. “Beauty?” people asked. I received this reaction so often that I took a step back to rethink the theme. But then I began to wonder more about the responses themselves.
Why did the theme of beauty so perplex people? Let me suggest a few possible reasons.