In our postmodern society we hear a lot about the importance of narrative. There is nothing all that remarkable about that emphasis; telling stories to recount important events and pass on values and knowledge has been integral to all communities throughout history. The postmodern twist, however, is that each person is able to make up their own story and to interpret or reinterpret the grand narrative as they like. Though touted as being the key to true freedom, the end result is like trying to build a house on a sandpit—it doesn’t work.
When the Israelites were still wandering in the wilderness, before they had land, let alone crops and harvests, God instructed them how and when to give thanks for the harvests that were to come:
Three times in the year you shall hold a festival for me. You shall observe the festival of unleavened bread; . . . the festival of harvest, . . . the festival of ingathering . . . (Ex. 23:14-16).
It happened again this past Sunday. A great worship service, including baptism. Wonderful singing—of hymns. No psalms, not one. This is a church that stands in the Reformed tradition known for its singing of the psalms. Whenever I go to ecumenical conferences, I’m identified as one who comes from a psalm-singing heritage. I smile wanly, agreeing. But that heritage is too often missing on Sunday mornings.
When I first started editing the Psalter Hymnal in the early 1980s, the story then making the rounds was that permission for including the song “How Great Thou Art” in the 1978 Lutheran Book of Worship was finally granted with a handshake at a cost that would remain secret.
I was struck by a question asked by a California reader in the previous issue of Reformed Worship: “I’m too concerned for the details of the service to really enter into worship. Any advice?” (RW 71, p. 44). That’s one problem.
A deeper problem arises when a worship leader is too burdened—for whatever reason—to be able to worship, and yet is called to lead others. That’s another kind of problem.