This past Sunday was like most Sundays. I got up early, showered, centered, breakfasted, and left to go begin my circuit. I arrived to prepare for my first worship service of the day.
Because of a couple of funny scheduling bits, I realized that I hadn’t led worship at this church in the past month or so, with Annual Conference, a fifth Sunday breakfast bible study, and a vacation all stacked up together, and so I felt a little out of practice, as I was readjusting back to my routine.
This church is a faithful few, and I am the primary worship leader for the entirety of the service. I lead the prayers and the hymns as well as preach at this church. I allow my voice to carry through the sanctuary during singing so that others may also be able to sing out with confidence.
This is usually a good thing.
This Sunday, however, it had been a few weeks or so, and I was a bit out of practice. (How quickly we can slip out of practice.) During the offertory, I opened my hymnal to the next hymn, and prepared to stand up for when the accompanist would signal the beginning of the Doxology. I stood up to lead the Doxology, and the piano played the few bars of signal, and I burst out into the family table blessing of the Wesleys.
If the church was bigger, or the music louder, or there were more strong singers, then it would not have been as obvious. As it was, it was clear that I was singing an entirely different song.
Where was the Doxology? I don’t know, but it was not on my lips. I sang through the rest of the blessing. And because my people follow me so closely, and try so hard, they really tried to sing. And I’m not sure what they were singing. I think some of them may have tried the Doxology, but we all got messed up because I had sung the wrong words.
One of the things that I love about this close knit church is that they abound in grace. They were so caught up that if they had known the words that I was singing, they would have joined in. Yes, they looked a little confused, but that was the extent of the negative response that I received.
When we stopped singing, at the end of the song, folks looked askance at me, and instead of ignoring my obvious mistake, I honored their confusion. I explained that I was ready for the table, I was standing next to the communion elements, ready for the bread and the cup and the celebration of the holy meal. And so the words that I had in my head were not the words of the Doxology, but the family blessing that I sang growing up.
And, because even though I knew I was going to have a tight span of time between my two worship services, I offered for us to sing it again, together, so that the congregation could actually sing and praise God with one of the songs that they are the most comfortable with.
I couldn’t even think of how the Doxology was supposed to begin. Occasionally I flip the middle two phrases, it is as if sometimes I don’t listen to what I am singing. But this time all I could sing was Be present at our table Lord. It is a valid prayer, but it is not the one we are prepared to sing when we are solely focused on praise.
The word: Doxology, for those who are not church liturgy nerds, is a Greek compound meaning glory and word. It is when we speak and sing the glory of God. It is essentially a hymn of praise. It is a common practice in most of the churches I have attended to sing it as part of the celebration of the offering. I have heard it both before and after the time when the collection plates go around the sanctuary. I imagine that for many who attend church regularly it could be merely the song that goes with the offering.
There is more to it than that.
It is a call for all of creation to praise God. It is a celebration of blessings and rejoicing. It is a song in which the sole point is to praise God. And I could not remember the words of the song.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
My congregation is used to me singing with the adjustment of inclusive language, and I’m sure that they have caught me flipping the middle two lines here and there. This was the first time that I sang an entirely different song.
It made an interesting counterpoint to the usual Doxology. There are a few different Doxologies which commonly appear in our worship: one that we commonly call the Gloria Patri, the ending of the Lord’s Prayer, as well as the “Praise God.” Even though my congregations have a custom of a relaxed liturgical tradition, they still have these elements in worship that recall the more austere traditions. We sing and say these words because we know they are important.
Sometimes, like I did this past Sunday, we forget the purpose of these words. The practice has a chance of becoming rote. The ritual can slip into ritual for ritual’s sake. We are singing about praising God, and sometimes it sounds more like a dirge than a praise song.
Love is better than that.
The glory of God is greater than that.
Sing with excitement. Sing with conviction. Sing with praise resounding through the air. Sing about the glory of God.
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow,
Praise God, all creatures here below,
Praise God above, ye heavenly host.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
Be present at our table, Lord.
Be here and everywhere adored.
Thy creatures bless and grant that we
May feast in paradise with thee. Amen.
Truly, as we prepare for the table celebration of Communion, this is an appropriate song to sing. The celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a foretaste of the great banquet where no one will hunger or thirst anymore. And so what better way to prepare to celebrate this feast than to bless God in our preparations.
My mistake this past Sunday may have been a whispering of the Spirit, a reminder of the grace that fills the space. I just kinda wish that when the Spirit did her whispering, that it didn’t interfere with worship. But maybe that was the point this time. A holy interruption, a Spirit disturbance, and a grace-filled reminder that worship is not about us.
I’ll praise about that. Amen.