“It is truly right, our duty and our Joy…” Evangelical Lutheran Worship
“It is truly meet, right and salutary.” Service Book and Hymnal
We who are liturgically bent speak or sing these words as we transition from Word to Meal in the liturgy of Holy Communion. We set the table, greet the people, then declare our duty , joy and delight, and get some meet right and salutary business started. I notice that some “contemporary” worship plans leave out the ancient words of the preface. Maybe those who are more with-It think them strange and antique. Modern worshippers might not understand. Given the way I have heard us clergy types rattle the words off after we check our watches and see how much our sermons ran on, I can understand the impulse to “cut to the chase” and get on with the words of Institution. But I loved singing, “It is our duty and delight, at all times and in all places…”
The word “joy” occurs 226 times in the bible. Very rarely is “Joy” connected to what God does. Almost always, joy is what we get to have because of the goodness of all God provides for us. Joy is the gift we pick up when we are in right relationship to God and neighbor. Joy is the proper way to receive God’s Word. Joy is what we experience when we go out into the world to proclaim the good news and witness it’s life giving power in the world.Luke 10:17 describes it. The seventy ragamuffin Jesus followers return from their adventures in the gospel, worn and dirty, flat broke, with shiny eyes. They went out scratching their heads and wondering what Jesus was thinking, and returned scratching their butts in wonder as they told their stories of what Jesus’ name on their lips and words in their hearts could accomplish with no more than they had.
Get this. This is my favorite, I think.
For the LORD takes pleasure in his people;
he adorns the humble with victory.
5Let the faithful exult in glory;
let them sing for joy on their couches.Psalm 149
“They will have joy on their couches!” What a marvelous image of God’s people bouncing on their couches until they collapse in giggle fits! This joy is not somber!
“Delight” is the most frequent word used to describe God’s joy. God takes delight in all the God has created, even that monster Leviathan whom God made for fun and games. God takes delight when we, together with creation, are whole and well and enjoying the works of God’s hands and the produce of our own labors. Even Ecclesiastes, that gloomy Gus, seems positively ready to jump on the couch occupied with the joy of his heart:
8This is what I have seen to be good: it is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of the life God gives us; for this is our lot. 19Likewise all to whom God gives wealth and possessions and whom he enables to enjoy them, and to accept their lot and find enjoyment in their toil — this is the gift of God. 20For they will scarcely brood over the days of their lives, because God keeps them occupied with the joy of their hearts. Ecclesiastes 5
Humans aren’t the only ones who can bounce on the couch, All creation, including trees and oceans and animals and rocks, get to join in or bust a gut trying not to sing, not to clap.
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
12let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
13before the LORD; for he is coming, Psalm 96
How does that work? I know, it’s just a figure of speech. I’m going to push on it though. If joy is an internalized emotion, it’s just a figure of speech because you have to have a brain to internalize anything, let alone have an emotion. Only creatures with brains can jump on couches. But creatures with brains can make rocks and water and a log or ball bounce on the couch (yes, with enough Scotchguard water will bounce on the couch.) Does that count? I’m going to say no, because they can’t bounce on the couch without some creature with a brain as an agent. Then the Psalmist would have to say “We make the mountains and the forests clap and bounce.” Ummmm, no. Even if we did, it would not necessarily be a good thing for creation if mountains and forests took to bouncing. It doesn’t even take a brain..
Keep pushing. Maybe joy is NOT an internalized emotion. Joy is what we get behind door number 3 when we enter into the fullness of right relationship with God. Delight is what God gets when earth and all its creatures–including us–fulfills the dream and hopes God intended in our making. God delights even in that old sea monster Leviathan just for being Leviathan. Living in grace is so much more than living in God’s permissiveness under a blind eye to our shortfalls. Living in grace is living in God’s delight. We have joy because God has delight.
Hang in there with me. More fun is coming.
When did we start replacing the God of delight with the angry God? If I have any critique of the Protestant spirit, it is this. The God of delight takes pleasure in us, all of us–not just beauty queens with fabulous legs, but legs that find their way awkwardly, legs the tow behind a walker, too many legs and not enough legs; not just the brilliance of intellect, but the radiance of the person with Downs; the mind that perceives through lenses of dyslexia, or autism spectrum, or any countless number of variations; not just in the heavily painted eyelids of a teenager coming of age, but also the heavy eyelids of a sleepy parent dragged from bed to keep a promise to that teenager to come whenever they call in trouble. God’s delight is not so meager that God can only delight in perfection. Joy is our human response to God’s delight in providing a creation that is abundant, suited to our needs, deep in wisdom, extravagant in variation, even to the point of excess–like, why do zucchinis have to grow so large? Every weekend someone commits Drive-By Zucchini in church and synagogue parking lots when people fail to lock their car doors. Even God steps back with a grin now and then, don’t you think?
So, it is with these thoughts I provide what follows.
Have you taken any moments to revel in God’s delight today? Julian of Norwich said it–
The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything.
Everything. In all times and in all places. In an elephant? Click on this link and tell me God wasn’t chuckling in delight.
Granted, elephants are extremely intelligent. But how about this little visitor to my picnic table? We spent twenty minutes studying one another. Maybe I was the first human she ever encountered eyeball to eyeball. Of course it was a female. By this time of year females have eaten the heads of all the males.
Those were twenty minutes of rapt wonder and awe, perhaps filling both of us with a bit of joy.
Have you ever watched a large bird–turkey vulture or hawk or whatever–catch the air currents and soar? Just for the pleasure and delight of it. Just to float on the currents of air as effortlessly as if it were a helium balloon launched at a church picnic. Just because it can. It can because God took such delight in it. Just being what it is, it delights God. Delighting God, it has pleasure and joy
Everyone disparages sheep for being easily led and not so bright. Check out this gambol and you might want to kick up your heels too.
I almost caused a dear lady to pass out from hyperventilation once. I remarked that worship that day had been “fun.” For me, it had been both joy and delight as all the elements of the service came together so well. I believed it fulfilled our purpose and God’s hope for us. “Worship is not supposed to be about FUN!” she scolded me. “That’s the problem these days, everyone expects fun and games and wants to be entertained around the clock!” I would have handed her Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death” if I could have found it quickly enough to fan her with it as she came to. Just to show her that I really understood what she was saying. She got the “duty” part. She understood obligation and pleasing God with one’s behavior and law abiding spirit. Something fell apart before she got to “delight” though. Sometimes I mischievously wonder what would happen if I reversed the words one Sunday: “It is a delight and duty….” Would people hear this any differently? If “duty calls” and “duty binds” what does “delight” do? Beckons? Overwhelms? Surrounds? Invites us hither? Embraces us like two virgin lovers on their wedding night? Can’t think about that in church, can we?
Someday, I would love to set the Preface part of the liturgy to visuals. We would have to start with the clip of that dear elephant with its ribbon. We would have to watch the bird on the currents as though we were the bird, delighting in the buoyancy of air sifting through its feathers. We would have to take a full minute to study a praying mantis and admire her diligence in prayer. We might even have to allow our hearts to leap a bit, even if our legs don’t quite move that way anymore.
“Restore unto me the joy of my salvation…”
Lose the somber music to appease an angry God.
God does restore and delights in doing it.
And all creation is filled with joy.
For another day: so what is it about justice that should make us smile and receive joy as much as God delights? Ponder that while you bounce on your couch.