“See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them and wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more.” – Revelation 21:3-4
A conflict is brewing in the church I serve, inspired by a sharp uptick of questionable behavior in worship over the past few years: Applause.
Some hold me responsible for not cracking down on this growing aberration, for failing to silence those who treat elements of worship like a secular performance, clapping and slapping holiness right out the door.
I get it. Worship is not entertainment. We don’t gather to praise gifted orators and great musicians. However, in many cultures, especially non-Anglo cultures, applause is a genuine and irrepressible expression of holy praise.
My approach is to encourage the congregation to shout “Hallelujah!” “Amen!” or “Praise the Lord” while applauding making it clear that we are praising the divine giver of all gifts and not the human(s) through whom the gift comes. This has yet to catch on in Hartford, Connecticut.
Quiet reflection has its place. Who wants a round of applause on the heels of “Silent Night”? Yet for me, the last word on this topic comes from the last book of the Bible: Revelation. When God arrives to “wipe every tear from our eyes” because death is no more, it can’t possibly be met with quiet, somber reverence but only with full bodied joy, dancing, whoops of laughter and thunderous applause.
Every Sunday we get a taste of God’s grief-and-death-conquering-power as we sit in God’s living room. Why not express our joy and gratitude on earth as it is in heaven right now, even as God comes again to dwell among us?
“Clap your hands, all you peoples! Shout to God with cries of joy!” (Psalm 47:1)
Matt Laney is the Senior Pastor of Virginia Highland Church UCC and the author of Pride Wars, a fantasy series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Young Readers. The first book, The Spinner Prince, will be available March 9, 2018.