Repentance in Pew 16
“O sing to the Lord a new song.” – Psalm 96: 1
The prelude ended, the minister got to his feet, went to the pulpit and boomed out, “O sing to the Lord a new song!”
Fifteen pews deep on the left side, 9-year-old Henry nudged his mother in the ribs and said, “That is the first good idea that guy has ever had. I’m sick of the same old songs every week. I hope that lady who runs the choir was listening.”
His mother whispered, “Well, that’s not exactly what he meant.”
“His first good idea and he didn’t mean it? Jeez,” said Henry.
“Well he did mean it, but not quite that way.”
“What way did he mean it if he didn’t mean we’d get to sing something that isn’t so stupid?”
“It’s a figure of speech,” whispered his mother, “a way of saying something true but not literally true.”
“I don’t get it,” said Henry with a sigh of exasperation. “We’ll talk about it later,” said his mom.
Eavesdropping from pew 16, I occurred to me that both Henry and his mother were right. Actual new music is needed in every new generation, to complement the musical tradition passed on to us.
But it’s also true that a phrase like “Sing a new song to the Lord” doesn’t mean only a catchy new tune. It means more. It means something like, change your own tune, change your heart or your mind, get a new orientation.
I can be very critical of the church at times. But in that moment, in pew 16, I felt myself nudged to repent of my critical spirit and to “sing a new song” of gratitude.
Gratitude for the richness and complexity of the language of faith. Gratitude that, in a time when language is routinely debased and foolish literalism insisted upon, Scripture and church teach us nuance, symbol and metaphor.
And gratitude for moments like the one I had witnessed that morning between a mother and her son. Funny, yes, and more: true and important.
Church, for all our foibles, there’s nothing quite like it. Thank you. Amen.
Tony Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, is a speaker, teacher, and writer. His newest book is Called to Lead: Paul’s Letters to Timothy for a New Day. You can read Tony’s “Weekly Meditation” and “What’s Tony Thinking?” at his website, www.anthonybrobinson.com.