Joyful, joyful

The rainbow was framed between two cypress trees as I walked out on the dock at Compass Lake.  It was a bit unexpected since it had not rained, but in the distance, I could see the rain cloud across the lake that was refracting the light.  

Two days later, Mary Lou and I were in church when the minister read the scripture for the day.  It was the story of Noah, the Ark and the flood and God’s covenant with mankind.  In Genesis 9:16, God says “Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

I still think of that story from my earliest days in church every time I see a rainbow.  God is faithful to us.  He remembers us.  He never forgets His promise.

This past Sunday was the first Sunday that the entire choir had been able to perform in the 11:00 service at our church.  There was finally no masks and no social distancing unless you chose to do so.  

The service began with “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desire”, one of my favorite pieces of music for the organ.  It was written by Johann Sebastian Bach, who once said that any music that was not written for the glory of God was just noise.   This piece was played at our wedding and for most of the 35 years I played the organ at the First Presbyterian Church in Donalsonville, I played this music on the Sunday closest to our anniversary date.

The first hymn was “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee”.  It is one of our favorite hymns and was particularly meaningful this past Sunday as everyone present seemed to truly be embracing the fact that the church had survived the challenges of the pandemic.  God remembers us and loves us.  

The full choir, the mighty organ, and the full-throated voices of hundreds in attendance joined together to make the music soar and the lyrics touch everyone present.  It brought chills to my spine, and I realized this was about to be a special service.

The choir did an assortment of special music pieces, all of which showcased their talent and released the frustration they must have all experienced by not being able to collectively bring a joyful noise for more than a year.  They were inspiring and inspired.

“Amazing Grace” was played with the organ, a bagpipe and a drum, a magical combination.  This arrangement, combined with the voices of the choir, was the most special of the special music.  The choir was speaking to me, and to all those who have heard those words over their lifetime.  

Each stanza tugged at your heart in a different way.  You could feel the Holy Spirit fill the room and embrace those who have been longing for a touch, a hug, a smile, and all the other things that make the church a family in the truest sense of the word.

As the song came to its dramatic climax, I glanced around the room.  Any woman who had a tissue in her purse was dabbing her eyes.  The men around me were more discreet as they touched the corner of their eyes to wipe the tear away.  The sniffles came from every direction, from every age, from every gender, from every soul that has been hungry for the ability to worship fully and openly.

Music often opens the heart and prepares the mind for worship, putting you in a place where you can feel the presence of the Holy Spirit and your heart is more receptive to God’s message.  Music truly enhanced the worship at Auburn United Methodist Church this past Sunday.

My weekend started with a random rainbow over a lake.  It was filled with some of my favorite music that opened my heart.  It finished with a good pastoral message about rainbows and promises.   Coincidence?  I think not; at least, not for me.   

More importantly, Sunday was an affirmation to me that God keeps His covenant with His people.  His love is steadfast and endures forever, even during pandemics. In the aftermath of the worst year of our lives, Sunday was a reminder to me that God remembers us, all of us.  He always will.

Sometime a song can say it all.  Joyful, Joyful, indeed.

o0o

Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]

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