When I was in about fifth grade, I had a substitute Sunday School teacher one week. She thought it would be a good idea to teach her class an appreciation of the Christmas hymn, In The Bleak Midwinter. Here are the uplifting lyrics of the first verse:
In the bleak midwinter… frosty wind made moan… earth stood hard as iron… water like a stone… snow had fallen, snow on snow… snow on snow… in the bleak midwinter, long ago.
As you can imagine, the group of elementary school children were enthralled. Especially so since she made us sit in a semi-circle around the piano where we faced her back while she played the chords. She instructed us to sing and when we did not do so to suit her, she would turn around and give us a critical look.
This negative Sunday School experience was my introduction to the hymn. For the next thirty years, I felt angst anytime I heard the song. I wondered why anyone on earth would pick such a depressing song for a congregation to sing in a worship service. Yuck.
And then a few years ago, I was listening to a Christmas station on my Pandora radio when a version of In The Bleak Midwinter began to play. I reached for the “skip this song” button, but then I paused. Sarah McLachlan was singing the words with such emotion that I listened instead. I heard a depth in the lyrics I had never recognized before. Instantly, my heart’s opinion towards the song was different. I had missed the beauty of the message because of the way the message had been presented to me.
Friends, some of the greatest pain I’ve experienced in my life has come inside a body of faith. We church people get it wrong sometimes. We try to teach people about something that is important to us, but we lay down expectations on how it should be important to them. We invite them to participate, but when they don’t do it to suit us, we turn around and stare at them critically. No wonder there are so many people who are turned off from church. Often times it isn’t Jesus they take issue with. It’s us.
Holy Week is here. I hope you are planning to celebrate the Risen Savior at a worship service this year. I hope church is a safe place for you. I hope you feel welcome there. But if the church has hurt you the way it has hurt me, I hope you are open to giving it another chance. I’ve never been sorry that I tried again (and again and again). The local church truly is a wonderful place to experience Jesus… even if the people inside aren’t perfect. Happy Easter, my friends. He IS risen! Peace!