A long way away from home, we went to church the other Sunday. The experience fell a bit short of my personal criteria for worship. The very up-front role of two men leading the singing and two more men managing the dazzling audiovisual production didn’t do a whole lot for me. The shallow, banal and repetitive nature of the songs and the fact that without music or a melody line from an instrument I couldn’t join in the singing didn’t help at all.
However, the modest roles left for the visiting worship leader were in stark contrast to everything else. She got the attention of all of us in an entertaining but highly relevant experiment involving some of the children. She preached without notes but it was never off the top of her head. It seemed to flow from the depth of her immersion in the scripture. Throughout, she engaged us with passion and clarity about our doubts and uncertainties and led us to a point of insight and re-commitment.
I can’t imagine how many others noticed, but for me she made some telling points in what she didn‘t say. In dealing with the resurrection experience of the disciples on the Emmaus Road she did not say at any time that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead. She did not claim that the story she was so ably expounding was might not be a literal account of actual events. She did not say that Jesus died for our sins through the traditional explanations of the atonement. No conservative member of that congregation could have found anything to carp about.
Of course, that may or may not be a good thing. Teaching by not saying some things doesn’t always work. The failure of the church’s leadership to be more explicit about biblical interpretation a century ago continues to haunt the mainline church. But, in the context of this worship service, Sunday’s gentle omissions enabled me to feel included among sixty people among whom I would have otherwise felt alien and rejected. It was a salutary and inspiring experience.