Today the Church catholic (meaning the Christian church around the world, not just the Roman Catholic Church) celebrated the Second Sunday of Easter by hearing the story of Thomas, who when told by the other disciples that they had seen the Lord, replied, "Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe" (John 20:25). Because of his insistence on seeing Jesus, for himself, in the flesh, Thomas has long had the adjective "Doubting" attached to his name. But I think Thomas had it right. He wanted to see his Lord, and when he not only saw Him but touched the wounds in Jesus' hands and side, he believed and confessed: "My Lord and my God!" In that short sentence, Thomas models the spiritual life of the Christian who, when called to faith by God and confronted with Law and Gospel in the person of Christ, can do no other but exclaim, "My Lord and my God!" It is one of the best stories in all of Scripture.
Today at my church, a congregation of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, we heard the choir sing the traditional Tanzanian song "Nimemwona Bwana" (the song was sung by the junior high choir at one service and the adult choir at another). The full text is simple--
Nimemwona Bwana, anapendeza.
Here's the translation:
We have seen the Lord, and He looks good!
(Sometimes instead of "good" the translation is "nice" or "beautiful"--but I really like the word "good." What is the Lord if not Goodness incarnate?)
Anyway, it strikes me that there are those, maybe even some of you reading, who might not appreciate this text being sung for a church service. If you don't like what has come to be known as a "praise chorus" in Christian worship, you might not like this song. It has some of the elements of what some object to in contemporary Christian praise and worship songs: the text is simple, it appears to be light on doctrine, it doesn't tell the full salvation story, and it is repetitive (my friend Susan recently wrote about that last item here). AND it has percussion and swaying bodies!
Yet I think this was a perfect song for this day. Think about it: we hear about Thomas, who wanted to see, and who when he did, believed. And then we hear joyfully proclaimed by the choir the words, "We have seen the Lord, and He looks good!"
I don't like praise choruses in church either. But I loved this song in our liturgy today. So I had to wonder, in light of the similarities listed above, how is it different from a praise chorus? Well, to help answer that question, I have posted a video of our junior high choir singing the song. Please note that there is nothing in the performance that overtly calls attention to the performers or their personal experience of the song. There is no brandishing of microphones (no microphones at all in fact--those young soloists are projecting entirely on their own), no exhorting of the congregation to respond to the "performance" (to show that they are feelin' it, too, donchya' know), no effort to repeat the chorus ad infinitum in order to "prepare hearts" to receive the Word. The song is presented in a completely declamatory way, and I think this is why it does not fit the popular definition of "praise chorus." The goal is not to express the feelings of the singer or manipulate those of the worshiper but rather to proclaim the Word by telling the story.
(If you really want to know, the Cantor tried to get them to loosen up a bit more than this, and you can see a few who took his encouragement to heart, but it's not easy to take the suburbs out of suburban Chicago kids!)