Solemnity in Worship

It’s kind of an oxymoron, really.

I can find no scripture which connects worship exclusively with solemnity. There is grieving worship – the whole of Lamentations, for example; or the 137th Psalm. In them, Israel mourned the sin that led to their expatriation. The Lord’s admonition to keep silent before Him in His temple (which we often see cut from context and cut into wood plaques above sanctuary doors) was a command to repent from idolatry to “gods” of stone and wood in Habbakuk 2. There is mourning for people who are dead or at least thought dead. There is James’ advice to quarrelsome brothers and sisters in chapter 4 to mourn in their penitence.

(Maybe some of our brothers and sisters who cause dissension and division by forbidding worship which entertains God and man should mourn … and repent. – Then get over it, and experience some real joy!)

While there are these few examples of mourning and worship connected in scripture, what you will find throughout the Old and New Testaments are hundreds of examples of worship accompanied by joy.

From the poet’s exultation in Psalm 100 to the disciples’ recognition of the risen Lord in Luke 24:52, worship, praise and joy go together.

If you surround the Lord’s table and do nothing but mourn His death, week after week after week, know this: HE IS RISEN! (Matthew 28:7; Mark 16:6; Luke 24:6why do you think most Christians celebrate it on the first day of the week?!?)

If you gather time after time after time to share the bread and the cup while only mourning your sins, know this: THEY ARE FORGIVEN! (Psalm 32:1; Acts 2:38; >Ephesians 1:7; 1 John 2:12)

If you sing songs of joy and gratitude Sunday after Sunday after Sunday with only muttering gravity in your voice and duty in your face, know this: THE JOY OF THE LORD IS YOUR STRENGTH! (Psalm 28:7; Nehemiah 8:10)

Good people, if joyless fear and dread and silence is always and only to be the hallmark of worship acceptable to God, why is that Jesus, “full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth …'”? (Luke 10:21) Why then did His followers loudly and joyfully praise God for His miracles? (Luke 19:37)

If we are still to live and worship only in fear, why does the Hebrews writer go to such pains to distinguish the old covenant’s mountain of fear from the new covenant’s mountain of joyful angels? (Hebrews 12:18-24)

If our obedience to God in worship and life is paramount, why do we ignore 1 Thessalonians 5:16 – “Be joyful always“? Is the instruction to “entertain strangers” (Hebrews 13:2) not to be obeyed in the context of gathered worship?

You can’t even find the word “solemn” in the New Testament, except as a description of an oath to assassinate Paul (Acts 23:14)! The New Testament is a testament of gospel; of good news; of great joy that shall be to all people!

Doesn’t that bring you joy? Doesn’t that bring enjoyment, knowing it? Shouldn’t our worship to God reflect our enjoyment of His blessing, and entertain Him with our praise?

I recall a story told in a church I used to attend, of a brother who once asked a sour-faced elder if he was a happy person. “I suppose so,” was the grudging response. So he answered, “Then why don’t you let your face know it?”

25 thoughts on “Solemnity in Worship

  1. Keith said; “(Maybe some of our brothers and sisters who cause dissension and division by forbidding worship which entertains God and man should mourn … and repent. – Then get over it, and experience some real joy!)”

    Keith I disagree, I don’t see the purpose of worship as entertainment.
    I know that is what it has become, but I don’t believe that was the intention of Jesus when he said (God is spirit and he seeks to be worshiped in spirit) I don’t remember Jesus ever worshiping God in a entertaining way. Was it entertainment when he said “my father is greater than I” was it entertainment when he prayed to God in the garden, was it entertainment when Jesus said “your will. not mine” I can’t positively, say for sure, but it would surprise me if the songs he participated in was “The Old Rugged Cross”. As for the nature of the communion I believe that is to remember the suffering that was suffered for us, not a joyous occasion. No worship is a recognition that we are subject to a higher power, the same power, the same God that Jesus recognized as a Father that is greater than I. I am sure that if HE wanted entertainment, HE could summon Elvis.

  2. Laymond, are you a happy person?

    Jesus was, when He was filled with joy through the Holy Spirit and praised God that He had revealed Himself to people of simple, childlike faith.

    I understand that there is a time to mourn and a time to dance. I don’t understand why EVERY aspect of worship must be mournful EVERY week. Why do we continue to hold funerals for the risen Lord?

    He wants us to remember Him at the table, but doesn’t say to remember Him only writhing in pain on the cross or stone cold dead in the tomb.

  3. Keith asked, “Laymond, are you a happy person?”

    I have my moments, but I don’t go around 24 hrs per day giggling, nor shouting hallelujah, It becomes a strain to show how glad I am for the sacrifice of God’s son, when I have a tooth ache or something of equal disappointment. but that does not say I have lost my appreciation of that fact. Some times it is hard to have a jubilant worship service when there are brothers or sisters coming forward with prayer request for loved ones with cancer, or for those who have lost their job, and their children have nothing to eat. yet when we pray to the almighty God for help, we show worship, acknowledgment, respect and trust, in our Father who is “Greater than I” I don’t see where it is said when we seek to worship our Lord, none but the jubilant should apply. I just don’t agree with your description of what worship should look like. I believe the children were worshiping in that jubilant manner when Moses came back from the mountain. sorry but I won’t attend a singing dancing party and call it worship, I just can’t.

  4. Then are we left simply to grieve all the time … as people without hope? (1 Thessalonians 4:13)

    Jesus told His closest followers that they would grieve while others were celebrating (His death), but that grief would turn to joy. How long did they grieve before He returned?

    I’m not advocating being insensitive to others’ suffering. But a joyous focus on God can help people be drawn out of themselves. Surely there is room for joy alkng with sorrow in the shared worship of the church! Should we not weep with those who weep AND rejoice with those who rejoice?

  5. Keith asked “Then are we left simply to grieve all the time”

    No, I’m simply saying Worship should never be entertainment. Worship can be pleasing to God without being entertaining, to man.

  6. Forgive me, Laymond, but … how is that possible?

    Is only the worship composed of command, duty and obligation pleasing to God? And woe to us if our hearts aren’t in it and woe to us if we happen to find joy, pleasure and – yes – even entertainment in it?

  7. Keith,
    I think this is a wonderful post. I have been in Churches where they saw the table as rememberance of Christ death and usually reflects the atmosphere of the congregation. I am enjoying the church of Christ in Kerrville because of the joy on faces, the happiness that others have for one another, the celebration of the Risen Lord, the priase, the solemnity in worship is replaced with joyful celebration of grace, hope, healing, forgiveness, and love. Our worship this morning went an hour and a half with ten responses prayers for a child who is going blind, prayers for healing, prayers for reunions with loved ones, prayers for a husband who is in jail anxious about release, thanksgiving for healing, thanksgiving for prayers and encouragement, and a baptism. It is shocking not to have a baptism at least every Sunday and a dedication of baby at least once a month. I don’t know so much about Solemnity in worship these days and I am okay with it.
    I enjoy reading your blog and posts encourage me.
    I pray for you often and know God is doing a fabulous work in your life.

  8. enâ‹…terâ‹…tainâ‹…ing

    affording entertainment; amusing; diverting: We spent an entertaining evening at the theater.

    (or at church, whatever the case may be)
    Keith, I enjoy worshiping with other Christians, even find talking with them sometimes, amusing and diverting, but I never find worship of the Lord amusing.

  9. laymond, there is a BIG distinction between joy and amusement. The one (joy) is profound and the other (amusement) is trivial. God wants us to show our overflowing and joyous love. That’s joy, NOT entertainment. My congregation is one where joy abounds. That doesn’t mean to say there isn’t hurt or sadness or pain And there is always reverence. But the emotions God has gifted us with are not quenched in communication and worship with our Lord.

    I do wish they would change the vesre that’s on the screen during morning communion: 1 Cor 11 (Message) “What you must solemnly realize is that every time you eat this bread and every time you drink this cup, you reenact in your words and actions the death of the Master. You will be drawn back to this meal again and again until the Master returns.” It’s the realisation that should be solemn, not the celebration!

  10. wjcsydney, look back and read what I said ” worship should never be entertainment ” I never said it shouldn’t be joyous. I believe for a sermon to be great, it should touch all your emotions. and yes I believe the sermon should be a part of worship. glorifying God.
    I suppose you would need to talk to the elders about the screen message.

  11. wjcsydney, I do believe when Jesus said remember me, he was referring to the bread of life, not his pain and suffering. When you give thanks for this earthly bread, don’t forget to give thanks for the bread from heaven.

    Jn:6:33: For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.

  12. Laymond, you said, “I never find worship of the Lord amusing.”

    But should our worship be defined by what we think or feel? Those who oppose joy in worship would say no; define it by scripture. That’s what I’ve tried to do, and solemnity comes up wanting in the balances.

    1 Corinthians 14 describes the plight of a visitor in the assembly of the saints. He is not edified by the spiritual gifts which do not plainly communicate to him/her.

    Such a visitor today would see somber faces and hear mournful voices. Would he/she conclude that we really believe Christ is risen? That we are grateful and overjoyed at the salvation gifted to us?

    In that letter to Corinth, Paul is addressing a church whose celebration of what was originally the Lord’s supper has gotten totally out of control; in 10:21 he warns, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons.” That’s why his advice is to proclaim His death until He comes (11:26). They are to remember that, as His body, they too have died – to sin, including their quarreling over gifts and misuse of them before guests.

    Proclamation is hardly the same as mourning. (Matthew 10:27).

    And while lament and mourning can be powerful in igniting our memory and worship, all I’m saying is there is room – even at the table – for a cup of thanksgiving (blessing) and joy, just as there was at the Passover table surrounded by Jesus and the twelve.

  13. Keith, maybe I should have made my position clearer, I have no objection to what you have written, except for this small verse.

    (Maybe some of our brothers and sisters who cause dissension and division by forbidding worship which entertains God and man should mourn … and repent. – Then get over it, and experience some real joy!)

    I simply cannot agree that God intended that worship of him, be classified as entertainment. that’s all I’m saying.

  14. i have found myself to be mistaken when over the years i would see people whose worship was very expressively-celebratory and judge them to lack reverence.

    Is it not also a mistake to see people who’s worship is not expressively-celebratory and assume they lack joy?

    Not everyone expresses joy or reverence in the same way. Maybe i’ve misread you, but assuming that people lack joy because they *appear* solemn during the Lord’s Supper or because they *appear* to have only ‘duty on their face’ as they sing seems every bit as unwarranted as assuming that ‘happy-clappy’ worshippers lack reverence.

    If an entire congregation of people were such that they were joyous and celebratory in their hearts, but just weren’t naturally expressive people in terms of *appearing* hysterical or jovial, then how have they done something wrong? If they haven’t done something wrong, then how are we ever in a position to judge a lack of joy or lack of reverence based on appearances? This seems like a matter than only God and the individual can judge.



  15. Guy, obviously Christians shouldn’t judge from appearance. (No one should!) But a visitor is going to – you know that – and it was the visitor I was talking about in the previous comment. What will his/her first impression be?

    My post’s concern is about those – as I stated early on – “who cause dissension and division by forbidding worship which entertains God and man.” And about those whose joy is disdained by them, and those who see no joy when they visit a church where solemnity is unbroken.

    Nothing about that expresses to the outsider:

    “I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation. The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the LORD has done this,and it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” ~ Psalm 118:21-24

    (Plus, I don’t believe that pejoratives like “happy-clappy” or “mopey-dopey” do anything to advance consensus; they only serve to reinforce prejudices and factions.)

  16. Please forgive the “happy-clappy”–i did not mean to reinforce prejudice at all. Just couldn’t think of a quick distinguishing term.

    well, i know Paul discusses an outsider’s impression in 1Cor 14, but i don’t think by these comments he meant that this ought to be our motive or design in assembling–‘let’s try our best to impress and awe the visitors.’ i believe that quickly breeds a culture of appearances rather than authenticity and transparency. The right visitors thinking the right things about our assembling is a by-product of us doing things the right way, yes. But not our goal.

    i say “right visitors” because however right we’re doing things, that doesn’t force anyone to get the right impression. Jesus said there are different soils/different hearts. However joyous and holy we are, some people only show up seeking a country-club alternative, an outlet for their self-righteousness, or some other generally selfish ends and values, and no amount of godly joy on our part will change them.

    Nevertheless, we are fraught with the problem of judging *each other.* ‘Solemn’ people think the ‘celebratory’ people are irreverent. ‘Celebratory’ people think the ‘solemn’ people are ungrateful. In some cases, both are absolutely right; many people are ultimately self-centered and that is why they are insistent on celebration or insistent on solemnity. But in general, i don’t see how we have any platform upon which to judge each other’s hearts in this way.


  17. Keith,

    I am in agreement with the call for more joy in our worship of the Lord. It is a much needed ingredient as we gather before the throne of grace. I hesitate to say anything that would take away from that point. But I feel the need to make two points: one related to the Hebrew Bible and the other in relation to lament.

    First, your statement “the New Testament is a testament of gospel; of good news; of great joy …” and “If we are STILL to live and worship only in fear …” (my emphasis) trouble me. The seeming implication here is that the “Old” testament is “not” a testament of good news or joy. Further it implies that Israel lived in “fear” before the Lord. I do not think either of these are true.

    For instance in the heart of the Torah, Deuteronomy, the word “Joy” or “Rejoice” occurs throughout the text directly linked to worship. Whether it was a pilgrimage (16.1-17), payment of a vow/freewill offering (12.1-19; 14.22-29) a special day (27.1-8); first fruits (26.1-11) Israel is always to “rejoice before the LORD” (12.7; 12, 18; 14.26; 16.11, 14; 26.11; 27.7). Worship in Israel is at its basic level a response to the love and grace of Yahweh.

    In the context of a passage you referred to, Nehemiah 8, we read about the Feast of Trumpets. Here the people are told 3x specifically “do not mourn” but to celebrate with great joy (8.9-12). It was not a time to mourn for Yahweh had “recreated” Israel (Trumpets or Rosh hashanah celebrates God’s CREATIVE love). The same notion dominates Hezekiah’s Passover in 2 Chronicles 30. It was a period of intense joy before the Lord. The Hebrew Bible is a testament of Joy and Good News.

    On the other side of that coin I do not want to minimize the importance of Lament in biblical faith. More than half of the Psalms are laments. One wonders why the editors of Psalms would put Ps 3 right behind Ps 1 and 2. I think lament points to the “counter world” that is experienced in and through worship. Worship is a HEALING grace granted by God. I think there are dreadful consequences by our American and Evangelical proclivity to chuck lament.

    Finally let me say this. Solemn may be foreign to both Joy and Lament. Joy is emotional. Lament is emotional. Solemn is almost the denial of emotion. This is alien to the biblical narrative. Psalm 88 is lament but it is FULL of swirling emotion. Psalm 150 is joy to the max and full of emotion too. Perhaps we need to help our congregations experience Gatherings where it is ok, indeed spiritually healthy, to express BOTH of these emotions to the One who is the object of our worship.

    Sorry to be so wordy. I apologize. I appreciate the thoughtful nature of the post.

    Bobby Valentine

  18. Bobby, your perspective may indeed be more accurate than mine – we white American Christians tend to express lament very stoically, but it’s not that way in all cultures, to be sure.

    Certainly there was a great deal of joy in celebrating the feasts of the old law, and in worship during them, too. (Probably the other half of the Psalms express that joy!)

    I still find the few and scattered descriptions of gathered worship in the New Testament to be generally characterized by joy rather than lament over sin and its consequences – and with no description of them as solemn or emotionless or purely cerebral.

    I think we agree that there is room for joy and sorrow in our worship together – even at the table – but after so many years of being enculturated to deny joy, enjoyment, entertainment within it (even with God as the audience)we need to be able to see the permission; the encouragement that scripture and the Spirit of God gives to respond to Him with joy.

    – And quit teaching that such joy is somehow wrong!

  19. Keith,

    I wouldn’t want to argue to much from the silence of the NT regarding lament. Lament articulates the “cry of the kingdom” that Yahweh’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

    As for the Table it is not a place of guilt. Jesus is NOT dead. Jesus is the very much risen and alive HOST at the Table. Of course much of that theology of “presence” and “communion” is mined straight out of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is a time of joy in knowing we have “fellowship” or better SHALOM with God through Jesus. As John Mark likes to say we come come to a table not an altar. Altars are about death and the removal of sin … Tables are about life and joy and forgiveness.

    Yes we need to shed the notion that joy is not part of worship because it is.

  20. Yes…while there is a time and place for a more solemn or quiet behavior, I lament the fact that we have fooled ourselves into believing that we can offer the most jubilant praise (i.e., clapping, cheering, standing and jumping, etc…) for our favorite sports teams but not for when God and his gospel is being victoriously experienced among us in our assemblies.

    Grace and peace,

    K. Rex Butts

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