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Finding the Risen Christ in Community

Blogger Ginny Chilton Maxwell is Music Minister at Church of the Ascension in Norfolk, Virginia, where she serves as organist, choirmaster, and elementary music teacher.





Eastertide is the season where we get to hear a little each Sunday from the book of Acts, a record of the wild experiences of Jesus’s first disciples as they went into the world to tell the good news. In the Christian liturgical tradition, Lent is the season to reflect inwardly, but in Eastertide Jesus pushes us from the nest and we find ourselves, like those disciples, bumping our way through actual discipleship in the real world.

It’s exciting, especially at first, when the memory of the risen Lord is fresh in our minds. Think of the last time you had a personal revelation, or read a book you adored; you couldn’t wait to tell someone. But at some point the newness wanes and the vigor you felt at first is no longer enough to properly fuel your work in the world.


Christian Community

That is, I believe, where Christian community comes in. Guest blogger David Calvert made reference to community a few weeks ago when he wrote about the Common Hymnal project. In his blog, Calvert describes how, in the age of vinyl, people would anticipate a new album coming out and then gather together to listen to it. Before recording technology, too, someone who had a hunger for new songs would have to learn the song themselves in order to enjoy new music at home. Fast forward to 21st century, when we can download albums instantly and listen in our earbuds; this is not in itself bad, but something is lost when the only way we consume music is as background noise, by ourselves.


Making Time

The element of community is important to our experience of music, just as it is important to our experience of the risen Christ as we go day by day through the season of Easter. I have felt this recently, in situations where I made time to be in community, face to face, with other people. As a choir director, for instance, my choir and I feel refreshed in our knowledge of the risen Lord when we work intensely on an anthem and it comes together on a Sunday morning. We hit just the right chord and there is something sacred born that is more than the sum of the individual notes and voices. As a music teacher, I felt the Lord’s presence with my three- and four-year-olds when we were dancing with colorful scarves to Saint-Saëns’ “Aviary,” and suddenly a beautiful blue jay swooped by the window. Finally, the Lord graced me with his presence last week when I dragged myself to a Vacation Bible School meeting which I had been dreading, but which, by God’s grace, became a sacred space for us leaders to open our hearts about what we wanted for our church’s children. We came up with new, risky, yet exciting things we could try to make our hopes for our children a reality. In all of these examples, God made God’s self known to us in community, because we had all made the effort to show up, week after week. It was both because of and in spite of our efforts that we experienced these moments of awe and grace.


God’s Work

Much of God’s work is difficult and tedious and not every gathering of the faithful produces a golden moment we can treasure for weeks or years to come, but it is because we did not neglect to meet that we gathered what needed to do what Jesus sent us out to do. This Eastertide, as you flap your fledgling disciple wings, I hope you find people to flock with, people to make and listen to music with, and wonderful glimpses of the risen Christ to carry you all through the season.



Blogger Brian Hehn is the director of The Center for Congregational Song.





It’s pet peeve time. Let’s talk about the word solemn. Especially in Roman Catholic, Anglican, and other traditions with similar liturgical tendencies, the word solemn is used quite a bit. You hear about celebrating a “solemnity,” keeping this “solemn fast,” and a “Solemn Mass.” So the word is given a very important place in our vocabulary, and both ordained and laity use the term quite often. I think we have fallen prey to the complexity (some might say ambiguity) of the English language.



I think that when the majority of people hear and use the word solemn in reference to anything involving worship, they are referencing two of the three main definitions of the world solemn. They are often either implying that worship should be “marked by grave sedateness and earnest sobriety” or “Somber, Gloomy” (Merriam-Webster Definitions 3b, 3c). I think this has either reinforced certain historical trends or introduced an understanding of worship and liturgy as something that should not include smiling, happiness, or any outward expressions of joy. If people think that their roles are to make sure that Mass is solemn as in gloomy or sedate…many parishes and communities across the U.S. are doing a fantastic job. But, like I said before, I think that we have fallen prey to the English language.



Let’s talk about where the use of the word solemn comes from. The original Latin word sollemnis was primarily used to indicate something was ceremonial, sacred, in accordance with religious law, and/or traditional/customary. In fact, the second main definition of solemn in Merriam-Webster is “marked by the observance of established form or ceremony; specifically: celebrated with full liturgical ceremony.” The use of solemn in reference to worship/liturgy does not and should not include connotations of somberness, sedateness, or gloominess in any other sense.



The reason this topic bothers me so much is that I watch faithful people week in and week out come to worship a God that seems to inspire fear, guilt, and sadness more than joy. They are almost afraid of using their bodies to express outward signs of joy. They seem to have internalized their roles in worship so as to parrot their lines and otherwise sit in silence. When confronted with leaders who ask them to do otherwise or find themselves in a space where there is bodily movement and joy, I often hear claims that this type of worship is inappropriate. In their defense of that position, I often specifically hear the use of the word solemn in their rhetoric.



So let’s either get rid of that word from our vocabulary or start to use it correctly. I worship the God of resurrection, joy, and life. My solemn worship involves alleluias, hands raised or clapping, hips moving, and knees bending. Lord, you can turn all mourning into dancing (Psalm 30:11). May it be so for us today.