looking for someone I knew in the sea of women seated facing forwards.
I saw her near the front and I headed in her direction.
Only, by the time I got there, she had leaned forward.
I could hear her sobbing.
Women jumped up before I got there and surrounded her with arms and tissues and the quiet murmurings of voices slipping underneath unspeakable pain to help bear the weight.
I slid into the end of the pew feeling helpless and small, unable to reach through to join in. Feeling foolish for not having seen the pain before.
We stood to sing together, the tune of the hymn familiar and strong. I opened my mouth and joined my voice to the hundred or so other voices around me.
What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer...
I have sung these words since I was small, learned to play them on the piano and know the feel of the chords beneath my fingers.
I have known the truth of them and they became my prayer for my friend bowed over in grief.
There was a book wrapped up and placed under our Christmas tree about 3 years ago now and I eagerly devoured the pages.
I remember falling asleep in evening services to strong voices around me lifted up in the rich and ancient truths found in the hymnals tucked into the front of the pew near my knees.
I remember that Sunday the projector made its way on to the stage at the front of the sanctuary, the words and chords laid down on transparent paper and songs like Majesty and Faithful One and guitars and drums joining in with the piano and organ.
I remember my first worship service that felt nothing like the quiet sanctuary of the small church I had been born into. The rush that I was somewhere modern, somewhere new.
I remember the joy I felt the first time I heard the beginning chords of a hymn after years of the absence of one. Oh, it had been reworked, yes, but it was beautiful.
This book I had read, it talked of the importance of the "why" of what we sing.
We sing during worship, not for our emotional filling or really for anything about us - we sing during worship for each other. As we sing, we are singing praise to Jesus, yes, but more importantly, we sing to encourage the brothers and sisters around us. We sing to strengthen broken hearts and point them back to the tender and holy mercy of our amazing God.
We sing to hold the gospel out to those around us who don't know Jesus. To surround them with the beautiful truth of a compassionate and loving God who sent His Son to die for the sins of the world and draw us to Himself.
Every Sunday at the end of the service, our pastor, without fail, closes with an opportunity to know Jesus. With all our heads bowed, he extends the invitation for anyone to raise their hand, to receive the gift of eternal life.
And then, without fail, he asks us to all join our voices together and lift them in prayer...us who have already prayed and received. Us who have already walked with Jesus for years. I lift my voice and it joins in with the many and brothers and sisters lift up the voice of one who is receiving Jesus for the first time and I am reminded that we are not meant to walk through this life with Jesus alone.
On the edge of the Red Sea in the book of Exodus the Israelites are found standing. They are facing a charging, angry Egyptian army who are hell-bent on taking the people back who they believed were rightfully theirs. They stood there full of doubt and fear. But God, faithful and steadfast in His love and mercy proved in a mighty way that these weary and broken people were His.
Moses breaks into a song of praise that wraps around each Hebrew heart and draws their eyes up to the Most High God who had set His love on them and rescued them, first through the marking of blood and now in the parting of water.
As his song fades away, his sister, Miriam, takes on the song and I wonder if she isn't an example to us as sisters in Christ:
it says that all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing.
And in this beautiful picture of celebration, Miriam sings to them:
Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously...
The Creator of the world around us, the One Who set the sun and moon and stars in place - Who upholds the hugeness of the universe by the very power of His word,
He created you.
And not just created, as amazingly beautiful and tender as that is,
but our God who creates and is sovereign over all things, He bent low and He became man, He died for you and for me and He really did triumph gloriously.
Where can you be a Miriam? Where can I? Where can we pick up our voices in praise and lead all the ones God has purposely placed around us to see the beauty and grace of our Savior...and not just to see, but to know the One who became the Way, the Truth, and the Life for us.
This road winds and twists and is marked by death and fear and so many unknowns, but this road is one, when we believe in Jesus is one that rings with the song of hope.
So let your life be one that fearlessly goes out into the broken spaces around you with praise and joy, even through tears of sorrow, because our trust in the last words that Jesus spoke here on earth are the ones that fuel our faith.
Sing loud, dear Miriam - we all long to hear you.